Every June, Arizona student transportation experts look forward to attending the annual summer conference presented by the Transportation Administrators of Arizona (TAA). The organization proudly hosts a four-day conference in beautiful Flagstaff, featuring a robust and diverse offering of student transportation experts and topics. There are opportunities for learning, collaboration, getting industry updates, role play drills, keynote presentations, and lots of fun and networking in between.
Our current TAA board of directors collectively represents more than 70 years of TAA membership and our organization has over 300 members from all areas of the state. They are committed and excited to attend the conference each year because it provides instrumental material, tools, and updates, and offers invaluable collaboration among industry colleagues.
This year, due to COVID 19, safety restrictions, and the inability to social distance members in our traditional platform, we could not go forward with our in-person conference.
That said, at the thought of canceling, the TAA team took a breath, did a deep dive, and began preparing for our first ever virtual conference — via Zoom.
Our traditional in-person conference platform has a four-day agenda, an annual conference theme, daily keynote speakers, and multiple breakout sessions. We also plan for meals, evening activities, networking time, an in-person vendor show, and closing ceremonies.
I proudly share that although we shortened our conference length and reduced our breakout options slightly this year, we successfully pulled off our first ever virtual conference: “We’re ZOOMing Through 2020!”
The conference lasted two days (June 23 and 24) and included opening and closing ceremonies, a powerful positive keynote message “Transformational Change, Looking in the Mirror” delivered by Megan Duplain, executive director of student services, and Tommy Sims, director of transportation, both from Litchfield Elementary School District #79. The agenda also included 15 breakout sessions and a virtual vendor show to complete day two.
Thanks to the technology experts in our group and partnerships with other TAA supporters and vendors, we were able to offer each course with its presenter and a virtual room host from our TAA board to offer introductions, thank supporters and members, facilitate questions, and support technology issues. Our team came together to do their part with excellence in support of the conference and its success.
Our online registration process allowed us to project participation and ensure the space in each virtual room could accommodate the number of interested attendees. The collection of information from the Zoom platform allowed us to follow up with course attendees, distribute surveys regarding the platform as well as the content, and look ahead to future virtual enhanced options even after our in-person conference resumes.
We had a registration total for both days of our virtual platform of just over 250, which far surpassed our projections.
The TAA board feels confident that the 2020 virtual conference was in alignment with our vision to focus on the commitment to be the leader in Arizona supporting and developing programs and industry professionals who will provide the safest form of school transportation for our children.
Our organization’s purpose was also fulfilled: to provide opportunities for members to exchange ideas, techniques, and share solutions to common challenges and concerns; encourage development of current and future student transportation professionals; provide information about the latest products and services; and offer assistance and consultation among members through the organization’s membership list.
We want to thank our membership for their dedication to our organization and their attendance and engagement, our vendors and partners for their support and flexibility, and especially our TAA board members for the long hours they put in for a positive outcome and successful virtual conference.
For more information about our organization and the conference, go to taa-online.org.