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Optimizing School Bus Safety with Margaret Hogan

Transportation Directors: Mobilizing our Future

Named one of the top “Ten Women in Pupil Transportation” last year, Margaret Hogan talks to BusRight about making student safety her #1 priority and the unique efforts she’s made for Mendham Township School District in Brookside, New Jersey where she serves as Transportation Supervisor.

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a transportation director?

Wanting to be near her school-age children, Margaret started working in her district as an elementary secretary. Fourteen years later she was surprised to find herself in the same position, even after her children had moved on from school.

Itching for a new challenge, Margaret applied for the position of Transportation Supervisor in her district. While she didn’t have all of the qualifications, she knew the district very well. She says of the Mendham Township School District,

“They knew the type of work I was able to accomplish, so they gave me a shot, and it’s been a win-win I think!”

Undaunted by the new role, she sought out other transportation supervisors in nearby districts, such as industry veterans Don Todd and Paul Henry, for advice and to observe best practices. Margaret rapidly gained the knowledge she needed on the job.

She also decided to obtain her commercial driver’s license. This move was essential to her success as she can operate as a substitute driver when needed. Additionally, with her experience driving school buses, Margaret is fully aware of the role and concerns of her bus drivers.

Now in her 8th year in this role, Margaret has served her district well. She’s taken complete ownership of students’ bus safety and continues to push for improvement in her transportation department.

What is the #1 concern related to student bus safety?

“The #1 thing is really having the students make sure that they wear that seatbelt on the school bus.

Occasionally Margaret will do a seatbelt check on buses to ensure that seatbelts are being worn. She encourages her drivers to remind students daily to wear them. She believes that if the children hear this reminder every day, they are more likely to make buckling their seatbelt part of their regular bus routine.

Is there any technology you’d like to outfit your buses to promote safer student ridership?

During this unprecedented time away from her office amidst COVID19, Margaret admits that technological upgrades have indeed been on her mind for her district’s bus fleet.

First on her list is cameras. She says that cameras help both the students and the bus drivers maintain a sense of propriety and offer the district a way to avoid the “The driver said vs the student said” scenario.

Next Margaret tells that having GPS for the bus drivers, particularly for the substitute bus drivers, would be helpful.

“Imagine trying to transport children safely in this big bus while simultaneously reading a piece of paper to figure out your next turn. It’s difficult.”

Margaret’s final unique tech need revolves around pre-checks. Pre-checks are what bus drivers are required to do in the morning before picking up any children. They make sure the bus lights, brake lights, and stop signs are working, tires are inflated and that no seatbelts are missing.

Margaret explains that she hopes to eventually replace the standard paper checklist with an app for the drivers that ensures the pre-checks are performed thoroughly every time.

You’re known for creating customized bus safety demonstrations for your district. Can you tell us more about this?

Often driving in the case of a driver shortage, Margaret notes that she’s seen things a transportation director typically wouldn’t get to see from behind their desk.

For instance, I’d approach a bus stop, and see the kids running right up to my bus before I’d even have my reds on. So it was a little scary.”

This firsthand insight is what prompted Margaret to create an interactive safety program for her district’s students, which are kindergarten through fourth grade. While her district performs the required 2 evacuation drills per school year, Margaret felt that these drills didn’t provide the children with a comprehensive understanding of school bus safety.

So she took it upon herself to develop a safety program covering:

  • Hands-on experience opening all emergency exits, including windows
  • The importance of seatbelts
  • Use of the bus’ two-way radio should something happen to the driver
  • Necessary bus stop protocol

The safety program received great feedback, and Margaret hopes that by the time a student goes from her district to the 5th grade, the above safety points will be instilled in them.

Regarding bus safety, what is one goal you hope to tackle soon in your district?

Training for her district’s bus drivers is the next area Margaret aspires to develop further. She praises her district’s bus drivers and says, “They’re quite contentious. They realize that they’re not just driving a bus; they’ve got children in the back.”

Similar to tailoring the student’s bus safety program to their needs, she has also customized training for her bus drivers. She explains that the standard training offered to drivers by insurance companies is often a lengthy 6 hours to be taken in one day.

Instead, Margaret thinks it’s better to offer the 6 hours of training in 1-hour installments while providing a more hands-on approach to keep the drivers engaged. In line with this, she recently initiated a pre-check training with Mendham district’s bus drivers on the bus lot where she performed the pre-check-in in front of them.

The 1-hour training session was received favorably by the bus drivers, and Margaret is searching for similar training opportunities, specifically for defensive driving.

If you have any suggestions for school bus driver training, technology for school buses, or are seeking a platform to discuss how we can improve student transportation, request to join the Facebook group School Bus Technology Leaders.

Given her expertise, Margaret was the first panelist in the School Bus Technology Leader’s live discussion where members exchanged what their school districts were doing amidst COVID19.

Margaret’s willingness to fill her initial knowledge gaps on the job, to serve as a substitute bus driver, and to creatively raise bus safety awareness are undoubtedly the keys to her success in this role. We commend her on her leadership in student safety and are pleased to have her in the industry.

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