Kim Frye, the director of transportation services for Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools (OCPS), has been involved in transportation her entire life, although her work has not always been related to the yellow bus. More generally, she is a third-generation veteran when it comes to buses: her grandfather and mother had long careers in public transportation.
Growing up, she witnessed firsthand the difference that transportation has made in so many peoples’ lives. Today, after 25 years in public transportation and spending nearly the last five as a supervisor in student transportation, she works to have a positive impact on her employees.
“Drivers make a difference in so many kids’ lives and I want to make a difference in a driver’s life,” she says.
Her husband, Morris Frye, a senior administrator of fleet services for the district, attests to this.
“She always says that transportation employees are unsung heroes, especially her drivers and monitors,” he says.
Frye’s goal does, of course, extend to her other staff members as well. She describes herself as a “people person,” and many on her team agree with that assessment.
“Her love for being around people and making them happy gives her the vitality that she demonstrates every day,” says Olga Vazquez, a transportation specialist at the district. “When things get difficult, she rises to the occasion.”
“Kim can be found at morning pull outs at any of the locations and will stay as long as needed to support the drivers, monitors, and students,” says Bill Wen, senior director of transportation services. “I have been in the passenger transportation industry for over 40 years and Kim’s enthusiasm and energy is second to none.”
Since she embarked on the world of student transportation, Frye has boosted recognition and incentives for her employees, and vastly improved safety and attendance.
For her unwavering dedication to connecting with her drivers and monitors, thereby improving student transportation overall, as well as serving as a communication lifeline during the pandemic, School Bus Fleet has named Kim Frye as its 2020 Administrator of the Year.
Making a Difference
Frye’s career in transportation started a little over 25 years ago when she got her first job delivering bus schedules for a public transit agency in Indianapolis, where she grew up. She liked the work and expected to stay in the area, where she soon became a customer service manager for First Transit and then went to work for MV Transit as a general manager. Then, in 2009, she pursued an opportunity in Virginia with the company as a general manager for Fairfax Transit.
Frye worked at company locations in Virginia and Florida, on fixed, paratransit, and school routes, where over the years, she took on more job responsibilities, including managing a larger staff and budgets, and hiring and training drivers. Then, deciding she was done traveling for work, she accepted an offer with OCPS in April 2017.
After arriving at the school district, she was surprised to learn that there were no funds put aside for employee appreciation activities, such as cookouts or birthday cakes. She and her team did some research and found out that they could ask vendors for sponsorships.
“Our vendors have been great about helping us,” she said.
That legwork to obtain financial backing to recognize employees led to Frye’s crucial communication and support for her drivers and monitors when the coronavirus closed schools in March.
“Her love for being around people and making them happy gives her the vitality that she demonstrates every day. When things get difficult, she rises to the occasion.”
— Olga Vazquez, transportation specialist, Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools
Creating a Communication Lifeline
After schools closed, Frye says, drivers and monitors, were panicking just like everyone else, so she stepped up with a plan to connect amid the uncertainty.
Frye created a Facebook group page and, in addition to sharing updates on when they were coming back to work, she posted daily safety messages and birthday and work anniversary announcements.
One important safety-related update was a video on a new safety procedure on keeping bus exit hatches and rear windows open to clear up some confusion after some bus drivers did come back to work
She also used Facebook Live videos to hold, initially from home, a trivia contest designed to help put employees at ease and get to know each other better. Participants who answered questions correctly had their names entered into a drawing. Frye added a fun factor to the activity with a wheel that had names of those who submitted correct answers and that she turned to pick winners’ names. Winners received $25 gift cards (for groceries, gasoline, and restaurants), many of which were donated by senior staff members and vendors.
Frye also held a fundraiser among family members and friends and raised an additional $700, for around $4,000 to use for gift cards for her team.“It helped show that I may be the director, but I’m approachable, I’m here to help you,” she says.
Another effort Frye made to keep communication open during the pandemic was her “Let’s Talk” Facebook Live forum that she started at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, which kicked off virtually before in-person instruction started. Seated on her couch, she invited her staff members to ask her anything they wanted.
“You have got to connect with your people, from the bottom to the top,” she says.
Frye also got her team involved in the American School Bus Council’s (ASBC‘s) Love the Bus — which they had not participated in before — when she came aboard.
For each February celebration, starting in 2018, she spearheaded fundraising from vendors, which paid for a variety of transportation staff appreciation events, such as hot dog and pizza days to giving out chocolate bars, keychains, and certificates, throughout the month.
As a result of the district’s recognition activities, OCPS was selected in August 2019 to be the kickoff site for the 2020 Love the Bus event.
That emphasis on teamwork extends to community service: Frye started challenging her transportation managers to give back a couple years ago, with her joining in the efforts. It was then that the Apopka, Fla., location drivers, monitors, and managers raised enough money to be able to give out 400 backpacks with school supplies in them.
Last year, she and employees in various locations donated toys and other gifts as well as holiday meals for local families.
“I am a firm believer that, if you get to know the communities of the kids you’re transporting and the communities see that you’re trying to help them, then the kids will behave and appreciate what you do,” Frye says.
That community spirit includes helping her own staff: transportation and safety department management also recently raised $1,000 to support a few of the drivers and monitors for a Thanksgiving dinner.
Improving Safety, Attendance
Wen noted that Frye is adept at using data to improve service. That bears out in OCPS’s safety improvements over the last few years.
Soon after her arrival, Frye worked to convince over a dozen area managers that they could decrease preventable accidents. Starting with one location that had a significant number of them, she encouraged the manager to increase messaging to employees through “safety blitzes,” and go over video footage that showed mistakes and clarify the correct procedures.
After that, Frye said, that area manager decreased preventable accidents at their location by 28% within a year. Each year that followed, they went down at that location by an average of 11%. Meanwhile, after that first year, she showed that data to the other area managers, and within two years the entire transportation department has decreased preventable accidents by 13%.
“It’s about showing people how to use the numbers: what they mean and what you can do with them,” she said. “That came from my public transit side.”
Additionally, Frye introduced an incentive program that substantially boosted driver attendance.
Having 175 drivers call in sick on her first day spurred her to brainstorm with her team and create a committee with the goal of improving attendance. (The transportation department is composed of over 1,200 employees.) Starting in the 2017-18 school year, drivers with perfect attendance could choose the year of bus they drove, which decreased call outs, and increased perfect attendance by about 143%, Frye says.
In the 2018-19 school year, the committee added a perfect attendance bonus of up to $1,100 and increased perfect attendance among drivers and monitors by about 219%.
For each quarter of the school year, drivers and monitors with perfect attendance get $250. Anyone with perfect attendance for all four quarters receives an extra $100. (If an employee misses a day, they only forfeit the bonus for that quarter; they don’t lose out on the whole benefit.)
“The great thing about this is missing one day in a [quarter] doesn’t [disqualify] them from getting anything,” Frye says. “They can get a check from $250 all the way to $1,100.”
Last year Frye and her team started walking groups for wellness at each of OCPS’s locations. Amid the pandemic, they still walk together and talk; the only difference is that now they wear masks and social distance.
Whether it’s on those walks, conducting her “Let’s Talk” sessions, or answering phone calls or emails from her staff, Frye prioritizes ensuring that they know they can talk to someone who will try to understand what they are going through.
“This pandemic has brought a lot of stress on everybody, and if I could, I would just fix it all, but I can’t,” she says. “So, I’m here to listen and answer their questions, and if I don’t have the answers then I’ll find them.”