School district shouts out island school bus drivers

There is a long list of individuals that go into ensuring each student at the Vashon Island School District (VISD) has a successful and enriching day.

For many students, that individual is the first and last touch-point to the school day: their consistent and familiar bus driver.

VISD partners with First Student to employ a total of 17 bus drivers covering 12 different routes across the island. Eleven of those drivers run the same route each morning and afternoon.

“Having the same driver on a route each day isn’t common in our field anymore,” said VISD Location Manager Alyssa Gerads. “Our drivers can tell you who gets dropped off where each day. Our drivers have been with the District for so long, they know what they are doing and how to deal with day-to-day issues.”

It is a stellar retention rate on the island, something uncommon in neighboring districts. Gerads pointed out that outside of three new drivers hired since spring 2021, the rest of the bus drivers have been with the District for five years or more, all the way up to 31 years.

For many of the drivers, being a service to the community and students brings them to the position.

“I like that I am the first and last face they see in connection with every school day and I like trying to ensure that they feel safe and cared for,” said driver Bill West. “I hope that I am conveying some small but useful life lessons to the students I transport.”

On top of the longevity of their driving careers, Gerads is most impressed with the safe driving statistics the bus drivers provide. First Student measures all of its bus drivers’ safety behavior on the roads, measuring habits such as speeding, hard braking, rapid accelerating, and others. The goal is a 3.5 score on a one-to-five scale.

“Most of the drivers here are in the four to five range every single week, with one driver reaching a 5.0 every week this year” explained Gerads. “That is extremely hard to do when you have a bus full of kids.”

The island still presents its unique challenges in transporting students from Point A to Point B each day. Unlike larger urban areas, there are no locations for buses to pull over safely and wait, for timing purposes. It is one of the major reasons families are encouraged to be out a few minutes before the scheduled arrival of their bus, explained Gerads.

If there was one message the drivers would like the rest of the island residents to take to heart, it is to respect the rules of the road: specifically, the red stop paddle.

“I wish more drivers on the road understood the importance of not running a stop paddle or passing a bus at a stop,” said driver Kimm Shride. “It’s pretty alarming the number of drivers who do run stop paddles. As a bus driver who is responsible for the safety of our riders, it can be very frightening. So, please, for our children’s sake, stop and be patient whenever a bus has its red lights activated.”