The district superintendent, Cole Young, credits Liz Thies with turning around morale and modernizing the district fleet. - Source: Mohave Valley (Ariz.) Elementary School District

The district superintendent, Cole Young, credits Liz Thies with turning around morale and modernizing the district fleet.

Source: Mohave Valley (Ariz.) Elementary School District

It’s a long way from windy Chicago to the cotton and alfalfa fields of Mohave Valley, but it is here in Arizona that Liz Thies currently serves as transportation director for the Mohave Valley Elementary School District.

The district’s superintendent, Cole Young, notes that she came into a department struggling with morale issues, functional inefficiencies, and a need for modernization.

“Her contributions, impact, achievements, and unwavering commitment to excellence make her an exemplary candidate for this recognition,” Young wrote in his nomination letter. “I am confident that her dedication and leadership will continue to inspire and benefit our school community for years to come.”

For her success on all those fronts, School Bus Fleet is happy to recognize her as our 2024 Administrator of the Year.

Thies has lived in Mohave Valley for the past 14 years. Before entering the school transportation industry, she worked as a corporate administrative assistant and an account payables/receivables clerk. When she moved to Arizona in June 2010, she got to be a “stay at home” mom for a couple of years. After her youngest went into full-time day school, “I was ready to go back to work,” she says.

“I tried to find something that I was experienced in, but I really could not find anything in my area that I was happy with,” Thies recalls. “I saw an ad in the newspaper about school bus drivers needed in my children’s school district area. I figured that it would work out great, I would be home when they were home, and they could jump on the bus with me to go to school or come home. I would have all the summer/winter breaks off to spend with them. It was a perfect match as I could be with my children as much as possible.”

Modernizing the Local School Bus Fleet

A year later, she was promoted to dispatch. Eventually, the transportation director leading the department left the district and she found herself promoted once more.

“When I was a driver and then dispatch, I could envision what could be better,” she says. “Better driver training, more recognition, and safer buses. Now I have the chance to do it and we are doing it! So many new and fantastic things have started to happen; so many changes and a lot of new technology.”

Mohave Valley runs a fleet that includes 18 diesel school buses and two that run on gasoline. But at the start of the 2024-25 school year, that fleet will see the arrival of seven Thomas Built C-2 Saf-T-Liner Jouley electric school buses, and possibly three more after that.

Those buses are part of modernization effort at MHVESD that came through a $1.2 million grant and $3.2 million in EPA Clean School Bus Program funds.

“We realized our fleet was getting older and needed a refresh to keep reliably serving our kids and families,” Thies says. “We dove into upgrading our transportation system, looking at what needed attention: electric buses, better communication gear, Transfinder software, sprucing up our white fleet, and improving special-needs transportation.”

With help from the district office, her team crunched numbers and explored funding opportunities.

“Once we had some good options, we put together a detailed plan with the budget, timeline, and what we wanted to achieve,” Thies says. “During the grant application process, we talked to several people, such as district leaders and community members, to get their support and ideas. We highlighted all the positive changes our upgrades would bring, like making things safer, smoother, and more environmentally friendly. These changes are in process, but we think we can really make a difference. We are making our operations more cost-effective, efficient, and better for everyone involved, especially our students and families who rely on us daily for safe and reliable transportation to and from school.”

The new technology helped:

  • Facilitate seamless communication with parents about bus times.
  • Add wi-fi availability.
  • Provide GPS tracking.
  • Digitize school bus routes.
  • Enable student tracking.

“These initiatives have significantly enhanced the safety and reliability of our student transportation system,” Young says. “Her impact on students, parents, and the community has been profound.”

Stopping the Spread of Low Morale

When she assumed the leadership role in the department, she found staff suffering from low morale.

“Negativity can spread like a disease,” she says. “One unhappy staff member can create several unhappy staff members in an instant! We do try to nip negativity in the bud right from the get go. We find out what and or why a driver is unhappy and work on it, talk with them personally to try and correct the situation.”

Among the activities meant to boost morale:

  • A weekly raffle during the last two months of school for a $25 gift certificate.
  • Potluck lunches each quarter.
  • Individual birthday parties – even if that means four birthday celebrations in one month.

“Positive morale makes everyone work better and helps with attendance,” Thies says. “We want our drivers to come to work and enjoy what they do. It does not always work 100% but I would say 95% of my team loves coming into work and actually some of them dread time-off/breaks! They want to be at work and not only enjoy their job but enjoy each other.”

Adds Young: “Her visionary approach to future student needs, effective communication with stakeholders, successful securing of pivotal grants, and championing the modernization of transportation facilities highlight her strategic vision and tireless dedication to overcoming challenges unique to rural environments. Her efforts have positioned MVESD as a model for transportation efficiency and safety in rural school districts within Arizona and nationwide.”

About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

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