Have you thanked your school bus driver lately?
Over a catered meal at Kinston High School, LCPS did just that Wednesday evening, celebrating a school year that, despite unique problems that required innovative responses, is finishing as well as any school district could hope, with a cumulative driving record unsullied by injury or a serious accident.
“I know this seems like a thankless job sometimes,” Anthony Mitchell, LCPS transportation director, told nearly 200 drivers and safety assistants from all 17 schools and the pre-kindergarten program that serves LCPS. “You don’t get thanked enough, but I’m here tonight to thank you.”
The district’s 133 buses transport about 6,200 students — more than 70 percent of the student population — each school day and log 1.3 million miles during the year. Again this year, the Transportation Department received a 100 percent efficiency rating from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, which rates how effectively districts use their buses and bus routes to move students to and from school.
But 2016-2017 was anything but a routine school year, as Superintendent Brent Williams pointed out during his after-dinner remarks. “We’ve been through a major, major upheaval,” he said, “and we’re still recovering.”
Flooding that followed Hurricane Matthew in October forced Transportation Department offices to relocate to quarters Mitchell and his staff still occupy. Since mid-October, mechanics have made do with a garage without some basic amenities. For months after flood waters receded, bus drivers navigated routes altered by closed roads and relocated students. At one time, LCPS was running five buses to four neighboring counties to transport students in temporary housing to their home schools.
Through it all, bus drivers and Transportation Department staff doubled their effort and did their job — often with a smile, Williams said. “It’s easy to love your job on the good days,” he said, “but we’ve asked you to love your job on the days that weren’t so good.”
Mitchell recognized the 41 bus drivers who participated in the annual School Bus Road-E-O, a test of driving skill, and honored the top three finishers — Bonnie Whitehurst of Northwest Elementary School, who finished first and represented the district in regional and state competition; second-place finisher Daniel Wetherington of E.B. Frink Middle and third-place finisher Mary Davis, also of Frink.