Filling school bus driver positions with qualified, dedicated staff is one of the biggest challenges student transportation leaders face. It is not only difficult work for those hiring, but for prospective drivers as well.
The steps to become a certified school bus driver require a personal commitment of time, finances, and successfully completing a multitude of tests and assessments. After becoming a driver, the learning process is ongoing and daily responsibilities require not only perseverance and patience, but a true love for children and a willingness to embrace this adventure for mediocre pay. If people don’t love it, they often leave it.
Once leaders train and certify team members to drive a school bus, the next task they must embrace is staff retention.
Here at Kyrene School District #28 in Tempe, Ariz., we continually work to recognize and reward those who love their job and are doing it well. Often in our industry, routes and prime driving opportunities are assigned or awarded based on seniority or years of service to a district or department. While commendable and important, using these criteria alone to drive the decision for awarding such opportunities can create frustration and tension among the ranks in a hurry.
As transportation department leaders, we expect our staff to transport students safely and efficiently and to commit to strong bus management and building student relationships. As a result, we are devoted to successfully measuring performance related to these standards and using that data when assigning or awarding those prime opportunities.
Not only has this been a successful way to acknowledge excellence in all areas of our work, it has also validated those who are “in it to win it” as we say, across the evaluation criteria. It ensures all members of our team are in the running for the most sought-after opportunities. Put simply, it inspires our longtime veterans, newcomers, and everyone in between to remain engaged and intentional in their effort to be committed and competitive in all facets of our matrix, best known to our team as our “safety score card.”
The score card provides each team member as well as their leadership a performance score percentage in multiple areas via our GPS system. It enables weekly reflection and what we like to call “aha!” moments for the team to increase awareness, adapt their approach, or seek additional training or coaching. The data is also shared at monthly safety meetings to celebrate accomplishments and maintain accountability.
Coupled with the department’s annual evaluation instrument, this data provides the format for our bid award assignment process. It also equips district leadership with accurate real-time information related to on-time performance, repeat issues or concerns, and measures improvements based on adjustments to factors such as routes and pickup and drop-off times.
The other piece of our annual assessment process that drives our success is our six-section rubric via the TeachPoint evaluation instrument. This element closely defines and evaluates the other important performances beyond the bus. Some of these sections include initiative and willingness to learn; accountability and responsibility; adaptability; and contributions to a positive work/school environment.
Together, the score card and the evaluation instrument make up an excellent evaluation tool that drives department decisions for ongoing training topics and the bid order. The process has served Kyrene transportation well.
While we still face staffing gaps and lulls just like other student transportation operations, we are proud of and confident that our route and opportunity award process and the accurate data collected from our safety score card provide a successful process for guiding growth, evaluating performance, and ongoing teaching and learning in our ever-changing industry.