The Jackson County School System transportation department took top honors in mid-June, riding to the top in a first-ever, state-wide competition for school bus safety. 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 one 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.
Farmer works with Anita Sears, safety training supervisor; Michel Reynolds, routing supervisor, and Tonya Partain, routing specialist; Robin Weaver, department secretary; and more than 100 bus drivers who are school system employees.
Woods agreed with Howard’s assessment.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children, and making sure they can travel safely and arrive at school ready to learn,” he said. “Our drivers and transportation employees workharder than many ever realize, and they’re an integral part of our educational system. “From my experience as a high school principal who was CDL-certified to drive a school bus, to my vantage point as State School Superintendent seeing over and over the immense importance of safe student transportation, I knew I wanted to create a recognition for our districts going above and beyond to ensure their students’ safety.
“These eight school districts are doing tough, innovative work and deserve to be commended,” he 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 used to inspire safe practices, hire and retain drivers, and enhance student safety. JCSS, winner of Division 6, which includes districts with a full-time student enrollment between 5,251 and 8,850, transports 4,500 students each day.
The district provides additional training to cover key issues that can lead to school bus accidents, with a focus on loading and unloading procedures, tail swing, student management, and local policies and procedures. GaDOE cited “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.
JCSS serves approximately 7,700 students in pre-K through 12th grade in six elementary schools, two middle, and two high schools across Jackson County.