#WeakleyStrong Behind the Wheel

School Bus Drivers Offer More than Rides
Posted on 10/01/2020
This is the image for the news article titled School Bus Drivers Offer More than RidesAnyone familiar with the preschool song “The Wheels on the Bus” could easily assume the driver’s sole responsibility is simply to bark orders like “move on back.” Hollywood perpetuates the stereotype with clips of grumpy old men and stern-faced women beckoning scared newcomers to “hurry up and get on board.”
But these works of fiction don’t depict the big hearts, wide grins, alert eyes and safely placed hands on the wheel that make up Weakley County School’s Transportation Department.

Ron Byington leads the group of 40 drivers and a slate of mechanics who keep the fleet of yellow safely on the road.
With ten years in the system, the last five as supervisor, Byington has built a safety program, added commercial driver testing, increased community engagement, as well as helped to administer the paperwork and requirements that have meant the purchase of 18 buses, including energy-efficient propane models.

“The safety program forces new drivers to complete detailed pre-trips, several backing maneuvers, on the road driving safety, student management training, training on local policies and procedures, and much more,” he explained.

By testing for all classes of commercial licenses, the County has to stay up to date on FMCSA requirements.

“Community engagement is something that we have been working on over the last few years. We try to be a part of events that are taking place in our communities. This gives us the opportunity to educate on driver safety and have a little fun with our kids,” he said of efforts that have included participation in each community’s annual parade.

Having fun is just one of the ways bus drivers connect with their passengers.

“A good school bus driver is someone who comes to work happy and ready to go each day. Someone who cares and understands the rules that we must follow for safe transport. Someone who is both efficient with their route and compassionate about children,” he added.

The two drivers with the greatest longevity currently cover Dresden routes. Glenda Reagan is marking 40 years as a Weakley County bus driver and Norma Redden has logged 37 years behind the wheel.

Glenda Reagan“Glenda Reagan is one of the sweetest people that you will ever meet. She is someone that I depend on and learn from every day,” Byington declared. “She will do anything for anyone and will never ask for anything in return. She never turns in behavior forms because her students respect her enough to follow the rules. They are afraid of disappointing her so they do what she asks of them.”

He points out with such a long tenure, Reagan has transported both her children and now grandchildren to school. Like many of the drivers, she makes a full day between her morning and afternoon driving by serving in the Dresden K-8th grade cafeteria.

Byington calls Reagan and Redden “superheroes,” noting that Redden even drove her bus, when able, during treatment for breast cancer.

Norma Redden“When she was too weak to drive then she would come by to see her kids. She loves everyone and does not have any hate in her heart. She is someone that I not only respect but admire,” said Byington, adding that Redden is also very involved with the community and participates in several charity events that benefit children.

Based on the bus route, Weakley County bus drivers can put in as little as 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon and up to 90 minutes picking up and dropping off. The length of the route determines the pay scale which ranges from $61 to $66. Drivers also are eligible for longevity and retirement benefits. Many supplement their driving income by working other roles in the school system as educational assistants or, like Reagan, in the cafeterias.

“Our transportation department is an integral part of our education system,” emphasized Randy Frazier, Weakley County Schools Director. “Ron has done an excellent job of supervising because he understands both sides of the bus driver’s role. He obviously knows engines and has worked diligently to secure energy efficient vehicles for us. But, additionally, he understands that drivers are that compassionate first and last contact with our children each day.”

Betsi Foster, Director of Federal Programs, has worked with Byington on numerous grants to improve and purchase buses for the county.

“I love our bus drivers,” she readily offers. She says among the reasons are what happens when she participates in zero tolerance hearings regarding disciplining students.

“I'll ask the troubled students if they have good relationships with adults in school or if they feel like the adults care for them. So many times, a kid will say ‘my bus driver cares about me.’ It's awesome to hear.”

She also notes drivers are instrumental in helping identify homeless situations and flagging possible neglect issues as well.

“Driving a school bus isn’t for everyone,” acknowledges Frazier of the demands of such focused attention on both the road and the children. “But for individuals who are looking to make a difference, to make an impact on a child’s life, we welcome you.”

To learn more about serving as a driver or a substitute driver, call Ron Byington at 731-364-2578.

Behind the Wheel in Weakley County –
David Hugueley

David HugueleyDavid Hugueley drives Bus 41 covering the Gleason route from public housing, down Old Highway 22, then Bynum and Sandhill Roads. Leaving the Gleason Co-op at 6:25 a.m. each day, he arrives with a busload of children by 7:15 a.m. Like other drivers, he adds to the part-time driving assignment by taking on a second assignment – working in the Dresden K-8 cafeteria.

