Management

10 Phenomenal Women in Pupil Transportation

Kendra Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant
Posted on October 3, 2019

School Bus Fleet learns more about the lives and careers of a handful of successful, accomplished women nationwide who are dedicated to ensuring school buses run safely and efficiently.

Photo courtesy Mona Calhoun
Photo courtesy Mona Calhoun

Mona Calhoun

Transportation Director
CAM Community School District
Cumberland, Anita, and Massena, Iowa

How did you get your start in the industry?
The reason I was immersed in this industry many years ago was all due to my dear friend Max Christensen. Max and I attended kindergarten together and have been friends ever since. I was approached in 1986 by Max to consider becoming a bus driver for the Anita School District. Despite the challenges presented, Max knew our friendship would pull through, and I would become the first driver he hired. The rest is history.

What are your top professional achievements?
One of the greatest challenges I had to overcome was the stigma around whether a woman could successfully do the job of transportation director. I successfully completed a six-month probationary period by handling the tasks of the job, along with changing the oil in all the small vehicles and buses. Another accomplishment was organizing a fundraiser alongside other bus drivers for a two-way radio system. The first year we received this system it proved beneficial when a bus slid off the road in the middle of winter. With the system we were to get help quickly and keep the kids safe. Another was being able to recruit more women bus drivers, being as I was one of only two women drivers at the time I started as transportation director.

What advice do you have for other women who may face adversity in a male-dominated field?
Hold your head up high, proudly do your job, and inquire why they doubt that you can do the job.

What is the best advice someone has shared with you?
My dad told me, “Whoever said life was fair was lying.”

Photo courtesy Angeles Valerio
Photo courtesy Angeles Valerio

Christina Celeste

Transportation Supervisor
Orange Unified School District;
Treasurer
California Association of School Transportation Officials
Orange, Calif.

How did you get your start in the industry?
In 2013, my mother, who works as a child nutrition manager for the Palmdale School District, told me about an open position in the transportation department. I took a leap of faith and received an offer for the supervisor position. I have spent my entire career in the transportation industry in a management capacity and have enjoyed every minute of it. I am in an industry I can now call home.

What are your current job duties?
As transportation supervisor, I assist in the planning and management of pupil transportation. I help to supervise more than 100 bus drivers and 35 instructional assistants (bus aides). I oversee the day-to-day operations and work alongside our talented dispatchers. Together, we plan and organize school bus routes to ensure consistency and safety for our students.

What do you find most interesting about the school transportation industry?
Every day poses new challenges, learning opportunities, and accomplishments. It is never a dull moment. Working in the transportation industry has allowed me to build relationships and work in an environment where we can rely on one another and call those we work with family.

Have you noticed growth in the number of women working in leadership positions since you started in the industry?
Yes, most definitely! I am honored to work alongside some extremely talented women. I have seen growth for women in our industry. However, I still firmly believe gender should not determine if an individual is the right fit for a job.

What are some of your outside interests/hobbies?
I love to go camping and spend quality time with my family and friends. I enjoy traveling and exploring new places. My goal is to go on at least one vacation each year outside of California.

Photo courtesy Judy Clarke
Photo courtesy Judy Clarke

Judy Clarke

Transportation Consultant/Acting interim Transportation Supervisor
Moravia Central Schools
Moravia, N.Y.

How did you get started in the industry?
I was sitting in my car with a good friend of mine waiting to pick my kids up from school. This friend was a school bus driver from another district. As we waited, looking at all the buses lined up, she said, “Bet you could never drive a bus that big.” The very next day I went to the Skaneateles, N.Y., bus garage to ask if they needed bus drivers. They trained me, I took my road test, and passed. Challenge met, end of dare (or so I thought). The next day, the transportation supervisor called me and asked if I would sub on a special-needs bus route. I reluctantly agreed, and so it began. That phone call turned into a 40-year career choice — one I’ve never regretted.

What do you find most interesting about the school transportation industry?
The people. I am in sincere awe of all the drivers, bus monitors, dispatchers, mechanics, etc., that take good care of our kids. I have respect for what they do, how they do it, and the responsibility that they carry with them every day.

What are some of your outside interests/hobbies?
I love to do photo journaling. I have also had articles published in the local newspapers — mostly environmental stories. I also covered the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department K9 police dog training program. Amazing experience.

Photo courtesy Djamal Balbed
Photo courtesy Djamal Balbed

Vickie Cross

Transportation Director
Fulton County School District
Fulton County, Ga.

How did you get your start in the industry?
One day I was out with my sons shopping when they started pointing and saying, “Mom! It’s Ms. Yolanda, our bus driver!” We introduced ourselves and started talking. Their driver thought I was a stay-at-home mom (my husband at the time and I owned our own company) and told me I should drive a bus. We talked a short while and said goodbye, but the seed was planted. I would see her at their bus stop and she always smiled and reminded me to come drive. Finally, the seed became a plant: I applied to be a bus driver in 1991, and have stayed in pupil transportation for 28 years.

