Some of the Best Lessons Come From Our Peers

Derek Graham
Posted on March 26, 2020

Tom Cohn, the transportation director for Helena (Mont.) Public Schools, focused on student safety, tying together the implementation of lap-shoulder belts and the rollout of a parent notification app. Photo courtesy Derek Graham
Tom Cohn, the transportation director for Helena (Mont.) Public Schools, focused on student safety, tying together the implementation of lap-shoulder belts and the rollout of a parent notification app. Photo courtesy Derek Graham
One thing that has always struck me about the pupil transportation industry is the premium that individuals place on professional development. Not only is there an interest in learning, but also in sharing.

Invariably, conference attendees end up learning from each other as well as from the experts presenting the sessions. Some will tell you they learn more from their fellow attendees. Most recently, I experienced this at the Education Logistics (Edulog) Student Transportation Leadership Conference (STLC). The 15th edition of the STLC, which is open to all, regardless of whether they use Edulog technology, was held Feb. 24 to 28 in conjunction with Edulog’s annual training conference in Las Vegas, Nev.

The STLC topics were extremely varied, hitting on several challenges that pupil transportation leaders face every day. Here are six of my takeaways — which came from attendees as well as presenters.

1. Potential Leaders Exist Throughout an Organization.

Chris Ellison, director of transportation at Eugene (Ore.) School District 4J, shared his vision of leadership and explained the value of mentoring and “growing your own” leaders in an organization. He suggested that there are many leaders in an organization, not just the “boss.” It was good to hear this, validating my practice of including leadership as a performance expectation for all staff on my team when I was state director.

2. Tackling Student Safety, Parent Peace of Mind.

Tom Cohn, manager of transportation for Helena (Mont.) Public Schools, focused on student safety, tying together the implementation of lap-shoulder belts and the rollout of a parent notification app. I was impressed with how, in Helena, improving student safety and parent satisfaction is not limited to initiatives in just one segment of the transportation department.

3. Managing Change is Essential.

Lam Nguyen-Bull, the head of the consulting and advisory services division for Edulog, led a discussion on an organizational constant: change. She not only addressed the presence of change (regarding things like seat belts, technology, fuel, drivers), but managing it. Referencing a famous quote by management consultant Peter Drucker — “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” — she reminded the group that no matter how good your strategy is, within an unreceptive organization it will wither and die. We must know who within our organization might be champions of change, who might never change and, most importantly, how to manage the majority that fall somewhere in between.

4. Pinpoint a Plan’s Missing Pieces.

Have you ever been given an assignment without all the pieces of the puzzle? Shawna Knudson, Edulog’s executive director of account management and project management, led the group in a hands-on exercise resulting in just that. It certainly drove home the need to plan ahead to avoid such situations.

Derek Graham is an industry consultant. He previously served as North Carolina’s pupil transportation director.
Derek Graham is an industry consultant. He previously served as North Carolina’s pupil transportation director.

5. Data Drives Efficiency.

Kevin Hart, a project leader for the Transportation Information Management System (TIMS) at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education, and Andy Leibenguth, a senior consultant for Edulog, shared lessons from project work in New Hanover County (N.C.) Schools and Minneapolis (Minn.) Public Schools, respectively. They focused on various aspects of student data, ridership assignments, and school boundary planning. It caused me to appreciate the many people that create that student data at the school level because optimization, efficiency, and planning doesn’t happen without that information.

6. Great Ideas Also Come From Attendees.

Perhaps the coolest thing I learned at STLC was while I was on the “presenter’s side” of the podium. A novel approach was shared by attendee Tyra Ramsey from Dorchester School District Two in Summerville, S.C., describing her rollout of Edulog’s Parent Portal Lite. As parents visited the school for open house, they could ride a school bus and get acquainted with the app by following the movement of the bus in real time on the app. Genius!

Another attendee, Roger Miller from East Allen County Schools in New Haven, Ind., essentially summed up my experience in describing his own: “The [STLC] presentations allowed time for back-and-forth conversations with all of us, which for me, is where the real learning takes place.”

Sure, training and continuing education presented by those who are experts in their field can expand our knowledge. But don’t discount what you might learn from the person sitting right next to you.

Derek Graham is an industry consultant with clients that include Education Logistics (Edulog), a provider of school bus routing software solutions, school bus GPS tracking, and other related systems. He previously served as state pupil transportation director in North Carolina for 21 years.

Related Topics: conferences, consultants, Indiana, management, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, student tracking, vehicle tracking/GPS

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