Each year, nearly one million students and their parents rely on Georgia’s school buses to provide safe and dependable transportation to and from school.
To emphasize the importance of safe school buses, State School Superintendent Richard Woods today recognized the winners of the Georgia Department of Education’s first Pupil Transportation Safety Awards. Eight county school systems – Jenkins, Jasper, Chattooga, Washington, Pickens, Jackson, Catoosa, and Fulton – were recognized for going above and beyond to ensure safe and efficient student transportation. The award is sponsored by Blue Bird, Georgia’s school bus manufacturer, and Yancey Bus Sales & Service.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children, and making sure they can travel safely and arrive at school ready to learn,” Superintendent Woods said. “Our drivers and transportation employees work harder 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.”
Winners were selected based in eight divisions based on enrollment size. The winning districts were selected by a panel of judges, based on an application which evaluated a number of factors that impact bus safety. Those factors include but are not limited to: 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 retrain drivers, and enhance student safety.
Jenkins County Schools, winner of Division 1 (districts with a full-time student enrollment between zero and 1,300), transports approximately 88 percent of their student population to and from school each day. Transportation staff conduct three emergency evacuation drills each year with students, and all field trip/extracurricular drivers give an explanation of evacuation procedures. The district partnered with their local EMC to provide and improve signage at school-bus stops in high density areas to alert the public. Talmadge Fries is the Transportation Director.
Jasper County Schools, winner of Division 2 (districts with a full-time student enrollment between 1,301 and 2,400), provides approximately 30-36 additional hours of classroom training for their drivers, and requires 12 hours of behind-the-wheel training with students and 12 without. To improve morale, the transportation director invites all school staff and students to spend a full week celebrating School Bus Driver and Monitor Appreciation each year. The district has a mandatory local School Bus Roadeo on spring Saturday each year. Jerry Williams is the Transportation Director.
Chattooga County Schools, winner of Division 3 (districts with a full-time student enrollment between 2,401 and 2,900) prioritizes clear communication between students and staff about evacuation procedures. The district utilizes student tracking software; students scan a card as they enter and exit the bus, enabling staff to easily identify whether a student is on the bus, missed the bus, or got off at the wrong stop. Leaders make a point of discussing safety issues with drivers and maintaining morale by listening carefully to driver concerns and providing input. Mike Jarrett is the Transportation Director.
Washington County Schools, winner of Division 4 (districts with a full-time student enrollment between 2,901 and 3,700) transports more than 60 percent of their students. The district partners with Sandersville Railroad to conduct Operation Lifesaver Training with their drivers, and the Washington County Board of Education this year approved an across-the-board pay raise for all drivers and monitors that will begin in August. All transportation personnel can attend any school function at no cost, and transportation is included in every district function. Willie A. Coneway is the Transportation Director.
Pickens County Schools, winner of Division 5 (districts with a full-time student enrollment between 3,701 and 5,250) transports approximately 2,200 students to and from school each day. The district conducts skills assessments each year, and drivers receive online training – including training on EpiPens and Diastat pens provided by the county nurse. Students are reminded at every stop to look, listen, and watch the driver before moving toward or away from the bus, and the district awards a weekly “bus rider of the week.” Cherri Howell is the Transportation Director.
Jackson County Schools, winner of Division 6 (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. An engaging, student-focused bus safety program is conducted at the district’s elementary and middle schools twice a year. The district pays a $500 referral bonus (after six months of successful employment) to transportation employees who recruit new drivers, and incentivizes drivers’ perfect attendance with $50 per month. The Transportation Director is David Farmer.
Catoosa County, winner of Division 7 (districts with a full-time student enrollment between 8,851 and 17,000) requires a minimum of 16 hours of classroom training hours, and an average of 20, for new drivers. Additional driver training is offered on topics such as laws, policies, and procedures; inspections; loading and unloading; emergencies; evacuations; accident reporting and procedures; and special needs transportation. An Accident Review Committee meets and reviews any accidents that occur, minor or major, and makes a determination on additional training needed, etc. The Transportation Director is Jerene Jones.
Fulton County, winner of Division 8 (districts with a full-time student enrollment between 17,001 and 178,200) has 800 school buses traveling more than 7.5 million miles annually. The district meets all federal and state mandated training, but adds additional and advanced training that begins the day an applicant comes to orientation. The transportation department is an active participant in the district’s strategic goal to increase the percentage of students reading at or above grade level by third grade, and is adding magnetized “sight word” signs on the interior ceiling of the buses that serve four pilot schools. The Executive Director is Sam Ham and the Transportation Director is Vickie Cross.
Information from Georgia DEpartment of Education.