Navarro learns rules of road

At an elementary school bus stop the morning of May 15, a group gathered to pick up a passenger who wasn't allowed to disembark on his own.

He just happened to be the superintendent of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa public schools.

"We put on his bus pass that he must be met, which is why we're here," joked Jeanne Briggs, an administrative assistant for the director of transportation.

Supt. Fred Navarro had bounced along the morning bus route with a few dozen elementary school students and returned to the bus yard to waiting employees.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District's transportation department set up the ride as its first ever Very Important Passenger (VIP) event.

"The intent is to show the critical role we play in the lives of kids," said Pete Meslin, director of transportation.

At 6:20 a.m., Navarro showed up at the district bus yard to follow his assigned driver through morning safety checks and along a route through the east and west sides of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

"He had to do what the bus driver was doing," Briggs.

Some of the safety checks were familiar to Navarro, a former bus driver.

"It may have been 30 or 40 years ago, but I remember," he said.

Around him, about 65 other drivers went through their daily inspections of brakes, engines, lights and more.

"Anything that isn't yellow, we check," said Mike Marsh, a 7-year Newport-Mesa bus driver.

On the road, Navarro watched his driver, Daniel Cutenese, interact with the other passengers before dropping them off at Newport Heights, Woodland and Kaiser elementary schools.

"He knew all the kids' names," the superintendent said, "even the stop where we had 30 kids."

The transportation department hopes to host Very Important Passenger events a few times a year, harnessing whatever notable names agree to ride along.

"It could be the police chief, it could be the fire chief," Briggs.

By drawing attention with the rides, Meslin wants to tell parents, the district and the public about bus drivers and their standards.

For instance, he said, Newport-Mesa's transportation department goes above and beyond state training standards, doing about 21 hours a year.

"That's the most important thing," Briggs said, "making sure we have safe buses and transportation for our kids."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World