Gwinnett schools honors district leader graduates

School bus drivers leaving Gwinnett for higher pay

SUWANEE —The latest graduating class of aspiring leaders in Gwinnett County Public Schools was honored on Thursday, and it was a first.

The first district-level graduates from the Quality-Plus Leader Academy were honored at a workshop session before the Gwinnett County Board of Education. The class had 12 graduates who began the process in September, 2012 with meetings, direct instruction, case studies, book studies, writing assignments and performance-based team activities.

The goal of the program is to develop leaders in the knowledge, skills, and talents needed to become a Quality-Plus district level leader in the district, and to provide an opportunity for leaders to improve their performance.

Glenn Pethel, the district’s assistant superintendent of leadership development, said the recognition marks an exciting and important milestone for the academy.

“Can leadership at the school district level have a similar (positive) relationship with student performance and student leadership,” Pethel said, “The research is clear, and the research says yes.”

The graduates are Diana Baekey, coordinator, mild autism, Bob Burgess, director, student discipline and behavioral interventions, Tina Duncan, director, special education, Deidra Eubanks, special education coordinator, Erin Hahn coordinator, leadership development, Jennifer Marie Jones, director of compliance, Emily Klein, coordinator, moderate/severe autism, Edilynn Miner, coordinator, special education, Susan O’Neil, coordinator, emotional, behavioral disability, Susan Potts-Datema, coordinator, special education, Elizabeth Webb, director of English language learner programs and Jonathon Wetherington, director of science.

“This was really encouraging to see we’re continuing our leadership development on so many levels,” Board chairwoman Carole Boyce said. “The students will greatly benefit from your leadership.”

District reviews transportation department

In recent weeks, district officials have lamented about a drain of school bus drivers and managers from GCPS. On Thursday Danny Jardine, chief operations officer, offered an overview to the Board about the status of the department and its daily operations.

The district counts 1,635 bus managers, but Jardine said there has been a recent 71 percent turnover rate, mainly because of higher pay in neighboring districts. With 122,000 regular education bus riders and 5,000 special needs riders, GCPS is the third largest bus fleet and fourth largest ridership in the country. What’s more, ridership has risen six percent since 2010-11. The district uses 1,310 regular education buses and 600 special needs buses.

A typical day sees district school buses drive 129,800 miles a day, while they make 109,000 stops on 7,700 routes.

Jardine noted that the district averages 184,000 miles recorded without an accident, which is more than double the state average of about 90,000 miles.

“We really focus heavily on training for the new drivers, as well as veteran drivers,” Jardine said. “This shows that safety is paramount.”

Yet drivers are leaving because of pay, Jardine said. Out of nine metro Atlanta area districts, GCPS ranks lowest in the hourly rate for bus drivers, at $12.64. The next closest is Clayton County at $14.28, while Atlanta Public Schools is the highest at $16.10. For its 20 drivers, Buford City Schools pays $18.03 per hour.

“We train our drivers better than everybody else, then they come and get poached from other school districts because they can make a dollar or two more (per hour),” Jardine said.

The district has increased advertising in local news media in recent weeks, and sent home “backpack fliers” in areas of the district where drivers are most needed.

“Some of the drivers we attract are retirees who like doing this, and being around the kids,” Jardine said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Winter weather closing procedures

District officials also reviewed winter weather closing procedures, which typically include overnight and early morning discussions with officials from the Georgia Department of Transportation, National Weather Service, Georgia Emergency Management Agency and local law enforcement agencies. On-the-road tests are also conducted by district personnel.

Any decision to close school would happen by 6 a.m.

The district’s web site and television posts information in English, Spanish, Bosnian, Vietnamese and Korean.

In recent years, the district has updated closing considerations to include power outages and rolling closedowns.

“As we become bigger and bigger, and Gwinnett becomes bigger and bigger, there is more stress on the grid,” said Jorge Gomez, executive director of administration and policy.