What are your current job duties?
To build relationships within our transportation team. My leadership is heavily grounded in collaboration, a “praise-based” leadership style, and accountability. Working in pupil transportation is a serious commitment, but working with my team is a joy and an honor.

Have you noticed growth in the number of women working in leadership positions since you started in the industry?
Yes. A wonderful example is Mrs. Lynn Simpson. She was the executive director of transportation when I came to Fulton County. Mrs. Simpson became a mentor to me. One of my treasured “business possessions” is a letter given to me by Mrs. Simpson. Her leadership, but more importantly, her friendship, gave me the confidence to move my “glass ceiling.”

This is just one example of the women I have worked with in pupil transportation. Women have always been in pupil transportation, but most are in school bus driver positions. However, in the last 10 years, phenomenal women are eagerly taking their place in leadership, and they are succeeding.

What are some of your outside interests/hobbies?
I read anything I can put my hands on. I love to go to plays in our community. My favorite thing to do is spend time with my grandchildren; we are so proud of them.

Photo courtesy Jean B
Photo courtesy Jean B

Margaret C. Hogan

Transportation Supervisor
Mendham Township School District
Brookside, N.J.

How did you get started in the industry?
I was working in the district for about 14 years as the elementary school secretary when I felt like I needed a challenge. I was able to apply for the position [of transportation supervisor] and they hired me. The learning process was interesting and exciting. I have enjoyed it.

What are your top professional achievements?
My top professional achievements are completing the Rutgers NJ Transportation Supervisors Certification Program and helping with growing the department.

What has been the most rewarding part of your job?
When I see my drivers go the extra mile. No pun intended. They all at one time or another have waited for that parent, or stopped students from exiting a bus when they noticed a car passing through the reds. I hear the drivers on the radio helping one another out during a breakdown, offering to pick up their students or switch buses. It’s that teamwork that I am most grateful for.

What do you find most interesting about the school transportation industry?
It’s never boring. It constantly changes and is challenging. My peers in the industry were welcoming to a newcomer like myself. They always answered my questions when I wasn’t sure of something. There is definitely a brotherhood in the industry.

What are some of your outside interests/ hobbies?
I love the outdoors, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, cooking, reading, and hanging out with my dog and hubby.

Photo courtesy Dr. Jill Metcalfe
Photo courtesy Dr. Jill Metcalfe

Dr. Jill Metcalfe

Executive Director of Transportation
Aldine Independent School District
Secretary and Program Chair
Texas Association for Pupil Transportation (TAPT) Executive Committee
Houston

How did you get your start in the industry?
My father had an automotive repair and commercial truck leasing business, and my brother and I spent a lot of time there growing up. Then, when I became a teacher and a coach, I obtained a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and started driving for the athletic teams. I remember parking the bus one day and thinking ‘I could do this.’ I was very fortunate to be exposed to the industry when I was a kid, although I did not realize it at the time. When I joined the transportation department, it felt like home. The smells were the same as the ones I grew up with in my dad’s shop. I had a foundation for pupil transportation and fleet management, but it was the people in the department accepting me and training me that ultimately allowed me to be successful.

What has been your experience as the secretary and program chair of the TAPT Executive Committee?
This is my first year in the position, but I am looking forward to helping the Executive Committee build a great conference. The individuals in TAPT, particularly the directors and assistant directors in my region, helped me when I became an assistant director. I am looking forward to doing the same for other new people in the industry. Hosting a great conference with informative training sessions is one way to do that.

What are your top professional achievements?
When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, I had the opportunity to lead the department when we assisted with evacuations. I drove the bus, dispatched, and communicated with first responders and the Harris County Office of Emergency Management. I had been the executive director for about two months when Harvey hit.

What is the best advice someone has given to you?
It does not cost anything to be kind.

Photo courtesy Teena Mitchell
Photo courtesy Teena Mitchell

Teena Mitchell

Special-Needs Transportation Coordinator
Greenville County Schools
Greenville, S.C.

How did you get started in the industry?
On a whim, I decided to get a Class A CDL and drive across the country. I decided to drive a bus when my children were young. I accepted a position as a transportation supervisor, then as a transportation manager, and moved into my current position as special-needs transportation coordinator.

What are your current job duties?
I work with school administrators, supervisors, managers, and our special-needs department to coordinate transportation services for our students with disabilities.

What are your top professional achievements?
I led our district’s team in creating a training program for special-needs drivers and attendants. In 2014, I was the first to earn the Certificate of Special Needs Transportation through the National Association of Pupil Transportation (NAPT). In 2017, I received NAPT’s Special Needs Transportation Award and earned my Certification as a Director of Transportation. Additionally, I am on the Special Needs Advisory Committee and am an instructor for NAPT. I am also a Child Passenger Safety Technician and hold a National Child Passenger Safety Certification through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. I am also a black belt in Lean Six Sigma.

