Drivers up for annual bus rodeo

Certified Driver Trainer Kim Nash works with a driver on the mirror grid review, ensuring the position of mirrors gives the driver full lines of sight.

Certified Driver Trainer Kim Nash works with a driver on the mirror grid review, ensuring the position of mirrors gives the driver full lines of sight.

There are no cowboy boots or bucking broncos involved, but you’ll find plenty of reflective vests and clipboards (and even a golf cart) being put to use this week at the Jackson County School System’s annual Bus Rodeo.

The mandatory, annual review of skills for more than 120 drivers began last week. These JCSS employees travel more than 1.5 million miles a year, and the 500-point test is one the drivers take pride in, according to Anita Sears, the system’s training and safety supervisor.

“It’s not a ‘gotcha’ situation,” Sears explained. “We are identifying challenges our drivers face and addressing them.”

In addition to a written test, the rodeo tasks include a review of the regular inspections drivers perform on their buses and an obstacle course set up at the school system’s Central Office location.

Pre- and post-trip inspections require that drivers review their buses every time they start or park their vehicles. Oil and other fluids and tire treads are checked, for example. Driver proficiency in those reviews helps ensure vehicle operation and maintenance standards are met.

The physical maneuvers include backing into a space only slightly wider than the bus, parallel parking in an equally tight spot, and travel through a serpentine course and an “offset alley,” which has the driver pulling forward through a narrow channel created by angled pipes, moving slightly to the right for a very short distance, then moving forward again.

“Those mimic what a lot of our drivers face – for instance, in cul-de-sacs filled with construction vehicles,” Sears explained.

Certified driver trainer Tina Johnson, takes notes as Anita Sears, the Jackson County School System training and safety supervisor, directs driver Cary Pittman during the annual bus rodeo.

Certified driver trainer Tina Johnson, takes notes as Anita Sears, the Jackson County School System training and safety supervisor, directs driver Cary Pittman during the annual bus rodeo.

Other parts of the obstacle course deal with railroad crossings, stop lines, and protocols and distances for onboarding students.

Another key element of the rodeo is the mirror grid where the position, angle, and adjustment of all the mirrors on the buses are reviewed to ensure the drivers are taking full advantage of all their lines of sight (see more photos on our Facebook page).

It takes a crew and a tight schedule to wrangle the rodeo participants, who test between their morning and afternoon routes while school is in session. Monitors wearing reflective safety vests move across the busy lots surrounding the bus shop on foot or on a golf cart, clipboards in hand.

In addition to Sears, others involved include veteran driver Deborah Ward, bus monitor Joy Shadburn, and certified driver trainers Kim Nash, Melissa Marx, Tina Johnson, and Rebecca Lee.

“It’s all about safety – for our students, our drivers, and the public,” Sears said.

David Farmer, JCSS director of transportation, echoed her sentiments.

“After all,” he pointed out, “we are transporting Jackson County’s most precious cargo.”

AWARD WINNING DEPARTMENT

The JCSS transportation department rode to the top in a first-ever, state-wide competition for school bus safety at the end of the last school year. State School Superintendent Richard Woods recognized the winners of the Georgia Department of Education’s inaugural Pupil Transportation Safety Awards June 18, naming JCSS the winner among schools with enrollment of 5,251 to 8,850 students.

According to the GaDOE, nearly 1 million students and their parents rely on Georgia’s school buses to provide safe and dependable transportation to and from school each year.

Eight county school systems – Jenkins, Jasper, Chattooga, Washington, Pickens, Jackson, Catoosa, and Fulton – were recognized for their efforts to ensure safe and efficient student transportation. The award is sponsored by Blue Bird, Georgia’s school bus manufacturer, and Yancey Bus Sales & Service.

“Safety has been and remains our first priority in the Jackson County School System,” said Dr. April Howard, superintendent. “Many students’ days begin and end with a bus ride, and our drivers set a tone and an expectation. We are grateful for their dedication and that of our director of transportation, David Farmer, and his staff,” she said.

Winners were selected in divisions based on enrollment size. A panel of judges reviewed applications that evaluated a number of factors that impact bus safety, including completing safety training, evacuation drills, and other safety initiatives with students; evaluation of accidents and internal practices to prevent accidents; and innovative initiatives that inspire safe practices, hire and retain drivers, and enhance student safety. 

Working at the Jackson County School System bus rodeo with driver Tyler Lee are, from left, Rebecca Lee, Joy Shadburn, Melissa Marx, Tina Johnson, and Kim Nash.

Working at the Jackson County School System bus rodeo with driver Tyler Lee are, from left, Rebecca Lee, Joy Shadburn, Melissa Marx, Tina Johnson, and Kim Nash.

JCSS, winner of Division 6, which includes districts with full-time enrollment between 5,251 and 8,850, transported approximately 4,500 students each day during the 2017-18 school year.

GaDOE praised “an engaging, student-focused bus safety program” that is conducted at the district’s elementary and middle schools twice a year. Other practices include payment of a $500 referral bonus to transportation employees who recruit new drivers who complete six months of successful employment and $50 per month incentives for drivers’ with perfect attendance.

Dr. Selena Blankenship, JCSS director of human resources, pointed out that recent efforts to increase the number of drivers have been successful, and that additional personnel are being sought.

For more information, visit JacksonSchoolsGA.org and look for the blue “employment opportunities” button.