By Curt Yeomans
A push within Clayton County Public Schools' Transportation Department to promote continuing education among its employees began four years ago, with teaching bus drivers words like "hola" and "sientate por favor."
Since then, 22 percent of the transportation department's 600 employees have sought continuing education, either through obtaining college degrees, or advanced certifications, at the urging of the department's leaders, said Clayton County Public Schools Director of Transportation John Lyles.
Lyles, himself, has obtained a master's degree in business management from Troy University, and become a National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Certified Transportation Director, since taking the helm of the district's transportation department four years ago. He has led the department since 2005, except for three months earlier this year, when he was interim director of communications for the district.
As a result of the push for continuing education in his department, the NAPT gave Lyles its Thomas Built Buses Continuing Education Award, during the NAPT Summit & Trade Show on Nov. 2, in Louisville, Ky.
"It's always a privilege when you are honored nationally for something," Lyles said. "But, what's more important is, it shows the importance of seeking continued education, not only to the academic realm, but to the National Association for Pupil Transportation as well."
As a recipient of the award, Lyles said he received a plaque, and a scholarship of up to $1,000 that can only be used to attend a NAPT-approved workshop. The money covers pre-approved tuition, lodging, travel and meals for a conference, said Lynn Martin, the NAPT's marketing and communications specialist. She also said the award's name comes from the fact that Thomas Built Buses sponsors the scholarships.
Lyles said he will use the money to attend either the National Special Needs Conference in Orlando, Fla., in March 2010, or the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation's convention at Callaway Gardens, in June 2010.
"Both of them would benefit the district because they allow me to bring back best practices that can be used to improve the district's transportation department," Lyles said.
The school system's transportation chief said department employees, ranging from office staff, to bus drivers, to mechanics, should pursue continuing education because it helps extend the learning environment for students.
In addition to offering Spanish classes to bus drivers to help them communicate with Spanish-speaking students, the department's employees are also encouraged to undergo training, when available, and seek higher education degrees and training certifications, Lyles said.
He said he and other officials from his department have been working with officials from the school system's professional learning department to create additional continuing education opportunities for transportation department employees.
So far, the professional learning department has come up with classes dealing with diversity and sensitivity, identifying children with special needs, and delivering "exceptional" customer service, Lyles said.
"By encouraging your employees to take advantage of professional development opportunities, you end up having a highly trained staff that helps pass along those life lessons that children need to succeed in life," he said. "You have to lead the way, by taking your own education seriously."
In congratulating Lyles for receiving the award, Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley praised the district's transportation chief for his leadership of the department, and for encouraging continuing education among his employees.
"Mr. Lyles' standard of excellence is reflected in the safe transport of 31,000-plus students daily," Heatley said. "We are fortunate to have his example of leadership for our transportation team."