What has been unique about your experiences working with special-needs students?
I get to learn about them as individuals and evaluate their transportation needs. The uniqueness comes when we must think outside the box to come up with a plan to meet the needs of a student on a school bus.

Have you noticed growth in the number of women working in leadership positions since you started in the industry?
I have definitely seen growth in the number of women in leadership roles since I started in transportation. I believe that today’s more diverse leaders provide a better foundation for the next generation entering the school transportation industry.

Photo courtesy Dottie Muchmore
Photo courtesy Dottie Muchmore

Dottie Muchmore

Transportation Director
Maine School Administrative District 6 (MSAD 6)
Buxton, Maine

How did you get started in the industry?
I started serving in this industry 22 years ago. I began driving a school bus in South Dartmouth, Mass., when my four children were in elementary school. The idea of having the same schedule as my children, having time to myself during the day, and having summers off was very appealing. Since then, I have had the privilege of serving as the transportation director for one of the largest school districts in Maine: MSAD 6. Needless to say, my schedule has changed, and I no longer have summers off!

What are your top professional achievements?
My top professional achievements include serving as a Maine delegate at the 2015 National Congress on School Transportation and serving as president of the Maine Association for Pupil Transportation from Oct. 2016 to July 2019. I have also brought more technology into our school district to improve efficiencies. In a time of a nationwide driver shortage, I have worked closely with my team to consolidate bus routes and reduce driving positions through attrition. We are also currently expanding our propane fleet to reduce emissions and operating costs.

What did expanding to a propane bus fleet entail?
MSAD 6 began purchasing propane buses 10 years ago. Our drivers like the performance and have embraced the environmentally friendly and safe alternative fuel buses. I continue to actively seek ways to supplement the cost of the buses and have obtained funding. As the largest fleet sector in the state, MSAD 6 is leading the way.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Although I arrive to work each day with a positive attitude and smile on my face, people might be surprised to learn that I am not a morning person. I enjoy sleeping late, lounging around, and relaxing on my days off.

Photo courtesy Jean Carlos Delfin
Photo courtesy Jean Carlos Delfin

Courtney Villani

President
Villani Bus Co.
Linden, N.J.

How did you get started in the industry?
I was born into it. Both my parents had family owned and operated school bus companies. When I was 3, I thought I was a mechanic. I returned when I was in college and experienced a lot of different positions within the business.

What are your top professional achievements?
I’m proud to be in the third generation of our family business. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with so many outstanding people and organizations. I am very appreciative and humbled when I receive any acknowledgments for doing my job. Some of the honors have been with Linden Chamber of Commerce in 2015, Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs in 2016, Compulsive Magazine “Inspired by You,” and Boy Scouts of America’s Linden Good Scout Award in 2019.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I was a firefighter starting at the age of 16 and I loved it.

What do you find most interesting about the school transportation industry?
I feel that the industry has grown a lot in the time that I’ve been involved, regarding reporting requirements and such, but it’s still the same business. I love my Villani Bus family and appreciate the great job they do taking care of their students. When people are happy and caring, it shows in what they do and how they do it.

What is the best advice someone has given you?
Make time to make a life.

Photo courtesy Ebonee S. Wilson
Photo courtesy Ebonee S. Wilson

Ebonee S. Wilson

Regional Transportation Manager
KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools
Atlanta

How did you get started in the industry?
I was the business operations manager at one of our K-8 campuses. While in that position, I had occasional conversations with the director of facilities and transportation about the issues that I faced with our transportation service. At the time, the director did not have anyone else who worked with him to help manage the transportation service for our region, and I would often suggest that he needed some help. A year later, this position was created and I applied. I never imagined that I would be the person I had spoken of to help with transportation.

What are your top professional achievements?
I researched the market and have piloted a dismissal management system for our schools that includes both bus riders and car riders. This is to ensure that the dismissals at our campuses are safer, more efficient, and timely. Prior to this year, we had no way of accurately tracking our bus riders or car riders at dismissal.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I think people may be surprised to know that I have always had a passion for entertainment and that I owned an entertainment management company with my best friend some years ago.

How did you go from working in entertainment to school transportation?
I have always had a love for the arts and a passion for business. I have also been a strong proponent of education, but knew that I did not necessarily want to be a teacher. Instead, I wanted to be a part of all that is required to provide safe, consistent, and effective educational opportunities for students.

What is the best advice someone has given you?
This is a tough industry. Despite the challenges you may face with transportation, do not despair. Instead, continue to be diligent in doing the best that you can with controlling the things that you can control. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed.

Related Topics: California, Fascinating Personalities, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, special needs, Texas

Comments ( 1 )
  • Diana Hillander

     | about 9 days ago

    Great to see these awesome women in transportation being recognized for the awesome job they do. Phenomenal is right!

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