Outside of work, David and his wife of 46 years, Janeen, spend much of their time with their four daughters and 11 grandchildren. The Leaks also love to garden and travel.
Leak wasn't always a bus driver. He retired from the manufacturing industry after 25 years.
"After retiring, I felt like I needed to do something more," Leak said.
One day, he saw an ad in the local newspaper looking for bus drivers.
"My father was a school bus driver back in the 60's and 70's. I felt like this was something I could do to follow in the footsteps of my father," Leak said.
For the first five years of his time behind the wheel of a school bus, Leak drove students on a regular route. For the past three-plus years, he has been driving a special-needs route, which he said he loves and enjoys.
In August 2023, School Bus Fleet reported that Leak received the Congressman Juan Ciscomani American Dream Inspirational Educator Award. The award is given out each year by Casa Grande Union High School District to recognize support staff, teachers, and administrators for their dedication and inspiration.
Leak is the first Durham School Services driver to receive the award. School Bus Fleet talked to Leak about the achievement.
1. What does the award that you received mean to you?
I was very honored and humbled to receive the award, and I was even more honored to receive the award from Congressman Juan Ciscomani. I felt like all my hard work and dedication did not go unnoticed. I have always made it a priority to be at work on time and to be there every day.
When I received the award, I felt like I was representing all the great drivers at our transportation yard. There are many great drivers who do their jobs day in and day out. I just hope that I can be an inspiration to others who are drivers now and to those who want to become school bus drivers in the future.
2. What is your favorite part about being a school bus driver?
Without a doubt, my favorite part of being a school bus driver is the interaction that I have with the special-needs students on my route. This has been one of the most rewarding professions I have had. I love greeting them each day as they come on the bus, and I always try to put a smile on their faces.
Over the last three years, I’ve had the chance to interact with them quite regularly, so I can read them pretty well. I can tell if they’re having a good day or not, so I always try to brighten their day and make it as pleasant as possible. At the end of the day, after they have boarded the bus, many of them are eager to show me and my monitor their daily progress report. They are really excited, and we enjoy hearing about their day.
Another thing I like to do for my students is keep track of their birthdays. On the day of their birthday, I get them a birthday card and a gift card, and everyone on the bus sings Happy Birthday to them. It has become such a tradition on our bus that they start reminding me days in advance that they have a birthday coming up.
I truly love and appreciate these students and interacting with them every day. I just want to be a positive influence in their lives.
3. What are some of the greatest challenges you and other bus drivers face on the job?
As a school bus driver, every day when you go into work to begin the day, you never know what challenges are going to be out there that day.
You could be having mechanical problems with the bus or problems with a student or students on your bus route. You never know what a student is going through. There could be problems at home, with friends, or school.
You just need to remember that you may be the first face they see in the morning, so it's important to come into work with a positive attitude and with a smile on your face. You need to be prepared to greet your students with a smile on your face and kind words since you can make a positive impact on their lives.
4. How do you think school transportation departments and contractors can avoid a driver shortage?
The first thing is that you look for people that you know will be committed to the job, and not just someone that thinks this might be an easy part-time job. They need to know what they are getting into, including the upsides and the downsides.
Being a school bus driver can be a very stressful job at times, so I feel that it is imperative that a positive attitude be maintained not only among the drivers, but also with the office staff. A driver needs to know that the office staff has his or her back. You need to feel like you are part of a group not just individuals with goals in mind.
It is important that the site manager interacts as much as possible with all the drivers. They should communicate with them often and openly discuss anything the bus driver may be feeling or is concerned about. The key is to make them feel that they are really needed and create a feeling of security and comfort.
Drivers need to be taken care of, need to be compensated appropriately, and feel appreciated for what they are doing. Recognition is important! If drivers are happy and content, they are not going to want to leave.
5. What advice do you have for people who want to become bus drivers?
If you enjoy making a difference in the lives of our young people, then this is the job for you. It's hard and can be stressful, but you will come to work looking forward to each day with a positive attitude and a smile on your face.
Most importantly, you will make a difference in the lives of the students you interact with. I had one student come up to me with a picture he had drawn of me. Under the picture in his own words, he wrote, “Someday I want to be a school bus driver just like you.” It was very heartwarming, and it is honestly the most rewarding job you will ever have. I am proud to be a school bus driver.