Plans for improvement include morale, student management techniques and logistics
By Dana Trumbull
The August 14 AJUSD Board meeting included an update from the new Director of Transportation Lori Jioras. Jioras reported for duty with just days to spare before school started on July 24. The first week of school is arguably the most challenging every year; however, the new job held some very special surprises to test the mettle of the 13 year school transportation veteran from Springfield, MO.
“We lost about half of the records for our children in a routing software glitch,” explained Jioras. “We had to go back in and manually reroute everyone.” To make matters worse, the printer in the transportation office broke down, forcing staff to shuttle the printing of route notifications to the district office. The logistical problems combined to delay letters being sent to district families, causing great frustration for parents, students and staff, alike.
With the trials of back-to-school week behind her, Jioras is optimistically looking toward redemption. “I’m already thinking about what we’re going to be doing differently. I have a lot of great ideas, so I think it will be a really good start up for next year.” One of those goals will be to change to different routing software. Jioras already has plans to visit other schools in the valley to evaluate the software they use prior to selecting a new program for AJUSD, to be implemented at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
Meanwhile, Jioras is making changes in departmental environment and procedures. Addressing morale, the transportation office has been freshly painted, and mailbox cubbies and clipboards ordered to increase ease and efficiency of paperwork handling for drivers. “Little things like that, we can do to help them feel a little bit better about their jobs and be more successful as drivers. They’ve been in a frustrating area for a while, and these were some things that we could do quickly and with minimal funds.”
Jioras added,“I’ve also given them a lot of higher expectations.” Ongoing classes for drivers above and beyond the refresher training required by the state will be offered. Topics addressed will include safety and behavior management, among other things. The department has already instituted a new structure for rider discipline. Rather than immediately issuing a “conduct ticket,” which leads to disciplinary action, drivers are encouraged to implement bus management techniques, such as moving kids to different seats or to the front of the bus. “We’ll be getting principal’s input on that as we go. But we’re looking at what’s going to be best for the drivers and what’s going to be best for the students.”
Jioras also discussed the “one address rule” that was implemented this year. “In the past, we would have students who went to mom’s house one day, and dad’s house the next and to grandparents’ another. In looking through the paperwork, it was so confusing; we would have children get on the wrong bus, because there were so many different addresses.”
As of this year, students are only allowed one bus stop assignment, with a few exceptions: buses will pick up/drop off students at TLC (district before/after school childcare) or the Boys & Girls Club, in addition to the home address. The department will also cooperate with custody issues.
“There’s a set structure for transportation, and it’s the same in almost any transportation company anywhere you go,” concluded Jioras. “But there are things that we can do that are just for AJ; just for our students and just for our employees. We are working toward making it a very positive experience for everyone. The more positive it is, the less discipline problems we have.”