Going that extra mile

School Buses

Teamwork ensures safety of students, staff

Recently, we have heard the tragic news of students being injured or, worse yet, killed by careless or distracted drivers who were illegally passing stopped school buses.  It is more important than ever that drivers stay alert and be cautious when they see school buses on the roads. 

Kentucky law (KRS 189.370) requires motorists traveling in both directions to stop and allow the students to move safely to their destination.  Drivers must remain stopped until all warning devices – the flashing red lights, the stop sign and the crossing control arm – have been disengaged and turned off.  Any person who violates this law will be subject to being cited or arrested.

On April 26, 2017, Rowan County Schools participated in a one-day survey coordinated by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the Kentucky Department of Education observing and counting the numbers of incidents of vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses.  On that one day, with 40 drivers taking part in the survey, thirteen incidents of illegal passing were observed and counted.

“This is a huge problem,” said Guy Griffin.  “Some drivers are not paying attention to those warning lights, the crossing control arms and the stop signs on the buses.  It is important that drivers understand that they are breaking the law, but, more importantly, they are endangering lives when they pass a stopped school bus.”

With a fleet of over 40 school buses and a pool of over 50 bus drivers and 35 bus monitors on 47 different routes, the Rowan County Schools Transportation Department stays busy.  Buses can be seen on roads throughout the county throughout the school day.  The bus drivers and bus monitors, whose routes often last approximately 2 hours, have one goal in mind when driving their routes -- ensuring the safety of the students.

The buses of the Rowan County Schools Transportation Department travel over 3,000 miles each and every day across the various county roads and city streets to take students to and from school.  NOTE:  The previous mileage figure does not include those extras, such as field trips. 

Many times school bus drivers are accompanied by a bus monitor, someone who can act as an extra set of eyes and ears for the driver and can help ensure the safety of the littlest passengers.  While all school buses are equipped with crossing control arms on the front of the buses, ensuring that students safely board and disembark the school bus without being struck by a vehicle, the bus monitors are there to give the students a helping hand while giving parents peace of mind.

“Our drivers do a fantastic job of maintaining control of the buses and the students, but it helps to have that extra pair of hands to assist our students and maintain discipline,” said Davenport.  “I can remember when we first started putting bus monitors on some of the buses, as sort of a test.  It wasn’t long before we realized just how important these monitors are to whole idea of bus safety.”

For safety purposes, each bus is equipped with its own radio.  Drivers can be in contact with personnel at the bus garage as well as with school staff.  The radios also allow drivers to report identifying information of vehicles that have illegally passed the stopped school buses.

 In addition to the radios, all buses are also equipped with video cameras, providing protection for the bus drivers, bus monitors and the students.  Some of the buses are now equipped with birds-eye cameras, giving the drivers a wider field of view both inside and outside the school bus and allowing them to keep track of outside traffic, especially those vehicles that might be attempting to pass a bus illegally.

Sometimes, weather conditions make for hazardous driving conditions for the bus drivers.  The staff at the Rowan County Schools Transportation Department work together with the Superintendent to make decisions when weather conditions could make travel unsafe on the county roads. 

“We don’t take our jobs here at the Bus Garage lightly,” said Jane Davenport, director of transportation for Rowan County Schools.  “We know that we are transporting precious cargo – the students – and we take our jobs seriously so when we are trying to maintain discipline on the school bus or when we have to make a decision such as canceling school due to unsafe road conditions, safety is the only real consideration.”

Bus drivers and bus monitors are often the first face of Rowan County Schools that students see in the morning and the last that they see in the afternoon.  Bus drivers, like Jody Leadingham, often see this as their responsibility to represent the school district with a positive attitude.  Many times that positive attitude is returned to the drivers by the students.

“I have kids that want to give me a hug when they get on the bus and another when they get off the bus,” said Jody.  “These kids need to see a smile from me and need to feel welcome on my bus.  And you can’t help but smile when you see these kids as they grow up.”

Making sure that the bus drivers and bus monitors are properly trained falls on the shoulders of Janie Davenport, Guy Griffin, and the Transportation Department’s driver trainers, Doug Binion, JR Richmond and Jack Tackett.  Each of these five individuals are certified by the state as a driver trainer, a task that requires hours of studying and testing to complete.  This training team brings a total of almost 90 years of experience to the job of maintaining the safety of the department and, most importantly, the students.

“It can take up to 40 hours to train a new bus driver and make sure that they know the bus inside and out, literally,” said driver trainer JR Richmond, who also serves as a 3rd Party CDL Examiner.

Recently, the Rowan County Schools Transportation Department took part in a training exercise with St. Claire HealthCare and Rowan County’s first responders, including Morehead Fire Department, Morehead City Police, and Rowan County EMS.  With medical students from St. Claire HealthCare playing the role of injured school-aged children, the mock emergency allowed all participants in the drill to receive the training needed to be prepared in the event of an actual emergency.

“Our primary focus, at all times, is the safety of the students,” said Jane Davenport.  “The hours of training and retraining that our drivers and monitors have to go through help to ensure that level of safety, safety that is needed for everyday transportation of the students as well as during an emergency.”

The bus mechanics play an integral role in keeping the buses on the roads.   The mechanics perform scheduled routine maintenance checks and inspections on each school bus.  Each bus must undergo a monthly inspection, which allows the mechanics to spot any issues that might arise with the operation of the school bus.  With over 40 buses in the fleet, the mechanics stay busy ensuring that each bus travels safely on the road, even on days with inclement weather, such as cold temperatures and snowy roads. 

When that inclement weather does occur, Janie Davenport and Guy Griffin assemble their team of “scouts” – driver  trainers, drivers, as well as mechanics – who get up early to check various roads throughout the county and monitor weather reports and forecasts so that a decision can be made by the Superintendent regarding school cancellations.

“It’s a pretty easy call if I step out my front door and see lots of white stuff and go sliding out the driveway,” Jane Davenport said. “Without that, I’m up at 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to check out road conditions in the more distant areas of the county.  When I advise the Superintendent about the conditions, he and I agree that we would rather err on the side of caution and protect both the students and the staff.”

One of the unsung heroes of the Transportation Department, according to Jane Davenport and Guy Griffin, would have to be Diana Jenkins, the records clerk in the office.  She keeps track of the staff members’ hours as well as maintenance and fuel records for the buses. In addition to these duties, she is also communicating with drivers via the radio and is often the first line of communication with concerned parents.

“Diana is the glue that holds us together,” said Guy Griffin.  “She is like a mother hen that takes care of our drivers and our monitors.”

 “Teamwork is the optimum word when describing the Rowan County Schools Transportation Department.  Our transportation staff members work together as a team, making sure that our students get from home to school and back safely,” said Superintendent John Maxey. 

He then added, “The drivers, the bus monitors, the mechanics, everyone works together for one goal – the safety of the children of Rowan County.  They are proof of the importance of teamwork and I think we all have reason to take pride when we see those buses traveling the roads of Rowan County and beyond.”

For information about becoming a bus driver or bus monitor with Rowan County Schools, please call either Janie Davenport, Rowan County Schools Transportation Director, or Guy Griffin, Rowan County Schools Transportation Compliance Coordinator, at 606-784-4908.

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