It’s no surprise that the school bus industry is an aging one. For years, phrases like “succession planning” and “new crop” have been bandied about by veteran professionals who have decried an apparent lack of “new blood” to take the reins when they retire.
Truth be told, things are seldom as bad as they seem. Every generation seems to think that the one that comes after it is full of the over-privileged, lazy and unappreciative. They lack work ethic, so the older set claims, and life experience. Yet they think they know everything.
Plus, their music is too loud, their clothing too weird, and what’s up with the slang?
We could be just as easily talking about the 1950s, 1960s or…2016.
While every generation has its quirks, today’s millennials, or those born roughly between 1980 and 2000 are breathing new life into the school bus industry with fresh perspectives on technology, research, training, business development and more. Meet the following student transportation professionals, generally under the age of 40, who are poised to take the to new heights over the next several decades.
Josh Rice is widely considered a leader throughout the great state of Texas, and increasingly the rest of the nation is as well. He’s made a name for himself and New Caney ISD as for innovation and forward thinking. “He runs a great operation, his staff love and respect him and he is also respected in our industry,” said his nominator. “He loves to learn!”
That he does. In addition to overseeing 150 employees and a fleet of 200 school buses, he implemented student tracking and computerized routing. New Caney even became the first school district in the nation to implement an onboard tablet to integrate the technology for drivers on all school buses along with GPS and a four-channel camera system.
Rice is an instructor for the Texas School Bus Driver Trainer Academy and is an instructor for the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation professional certification program. He obtained a master’s degree in HR from Abilene Christian University and is also a registered nurse, a licensed pilot and a recent graduate from the local police academy.
“Most people are not even aware he has accomplished all these goals. He does not do it to brag or for accolades...he just does it!” his nominator added. “He is also a wonderful husband and father and just fun to be around! He appreciates what it means to be a true leader and has a servant’s heart."
Fabian Armendariz was only 30 when he was named the director of transportation for Kansas’ largest school district, which is comprised of 93 schools that serve roughly 51,000 students. During his time in the position, he formed a committee of district personnel and bus contractor staff from all levels to create a comprehensive student management program based on a districtwide initiative of safe and civil schools. The program includes driver training and resources, posters, student lessons with videos and administrative tools for disciplinary action.
While setting high expectations for everyone who works for him, Armendariz’ leadership has built a solid bridge between the various schools and the bus contractor, and he has helped foster an environment of trust. He frequently encourages staff to be creative when focusing on solutions, such as when the transportation department refined the district’s severe weather plan for buildings and bus drivers in the case of a tornado warning. Armendariz made sure that drivers were given a severe weather locator map of district building locations to find possible shelters along their bus routes if a crisis arose. At the same time, as part of the plan to get students and staff properly sheltered, school building staff unlock specific doors for those buses that could be seeking protection from the severe weather. These are just two of the numerous examples of issues that Armendariz has tackled during his tenure as director of transportation.
Earlier this year, he was recognized as a member of the Wichita Business Journal “40 Under 40” class, which led to his participation in the publication’s “Emerging Leaders” program. He is also active in community outreach to boost support for area schools, going as far as to don a full costume to play “Pea Pal” during a fruits and vegetables contests put on by the district’s Nutrition Services Department’s to encourage healthy eating habits. He has described he greatest achievement as becoming the first person in his family to graduate from high school, college and earn an MBA.
Shari Gillman has not quite worked a full year for WCSD, but she is no student transportation rookie. She is already widely recognized at work for her ability to solve problems quickly, route efficiently and manage the back end of the district’s office programs. And that comes after more than 10 years as a GIS specialist for Alpine School District, about an hour’s drive south of Salt Lake City.
Her current job is to keep the transportation department current with up-to-date student information and addresses and to generally stay proficient in district computer programs. She also recently helped Washington County implement GPS and inspection software on the school buses.
“The best traits that Shari portrays is that she shares the information readily and often so everyone around her is learning,” said her nominator. “She is creative and always providing solutions. We appreciate Shari and her leadership traits tremendously.”
Shari has her Bachelor’s Degree in geology with a minor in geospatial analysis from Weber State University, where she graduated Cum Laude and was a member of the Sigma Gamma Epsilon honor society. She is also a co-author of “Geology of Utah’s State Parks and Monuments” for the Utah Geological Association.
Those who know Brittany Weaver know her family is synonymous with the safe securement and seating of school bus passengers. Her grandfather is Bill Moore, the late founder of Besi and father of company President Sue Weaver, Brittany’s mom. But this isn’t your typical millennial tale of spoiled kid being handed the keys to the corner office. And no, her family didn’t nominate her, either.
Brittany has learned the business from the ground up. She still regularly works in the factory while taking a lead role in learning every aspect of what it takes for the business to run smoothly. This includes production to material cutting, shipping and customer service and working the booth at industry trade shows. A fellow employee, who just happens to also be Mom, confirmed that Brittany has been working through different departments to give her a better understanding on how every part of what the company does impacts the end result.
“I am very proud of her accomplishments thus far and I am confident she will be a great leader within the industry we are so passionate to serve,” Sue Weaver said.
Corey Muirhead has the resume of someone who has been in the transportation industry for 27 years, not who is 27 years old. Not only is he the chief negotiator and business development leader at the largest school bus company in New York, but he also serves as secretary and legislation committee chairman for the New York School Bus Contractors Association. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the 1181 Pension and Welfare Funds, which represents 8,000 unionized members of drivers, assistants and mechanics operating statewide.
