A Montgomery County elementary school principal takes bus driver shortage into her own hands by getting behind the wheel and becoming a certified bus driver herself.
Now, she is not only driving students home after school but also working to raise awareness about the issue.
The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) said in a statement that Emily Clark, the principal at Norman Smith Elementary School, is “determined to be a part of the solution” to the problem of bus drivers shortage.
“I would love to raise awareness in the community of the need for bus drivers,” Clark said in a statement. “I hope we will have community members that want to make a positive connection with students and families.”
The nationwide bus driver shortage existed long before the lockdowns but has only grown worse during the pandemic, according to School Transportation News. In a survey conducted by the outlet, 80 percent of respondents nationwide said their school districts did not have enough drivers to meet the needs of students.
“Structure is so important in a student’s life,” Clark told CMCSS. “It’s key for students, and [the lack of structure] can throw off their whole day.”
“It’s always very sad when a substantial time has passed and our students are still in the hallway,” she said.
Clark said she knew they needed a better solution when she noticed that students were waiting around in the hallways long after the school day was over.
According to the CMCSS, over 20,000 students in the district rely on their transportation to get to and from school. However, the district has had to get creative with driver routes to accommodate all the students during the shortage. This has led to increased wait times for students trying to get home.
In search of a better solution, Clark reached out to the student transportation department at CMCSS. During the call, she even offered to drive a bus herself if they would teach her.
The transportation department agreed, and before long, the principal was behind the wheel learning about what it takes to be a bus driver—and how rewarding it can be.
“I learned so much, and it’s given me a whole new perspective on our district,” she said.
Clark said that seeing students outside of the school building is going to be the highlight of her day, adding “another layer of connection” to her already-rewarding job.
But the doting principal didn’t stop there; she is now encouraging community members too.
For those considering becoming a bus driver, Clark says not to be deterred by driving a large vehicle, getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL), or the rowdiness of the students, according to the statement.
Clark’s trainer, Staci Cogdill, told the district that many people are intimidated by the idea of driving a bus until they get behind the wheel.
“The main thing people are nervous about is the size of the bus,” said Cogdill. “Once we get people behind the wheel, they say, ‘That’s not as bad as I thought it would be.’ After that, a good trainer can have a new driver ready in about two weeks.”
“I am so thankful for that support,” Clark said of the Transportation Department. “After going through the process, it no longer feels foreign. The training far exceeded my expectations.”
However, Clark said it’s not a stress-free job.
“It’s promising and rewarding when you build relationships with the children. When you start with building a relationship, you don’t have unruly children,” she added.
“Relationships are the core of our success. Mutual respect is everything. It is at the foundation of student success.”
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(Courtesy of Clarksville-Montgomery County School System)
Arshdeep Sarao contributed to this report.