Clarke County’s school bus fleet was in-service on Saturday as eleven drivers competed in the 2nd Annual Road-E-O, a skills competition designed to sharpen driver safety habits and improve bus handling skills. The Road-E-O transforms safety and skills training into a friendly competition where the winning driver advances to represent Clarke County in the statewide Road-E-O held in Richmond on June 22.
“The Road-E-O is meant to be a fun day and a work day with only two rules; Someone will come in first and someone will come in last” said Transportation Operations Manager Sue Harrington.
Harrington along with eleven of Clarke County’s 28 school bus drivers have assembled at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning for trial-by-fire, a gauntlet of eight tests that challenge vehicle backing, turning, alignment and signaling skills. Each testing station is designed to simulate real-world driving challenges with driver performance “scored” by an observer.
The tests can be challenging and stressful. Each test is evaluated against safety and performance criteria with points deducted, for instance, if a driver bumps a traffic cone or forgets to use a turn signal.
Bus driver Kandi Millburn could be seen biting her lip as she lined her bus up with the traffic cones that simulated a parking space. Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy, the judge for the parallel parking event, stood nearby with scoring sheet and tape measure in hand.
Any driver who has ever parallel parked in a tight space on Main Street in downtown Berryville will appreciate the difficulties of accomplishing the same feat with a 40-foot yellow school bus. Yet Clarke County’s Road-E-O contestants repeatedly made the task look simple. Kandi confidently cranked the bus steering hard to the right and then to the left as she began to back the vehicle. Millburn’s eyes darted between mirrors as she monitored the curb distance and traffic cones. When Millburn signaled that she had completed her parking exercise Superintendent Murphy measured the distance from Millburn’s bus tire to the curb. “Pretty good!” Murphy said as he recorded the distance on Millburn’s score sheet for the event.
Millburn’s son Matthew, a 3rd grader at Cooley Elementary, smiled and said “She did great!” as his mom pulled the bus away from the curb towards the next event.
Even though the training is mandatory, many drivers did not attend the event. Harrington said that the competitive atmosphere was stressful for some drivers who prefer to take re-fresher training on paper. Superintendent Murphy said that it was disappointing that many drivers chose not to participate. “We’re raising performance expectations division wide and emphasizing training is just one example. Change is a process and we are going to continue to ask people to improve.”
After finishing the training course Driver Lynette Herndon seemed pleased with her performance. Herndon drives a bus for special needs students and says that the job is very rewarding. “Oh, I just love it!” Herndon said with a broad smile. “My students need special love. We laugh and sing on the ride to school. It’s really wonderful.” Clarke County operates three special needs buses and Herndon is in her third year as a driver. “Each student is so special in their own way. My job gives me a lot of joy.”
Standing nearby, Harrington and Millburn echo Herndon’s sentiments; “All of our students are greeted with a smile when they get on the bus and when leave the bus. Some students may not receive a smile anywhere else but we make sure that they get one from their bus driver.”
Robin Parker won first place in the CCPS Road-E-O with Randy Gray in second place and Sunday Welch taking third place. Parker will travel to Richmond on June 22, 2010 to represent Clarke County Public Schools in the State Road-E-O.