Newport News Bus Drivers Leave No Child Behind!

by Denyse Doerries, Ph.D.

Imagine educating 54 students with your back to them and only a small mirror to check on their progress. That is the job of school bus drivers! The Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) Department of Transportation is developing an effective discipline model to make the bus drivers' job more manageable. As part of this effort, the transportation department is participating with five Newport News schools (Crittenden Middle School, Gildersleeve Middle School, Passage Middle School, Dozier Middle School, and South Morrison Elementary School) in the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Effective Schoolwide Discipline (ESD) priority project in conjunction with ODU and W&M T/TAC. The ESD project is a multi-layered proactive model that views discipline as an opportunity to teach new behaviors.

The Director of Transportation, Frank Labrecque, along with his ESD team (Planning Coordinator, James Bryant; Safety and Training Coordinator, Linda Hamilton; Key Bus Driver, Zorina Williams; and Area Managers, Beverly Young, Ellen Charles, and Renee Robinson), are partnering with these five schools to align their discipline and intervention strategies. The five school-based ESD teams and the transportation department ESD team are working to establish a clear set of positively stated expectations for appropriate behaviors, preventive strategies that include teaching the expected behaviors, a continuum of procedures for encouraging these behaviors, and methods for ongoing data collection and analysis. The transportation department thinks of the buses as mobile classrooms that teach appropriate behavior and examines behavior by considering the "quality of the transportation services" and how this relates to student behavior.

The following are the ESD steps translated by Mr. Bryant and his ESD team from a schoolwide discipline model to an "effective buswide discipline" model. Mr. Bryant and his team are charting new territory, since typically such programs are designed primarily for schools.

Step 1: Secure administrative support.

This step was already established through the enthusiastic support and coordination of Mr. Jake Wilson, Program Administrator, and Mr. Frank Labrecque, Director of Transportation.

Step 2: Form a leadership team.

Because ESD is a long-term initiative (3-5 years), this step involves creating a leadership team. The leadership teams guides and directs the process of implementation and is representative of the stakeholders.

Step 3: Examine the practices that presently exist.

Align current positive behavior interventions with the ESD policies and procedures to make a "good fit."

The transportation department already provides intensive professional development and coaching to the bus drivers embedded within a multi-layer team structure of school-based and division-wide bus problem-solving teams. The department established teams of bus drivers at each school led by "key bus drivers" who support and help each other problem solve around challenging behaviors and issues. The key bus drivers, in addition to being experienced drivers, also receive additional ongoing training through regular meetings with area coordinators. Educating the teams and getting buy-in from the bus drivers for ESD can occur through these already established teams.

Step 4: Collect and analyze data.

Mr. Bryant and his team assessed the current baseline data concerning types of bus referrals, when they occurred, where they occurred, on what buses they occurred, the experience of that bus driver, the length of the bus routes, the number of students on the bus, and the number of times a student was referred. A new school bus disciplinary or intervention form was developed to assist the bus drivers in dealing with day-to-day problems. These forms are completed and discussed with the "key bus drivers" before an action is taken. The Incident Referral Form, which is turned into the schools, is also being changed in collaboration with the school-based teams and coordinating team.

After the initial data were collected and analyzed, Mr. Bryant and his team brainstormed ways that problems on the buses could be addressed. From this discussion, proactive, preventive strategies were created. For example, the data showed that 10% of bus drivers accounted for 48% of bus referrals. By looking more closely at the variables related to those 10%, a number of interventions were developed (e.g., bus routes were changed to shorten the ride, master bus drivers mentored less experienced bus drivers, the most experienced bus drivers were placed on the most challenging buses, a positive reinforcement system was established for the buses). Other proactive strategies that the team discussed included the importance of establishing positive relationships between driver and riders, focusing on teaching appropriate student behaviors instead of relying too heavily on the use of punishment, greeting each child by name, creating a system for organizing seating arrangements, and creating a few clear rules.

Step 5: Create an action plan to include positive reinforcement systems to encourage appropriate behaviors.

The ESD team is in the process of planning additional professional development to address increasing positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors as well as ways to share data with the bus drivers.

The Newport News Transportation Department ESD team believes that appropriate behaviors need to be taught and that NNPS, in actuality, has 414 mobile classrooms and 399 mobile teachers. What an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students!

Date:  November/December 2006