By Cindy Chan
Michael Carter actually started doing homework before the school year even started.
The transportation director for Bay District Schools in Panama City, Fla. was brainstorming with six of his administrators about ways to reduce the amount of chaos that accompanies the beginning of a new school year. Carter suggested he and his bus drivers do something a little out of the ordinary – calling parents of their bus riders to introduce themselves and get their proper and current information.
“There are always students that we weren’t anticipating for transportation, and that’s really chaotic,” Carter says.
As a result, Carter recruited his 128 drivers to spend one day calling the parents of the students on their rosters that they expected to be riding their buses. Carter says it was a two-pronged approach.
“First, we wanted to introduce ourselves as their bus driver to establish a positive rapport with the parents,” Carter explains. “Secondly, we wanted to verify stop information – we ask if the student still lives at the same address and if that student is still riding the bus.”
The overall response to Carter’s newly implemented tactic was well-received by both parents and his bus drivers, who are responsible for transporting 10,000 students daily to and from school.
“The parents were very appreciative. We got a lot of calls and emails from parents who thanked us for doing that,” Carter beams. “Some parents haven’t been introduced to a bus driver before, so they were thankful to have the opportunity to be introduced. We thought that was special.”
Although his drivers were pleased with what they’ve done in the end, Carter admits he received a mixed bag of reactions when he proposed the idea to them. According to Carter, drivers are contracted to work certain days of the year, and if they do any work outside of those terms, it’s considered an addendum to that contract. Carter had to ask permission from the school board to pay the drivers for an additional day of work in order to carry out his plan.
“Usually, they get two days in the summer to take care of school business, and this year I asked for three days to accomplish the business of calling the parents,” Carter says.
David Emory has been driving the bus for Bay District Schools for the past two years. He found the exercise quite rewarding.
“The thing I liked about the first point of contact with parents is the fact it was a positive one,” Emory says. “Usually the first time you call a parent is to tell them little Johnny or Suzie aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. This way, we’re making the first positive contact, and we’re also getting correct information from them.”
Carter says once the drivers made one or two calls, they became more comfortable with the process.
“It benefits them too. Now they have the parents’ contact information and they have a positive rapport with this parent. If they have an issue with a student, they won’t be as apprehensive to reach out to them,” Carter says.