20 NOVEMBER 2019 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS asbointl.org dirty, late, or hot, isn’t the atmosphere that sets up the students to learn. It takes a strong transportation leader to make administrators understand that spending money on transportation is worth every penny.” At the end of each school year, Cox said he has made a habit of loading up several school buses with staff and heading to a local restaurant for a relaxing meal. “The district pays,” said Cox. “I don’t believe in telling my staff that we appreciate them and then having a dish-to- pass [for donations]. That’s like saying, ‘Appreciate your- selves by bringing in food.”‘ Celebrating drivers publicly is becoming a common occurrence on social sharing sites. More and more trans- portation directors are posting the good things that driv- ers do on their school’s social media channels—and even on LinkedIn. For example, Ellison has a “Kudos” box. He pulls two names at monthly meetings, and gives them a choice between two prizes. “It’s surprising how many people opt for me driving their route rather than going to lunch,” Ellison said. “They enjoy visiting with their students. I got a lot of positive feedback from posting that on LinkedIn.” Another way that Ellison celebrates his drivers is by collecting swag from trade shows. Along with gift cards, he’s rewarding his drivers for helping each other or their students. “I spend around $700 on gift cards at the beginning of the year. They are $10 cards, and I do things like put one in a coffee cup that I got at a trade show. It’s a small price to pay, considering what my staff does for each other and our kids.” Don’t Throw the Driver Under the Bus All of the transportation directors School Transportation News interviewed were firm in their belief that drivers are happier if they know that their supervisor has their back when it comes to parents, other administrators, and school principals. The consensus was that while transportation manag- ers must notify parents that they are going to take care of a particular complaint regarding their children’s bus ride, they are also going to support the driver whenever possible and appropriate. If the driver made a mistake, the consequences are the same for everyone. “There must be a sense of accountability,” said Shields. “I have their back. Just like in a real family, you’re going to protect one another. I handle parents and other administrators professionally. But if a principal calls and rips into my dispatcher, I may call them or their boss and say, ‘This is not how we handle things.”‘ Cox said the industry is changing. Many principals and other administrators are being placed in charge of transportation, but it’s a job they aren’t qualified for. “Several of them have called me for advice, and I told them that they are tackling the department like it’s a school. I tell them to go ride a bus and see what the drivers do. Also, transportation is family oriented. If we notice a driver has an issue, we ask what’s wrong and what we can do to help. In the schools, they often send an email saying, ‘Hope you feel better.”‘ Deforrest reported that North East ISD’s superinten- dent appreciates student transportation because he used to be the department’s supervisor. “Unlike most superin- tendents, he understands how the transportation depart- ment works.” Matt English is on his ninth superintendent in the tiny Anamosa, Iowa, School District. “Im not a ‘yes’ man. I do what’s best for the students and the drivers,” said English. “I firmly believe that transportation directors need to get out there and see the driver’s perspective.” Encouraging Older Drivers to Stay Shields had a number of drivers turning 70, which in Oregon, means the CDL must be renewed annually. Some of the drivers didn’t want to go through this more rigorous process. Fortunately, the district recently acquired four vans. The drivers can opt to be certified van drivers, and/or they can drive on trips. “This is building momentum,” says Shields. “We have four van drivers and four trip drivers.” English has found that because of the family atmo- sphere created by just 16 drivers, his retirees come back. “They may retire, but we have four or five people who have come back to drive,” English says. “They are part of our community here.” Kids Are the Real Bottom Line Herbert Hill, director of transportation at Muscogee County School in Georgia, feels that because today’s students require more time and attention, drivers must be able to recognize emotional concerns and family chal- lenges of their students. It helps to motivate students from their own life experiences. Hill noted, “The real challenge for districts is finding drivers who make a posi- tive impact on student’s lives.” Perhaps another challenge for transportation direc- tors might be creating the positive atmosphere that gives drivers the incentive to work long enough to have that positive impact on their students. A bus driver’s work can be more than just a job, and a positive atmosphere can permeate the children’s lives as well. Debbie Curtis is a freelance writer for School Transportation News magazine and a former school bus driver with 18 years of experience. She is based in Ithaca, New York. This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of School Transpor- tation News . Reprinted with permission from the publisher of School Transportation News . All rights reserved.