When you saw the news about a new executive director at the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), you may have experienced déjà vu: Ronna Weber had served in the same role for another major national pupil transportation association.
Weber headed up the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) from 2012 to 2017. She also had previous experience working with NSTA for more than 12 years as a senior associate with Prime Policy Group, where she specialized in transportation policy. Before that, she was the U.S. export control officer for Alstom Power Inc.
In this interview with School Bus Fleet, Weber talks about her priority as NASDPTS’s new leader, imparts leadership advice to industry up-and-comers, and emphasizes the need to acknowledge the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to student transportation and the variety of ways it has impacted so many in the industry.
1. You stepped into the role of executive director of NASDPTS on March 1. What are some of your plans as the association’s new leader?
My top priority is to introduce myself to those in NASDPTS and spend time getting to know our members and their priorities and concerns. Things have changed so much in the industry over the past year with COVID that it’s important to take a step back, talk to people, and really listen to ensure we’re all on the same page. Once I better understand all the priorities and concerns, we will look toward ways to address each in the months to come.
2. This isn’t your first time being an executive director. What advice would you give to those who are looking to step up into leadership positions?
Regardless of where you are in your career, it is incredibly helpful to cultivate mentors and spend time talking to those trusted individuals. There are so many great people in this industry, and everyone is always happy to share information and help others, but you have to show the initial effort. If you want to advance, talking to others who know how you work and how the industry works can only help you. Be mindful that you are also a mentor and therefore need to keep an eye out for ways to help those around you. The industry embodies the concept of paying it forward, and it will only help you if you do your part.
3. What do you see as the most pressing issue for the pupil transportation industry now?
The top issue facing our industry and our country is, without a doubt, COVID. We seem to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines, but the effects of the pandemic are being felt by everyone in the industry, and more broadly in the country. While this pandemic affects us all, it may affect us each differently, and we as an industry have to be aware of these differences, whether we’re focused on transporting students to school each day, or on the business of school transportation. This is a small, closely-knit industry. It is incumbent on each of us to speak with our colleagues and to help each other when we are able. The more we understand about how the pandemic is affecting our lives, our business, and our mission, the stronger we will be on the other side.
4. What is different in this position compared with your previous leadership experiences?
The school transportation industry is fortunate to have three very distinct trade associations serving its interests. I thoroughly enjoyed my tenure at NSTA and learned a great deal about the contracted side of the industry, but this new role with NASDPTS will allow me to sharpen my focus and knowledge about the public side of the industry with a particular focus on the school transportation leadership and processes in each of the [U.S.] states and Canada. Bottom line, I am so excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.
5. What are you most looking forward to in this new role?
I am really looking forward to getting to know the members of NASDPTS. I have attended several NASDPTS conferences over the years, but there are so many new state directors now that there are quite a few new people I’m looking forward to getting to know. I am also looking forward to seeing old friends in the industry once COVID restrictions are lifted, and we can all resume traveling to conferences again.