With less than a week until the ring of that first school bell, most parents are planning how to get their kids to school on time. Tom Chaffin is planning how to get more than 8,000 kids to school on time.
As transportation director for the Poway Unified School District, Chaffin has a formidable job. He is responsible for 97 vehicles that make up the largest school busing system in North County.
Even so, the responsibility doesn't weigh heavy on him. It is more like love.
Chaffin is a second-generation transportation director (his father managed a school district in Denver), and he's handled almost every aspect of the transportation game. Besides his duties at Poway, he is president of the National Assn. of Pupil Transportation.
"I've come up through the ranks," Chaffin said. "I was a bus driver for 12 years and I have over a million miles driving a bus. It's a fantastic job. That rapport that a bus driver builds with his students is really exciting."
Poway has a model transportation program, Chaffin said, and ensures an extra measure of safety by beefing up the state requirements for bus drivers and vehicles. For example, drivers must be at least 21 (not 18 as state law requires) and must have double the mandatory 40 hours of training.
The buses themselves come under closer scrutiny than what the law requires. Poway buses are inspected every 30 days, as opposed to the 45 mandated by law.
Chaffin and his instructional team also visit each elementary and middle school to give a slide presentation. During the first week of school, drivers also visit the schools to strengthen their rapport with the students.
For the first time, parents this year can meet bus drivers at school open houses and ask questions, as they would a teacher. Buses will also be on display at schools for parental perusal.
When it comes to bus rules and regulations, the education of the parent is just as important as that of the child, Chaffin said. One of his final duties before school begins is to mail out to parents a list of bus dos and don'ts.
For breakers of the rules, there is Saturday School, an idea Chaffin has implemented at each district where he's worked. Patterned after traffic school, Saturday School gives recalcitrant riders the opportunity to mend their ways.
Here are some of the ground rules the Poway School District gives parents and students for riding the bus:
* The bus driver is in charge at all times. Follow the driver's instructions.
* Littering, spitting, throwing objects at, within or out of the bus, vandalism or harassment of others is not permitted.
* Animals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, breakable containers, skateboards, weapons or any object that could be considered hazardous will not be transported.
* Remain seated from the time you board the bus until you arrive at your destination and the bus door is opened.
* Eating, gum chewing, drinking and smoking are not permitted.
* Talk quietly and do not make unnecessary noise.