HELENA, Mont. — Maxine Mougeot, Montana's state pupil transportation director for nearly 10 years, will retire Dec. 29.

Mougeot has worked for the Montana Office of Public Instruction for more than 25 years, but she started as an accountant.

When the state pupil transportation director position opened up in 2001, Mougeot applied and got it. Although she didn't have transportation experience, she said her accounting and data management experience came in handy and she quickly "fell in love" with the school bus community.

Mougeot's first priority was to get a CDL. "I said, 'How am I going to help these people if I don't know what they're doing?'" she told SBF in an interview Thursday.

In the role, Mougeot has served as the state's safety specialist for student transportation. The position covers a variety of responsibilities, from participating in driver training activities to overseeing standards to managing and dispersing state funds.

Mougeot said that one of her proudest achievements is her work on pupil transportation standards — both at the state and national levels. With the National Congress on School Transportation, she has served as a Montana delegate and as chair of the activity bus operations committee.

She is currently rewriting the Montana standards, a project that she said she hoped to complete before her retirement.

Another highlight of her career came last summer, when the Montana Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT) named Mougeot its 2010 Transportation Person of the Year.

"It was a total surprise," Mougeot said. "For them to care that much about me meant a great deal."

In addition to her involvement with the MAPT, Mougeot has served on the board of directors of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.

Mougeot said that what she'll miss most about the school bus industry is the great people she's worked and interacted with. A key mentor for her was Wyoming state director Leeds Pickering, who retired last month.

"I can't even tell you how I feel about everybody out there. The transportation community is an amazing group," she said.

In her retirement, Mougeot plans to spend more time camping, fishing and golfing, although she said she also hopes to stay involved in pupil transportation in some way.

At press time, a new Montana state director had not yet been named.