Being a substitute school bus driver was one of many jobs James Lash juggled at 18, when he kicked off his lifelong career in pupil transportation. He has also served as a trainer, supervisor, transportation director, and state association president.
More recently, Lash stepped into the role of executive director of transportation and fleet services at Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools (VBCPS) in Dec. 2020 after working as the associate director of transportation and warehouse operations for York County (Va.) School Division for over 20 years.
In this interview with School Bus Fleet, Lash details his pupil transportation career longevity and adjustments made in the school bus shop due to the pandemic, and shares advice on taking on a position at a new school district.
1. How did you get your start in pupil transportation?
I began my career in pupil transportation as a substitute driver for Hampton City (Va.) Public Schools right after graduating from high school in July 1981. I was 18 years old and state law allowed individuals under 21 to drive school buses, with the approval of the local school superintendent. I drove the bus during the day, attended the local community college in between routes, and worked the second shift at the local shipyard. On weekends, I worked at a local department store. After several years as a substitute driver, I was contracted to a route. Later, I became a trainer and then a supervisor. I worked in Hampton for 18 years before going to the York County School Division in May 1999.
2. You recently transitioned into a new supervisory role at a new school district. What advice would you give to others who are making or considering a similar move?
I’d say go for it! Don’t let anxiety over a new job or employer hold you back. I have been blessed to work for some of the best school systems here in the Commonwealth [of Virginia]. We should all seek professional growth no matter how many years we have been employed in a school system. No matter the size of the district, transportation departments face the same unique challenges, such as driver shortages, COVID-19, transportation for displaced students, etc.
3. Is your school district in virtual, hybrid, or in-person learning mode right now? How is the pandemic impacting day-to-day operations in the shop?
Currently, VBCPS is utilizing a hybrid schedule where select students attend classes two days a week. Shop personnel and drivers maintain a proper social distance when discussing maintenance issues. This takes some getting used to, especially when drivers or technicians need to point out items to each other in areas such as the engine compartment.
Also, shop staff is responsible for distributing hand sanitizer and sanitizing supplies to transportation staff. Given the size of our fleet, it is a large task, however, our people realize the importance of it and do a great job handling this new responsibility.
4. What do you wish people outside the world of student transportation knew about it?
I wish people outside our student transportation world realized what it takes to make things happen in our business and how rewarding it can be to work in this profession. Often, I have heard people say, “I wouldn’t have your job,” however, I can’t think of anything more rewarding than what we do. Some people think it would be difficult to drive a big yellow bus, but it is easier than driving a smaller vehicle. Some are intimidated by the size of the bus, which keeps them from joining the profession.
5. What do you like most about working in pupil transportation?
The thing I like most is what our transportation team does for children. At the end of the day, when I have time to reflect, I realize how many students are transported safely to and from school, activities, etc., and what an accomplishment it is. I want all transportation staff to be proud of their work, especially given the driver shortage, sickness, inclement weather, and other challenges. As some people say, once you get yellow in your blood, you stay with it. I have had the pleasure of working with many dedicated individuals in this field who have had 30, 40, and 50-plus years of service.
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