Leadership Matters - April 2013

Transportation & Education winning combination in Jasper County district By Michael Chamness

IASA Director of Communications

The biggest educational tool in Jasper County just might be the yellow school bus. Measuring 462 square miles, Jasper County Community Unit District 1 covers more ground than any school district in Illinois. Working parents in the rural southeastern Illinois

communities that make up the district depend on the school buses to transport their children safely to and from school. Now factor in the state’s 42 percent cut in transportation funding for a district in which the buses travel more than 625,000 miles a school year. Against that backdrop, Jasper County Superintendent Dan Cox fully understands the importance not only of keeping the buses running on time, but keeping them running period. “The parents here are as emotionally attached to our bus drivers as they are our teachers,” Cox said. “They are the first people they see in the morning and the last people they see when they get off the bus. If the bus ride doesn’t go well, in a lot of ways the whole school day can be shot.” The district has some 1,400 pre-K through 12 th - grade students, and 77 percent of them ride the bus. The average ride is one hour, with the longest route being about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Those times reflect a 15-minute reduction thanks to extensive planning efforts by Cox and Chris Parr, the district’s transportation director. “Our goal is to pick the kids up as close to 7 a.m. as we can,” said Parr, noting that the bus pickup time used to be 6:45 a.m. “We believe the more sleep they get, the better they can perform as students.” Newton Elementary School, one of the four schools that compose the Jasper County district, is a national Blue Ribbon School, and the other three schools (Saint Marie Elementary, Jasper County Junior High and Newton High School) also are academic award- winners. It might sound odd to some for a transportation

With 462 square miles to cover, Jasper County Superintendent Dan Cox understands the importance of transportation.

director to be discussing student performance, but Cox has made Parr a full member of his leadership team. “Transportation plays such a big role in our district that we make sure Chris is at all of our administrative meetings,” said Cox, who is in his third school district. “He sees things differently than we do, and I think it also has helped him think like an educator.” Parr agreed that the regular interaction with school administrators is vitally important. “Being in the loop is a very big deal. It’s not a case of ‘that’s your problem.’ We understand that we’re in it together,” said Parr, who has been with the district 13 years, the first 10 as fleet supervisor before being named transportation director when Cox became superintendent. This year, Cox also added the buildings and grounds department to Parr’s duties as part of a streamlining process, but also in recognition of the job he has done with transportation. Despite all of the challenges – including the loss of about $1.5 million in state funding the past three years – the Jasper County District has an excellent safety record with only one fender-bender and no injuries the past three years while shaving 15 minutes off the time of their longest routes. The staff of bus drivers is remarkably stable, with 17 of the 24 drivers having been there at least 13 years. The drivers also do more than drive. They have in- service days where they received training on issues like bullying, dealing with autistic students and honing (Continued on page 5)


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