File photo courtesy Douglas Zimmerman

File photo courtesy Douglas Zimmerman

The National School Transportation Association recently held its annual meeting and convention, with almost 200 attendees at The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. During the board of directors meeting at this four-day event in July, I was formally elected as president of NSTA, the second female to serve in this role over the past 65 years. My fellow officers, Dan Kobussen, Patrick Dean, Brad Krapf, and I were installed at the awards and installation dinner on July 27.

It was great to celebrate this occasion with family, friends, colleagues, and business associates, as student transportation has begun its renewal after enduring the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. First, I want to thank our immediate past president, John Benish, Jr., for his leadership and vision over the past two, difficult years. No one could have envisioned what the country and student transportation encountered beginning in March 2020, as John took the gavel from former NSTA President Blake Krapf on July 22, 2019.

Two years later, we are still dealing with the after-effects of the pandemic, but having a vibrant return to a live meeting was certainly a welcome change from the litany of Zoom calls that have dotted all of our schedules for the past 16 months. There are surely lessons learned from the challenges of the past year and a half, and for me, I have a greater appreciation for our ability as an industry to pull together in the best interests of the students and communities we serve. Collaboration is critical for our continued recovery.

Our keynote speaker, Regina Phelps, spoke about leadership and lessons learned since the stark effects of the pandemic took over the country. One area where Regina’s comments really resonated with me was her viewpoint that leadership takes on many unique forms. In my mind, this observation was spot-on, as many student transportation professionals stepped up in a multitude of ways we never imagined in support of school districts and students. Leaders and companies adapted quickly to continue doing what we do best — serve our communities.

I was also reminded at our annual meeting and convention that the many challenges of the pandemic have not detracted from the other important issues that we continue to address as an association. We hosted programs on the school bus contracts, driver shortage, Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT), cybersecurity, and zero-emission (electric) vehicles to name a few. All of these issues are impacting daily operations as we prepare for the anticipated return-to-school.

As we spent the better part of four days together, it also became more evident that the need for live meetings can never be supplanted by virtual platforms that many of us have gotten used to these days. Outside of the formal programs, I was able to gather and share insights with many industry colleagues that I had not seen in quite a long time. I was also able to meet peers who I had only encountered through our virtual meetings. These engagements serve me well, as I embark on my new role as NSTA president.

Carina Noble is the president of the National School Transportation Association. - Photo courtesy National Express

Carina Noble is the president of the National School Transportation Association.

Photo courtesy National Express

Unfortunately, it seems there are several miles to go before we can completely put the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in our rear-view mirror for good, but I am also pleased to say that student transportation continues to be resilient. Our resiliency provides the fuel for the industry to evolve in many ways.

For example, I heard many innovative solutions to the driver shortage challenge that pupil transportation faces. I am encouraged that NSTA provides a platform for this vexing problem to be discussed, and collectively we can all benefit from an industry-wide collaboration on this important matter. I look forward to continued communication and collaboration, not only on the driver shortage, but in all areas impacting the yellow bus.

In closing, I would emphasize that if you have not become part of NSTA, I encourage you to check us out and consider becoming part of our team.

Remember: with NSTA, you never travel alone.