In the wake of the Atlantic Express bankruptcy filing several years ago, Muirhead found the perfect opportunity for his company to break the barrier to entry into Long Island. Seemingly overnight, Logan Bus started a 300-bus operation and made sure every child received transportation in time for the post-winter break startup.
Despite being so young, his peers say he shows leadership qualities of owners who have been in the industry for decades. “He knows when to lead, when to listen, he understands criticism, and is always eager to learn,” his nominator said. “Some of our best conversations have been him seeking help, never too much of an ego to learn. At the same time, he can tell someone like me who’s been in the industry for years new ideas. His passion for kids as a coach of our children in our neighborhood has carried over into his work profession.”
“He is a true professional in every sense of the word.”
Charles Ewald has been called a man of the 21st century, helping the Montgomery County Public Schools transportation department stay ahead of technology as it emerges on the market, especially in upgrading all the district’s shops with new equipment. MCPS is the largest school district in Maryland, serving more than 141,000 students at 200 schools. On any given day during the school year, the district transports roughly 100,000 students, using a fleet that consists of 1,267 buses. Ewald’s leadership has drastically improved morale throughout the department from his efforts to make everyone he manages feel like an appreciated member of the team. The leadership qualities he displays while on the job were honed from his 10 years of military experience in the U.S. Air Force, which show in his ability to promote productivity in the work force. He also exhibits a gift to see and prepare for the road ahead by providing the necessary tools and knowledge to operate in a current shop and future ones. He has boosted training for all employees to assist in their daily duties, pushing further than previous managers by taking a hands-on approach by essentially taking the helm at the driver’s wheel.
Midwest Bus Sales Inc. has a hometown company feel, but it truly has a national reach, and its employees bleed yellow for generations. Take for instance Scott Kincaid and Jeff Keeley, a pair of young bucks who are steering the company into new and exciting directions. Let’s start with Scott, whose father, Don Kincaid, owns Midwest Bus Sales, and is the company’s current president. Don recently celebrated 50 years of experience in the industry. Scott hopes to continue that tradition. “Scott Kincaid has been a huge catalyst for the CNG market in school buses since 2010,” said Scott Bruegge, general manager for Midwest Bus Sales Inc. “He has been the project lead and resident expert for the grants, funding, and return on investment to four of the largest school districts in the Kansas City area.”
Scott worked directly with Thomas Built Buses to provide the market research, as well as pushed to have them be the first to market with the Type A and Type C CNG school buses. “He has also been instrumental providing school districts with the data and the financing for these projects in order for them to make total fleet replacements from diesel to compressed natural gas school buses,” Bruegge explained.
Alternatively, Jeff Keeley has spent the last decade as a rising star in Midwest Bus Sales. He began his career as a technician for a Kansas school district before he joined the company as the lead school bus technician. “After five years on the floor, Jeff became the lead trainer for the dealership being certified by Thomas Built Buses to train technicians on their chassis and body components,” Bruegge said, adding that Jeff was quickly promoted into a management position, overseeing the service and body shop for the dealership on top of his training duties. Keeley has displayed keen business sense, strong leadership traits and his sharp-edged customer service expertise, winning over many shop managers. His training and willingness to assist others to get buses repaired safely and on time earned him on multiple occasions the title Regional Trainer of the Year from Thomas Built Buses. He was also instrumental in helping Midwest Bus Sales Inc. enter the CNG market, demonstrating that he could provide an unprecedented level of training and knowledge that had manufacturers reaching out to him when problems arose during production.
“Jeff is highly skilled and competent with electrical and diagnostic parts of the new technology chassis and body, specifically the engines and transmissions…who has a technical aptitude of commercial vehicles unmatched by those twice his age,” Bruegge said.
Mike Martucci has been called a wunderkind in school transportation, showing in-depth knowledge of the industry. He started his career in pupil transportation after graduating from college in 2007. His first job in the industry was as a school bus salesman, selling directly to school districts and contractors throughout the Hudson Valley Region of New York. During this time, he realized that there was a growing demand for more affordable busing alternatives, especially from school districts faced with increasing budgetary pressure. He began promoting the idea that school districts could save money if they formed partnerships with private school bus operators instead of providing their own busing.
At the age of 22, Martucci obtained a start-up loan, purchased three school buses, quickly procured three student transportation contracts and founded Quality Bus Service. He even served as the first bus driver for the company. Today, Quality Bus Service is among the fastest growing school bus contractors in New York, and an industry leader, with over 250 buses and more than 400 employees at three locations. Martucci is also a member of both the New York State Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) and the New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA). It has been his detailed experience with school transportation operations, marketing and finance that led to him join the NYSBCA’s Board of Directors in 2010 before being named president in 2015. Martucci has worked hard to support safe and efficient school transportation services throughout New York state and the country.
Jeff Samson is an innovator in using technology both on the buses and for the drivers. A computer technician by trade—he has a computer science degree from Utah Valley State College—Samson has led the Big Horn County operations for the past four years and is actively involved with the Wyoming Pupil Transportation Association. He is known statewide for single-handedly redesigning the WPTA website. One member was quick to say that the old website was not user friendly, with the result being very few members using it. Samson changed all that.
With this upgrade to the website, all WPTA training and conference registration information is now online, when in the past all information was relegated to paper and sent via snail mail and email.
“Jeff is a leader in Wyoming and always available to assist and mentor new transportation directors, just as others assisted him when he was a new transportation director,” said David Koskelowski, Wyoming’s state director at the Department of Education, who nominated Samson. “Jeff is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve effective for his drivers, the district and the state.”
Read more articles in the October 2016 edition of School Transportation News magazine.