Hugueley is actually “retired” from the schools Nutrition Department but his day doesn’t look like much of a retirement. Though he does leave the cafeteria at 12:25 p.m. to “take it easy” that’s only for a couple of hours because at 2:45 p.m. he’s on the road again, getting his charges safely home.

He’s been working within the school system for almost a decade and a half and readily admits, “I’ve seen lot.”

That includes being hit from behind on is first week in the driver’s seat.

“My kids said, ‘This fellow just hit you!’” as he was making the turn into the school on his then-Dresden route, Huguely remembers. The “fellow” was a distracted driver who was on his cell phone talking to his niece who started the chain reaction by rear-ending her uncle.

Knowing drivers are not always paying attention and being aware that in a rural area like West Tennessee deer are often uninvited guests on routes, Hugueley makes it a priority to pay attention. And that attention is not limited to the road.

He’s seen bullied kids and children closing the doors of poverty-stricken abodes smile as they approach the man they know cares. He’s distributed meals during the pandemic. He’s even been there during times of great loss.

He’s dependable because children need that steady presence, he says.

“I’m there so that they can see and understand if they are in trouble or in need they can come see the bus driver because the bus driver will help them,” he says of his role.

He’s had plenty of tender and amusing moments as well. When young new riders announce it’s their first time on a school bus and have to “wave at their mommas as they sit down” he says it tugs at his heart.

“It’s always amusing when I take the kids to the ballgames. Parents don’t seem to understand that I have to drive this bus between some rather tricky areas. And everyone is amazed that I make it through. It’s always an obstacle course,” he says of the parking challenges presented at the games.

“I don’t drive for the money. I drive for the kids. I drive them to basketball games, football games, to baseball games for them so that they have an opportunity to play,” he reports.

Since he is an avid baseball fan with plans to visit as many major league stadiums as possible when his wife Donna retires from nursing in four year, one might assume that the baseball games are a particular favorite of his to cover.

He pauses when asked then says carefully, “I really enjoy going back home on the bus with a win.”

Behind the Wheel in Weakley County –
Sandra Ferrell

Sandra FerrellThe minute Sandra Ferrell greets a new student on Bus 29 they get a good clue that Ferrell probably wasn’t born in West Tennessee. Her Canadian accent is still evident even after 12 years of living in Martin. What’s not so apparent is the major life changes that transformed this former manager of more than 200 insurance offices into the school bus driver, educational assistant and dairy and crop farmer that she is today.

When Ferrell and husband Robert took over his family’s farm, she initially continued in the insurance business. But with the birth of their second child, she knew that the travel demanded by her corporate role and the attention required on the farm were too great.

“I wanted to be with my children,” she explained.

She laughs when she acknowledges that most of her family can’t believe she now drives a bus and works in the school.

“It took some adjusting,” she readily acknowledges.

Eight years ago, she started as a substitute driver on the Palmersville route then switched to fulltime within the year and has since driven for students in the Martin area. She covers her morning route, parks behind the Sharon School then she shifts into position of educational assistant, currently working with special education students in the Monitored Distance Education program. In the afternoon, she’s back on the bus.

She’s spent enough time behind the wheel to now see students she once drove to school driving their own cars, waving as they pass her on the road.

“It’s not just a job, it really isn’t,” she confesses. “You think you are just a bus driver but you really aren’t. You see them when they are jumping for joy. You see them when they are hurting.”

The process for addressing discipline problems on the bus involve writing a report – something Ferrell has a hard time remembering when she last did. That’s not because Ferrell’s bus is absent of misbehaviors. It’s more likely due to her personal process.

“If something’s wrong you don’t automatically write them up,” she says. “You listen. If a child is bubbly one day and then you see nothing from them the next, you’ve got to make the call.”

At times, the call is to the parent. Ferrell notes every rider’s parent has her cell phone number and she has theirs. Before an official discipline process gets underway, she likes to check to make sure students are okay at home.

She is also willing and, in her tenure has had to, make the call to report suspected neglect or abuse.

“If it’s a bad situation, I report it. It’s sad we have to make the calls but we have to make them for the children,” she said.

Another detractor to detrimental bus behavior is making sure the children know the rules. On Bus 29, she says, students know that when they are at railroad crossings, picking up a child or letting one off the bus, they are to be quiet.

Such diligence is evident as well when she arrives at a child’s usual pick up point and no child is in sight.

“I stop. I honk. I wait,” she reports. “I want to know what’s happening with my kids.”

Bus Drivers
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