Last week’s snow storm reminded me of one of the most difficult decisions I had to make during my time as a school district superintendent: whether to close schools for the day, keep them open, or delay the start of classes. But even as weather forecasting improved over the years, making the right decision never became easy.
For school leaders, the health and safety of our students is the foremost priority. We should make decisions as policy-makers and administrators to ensure that school facilities are in good shape, to discourage bullying and negative behavior, and to support and applaud student accomplishments.
During my 32 years as a district superintendent, a day never went by when another safety-related concern was not in the back of my mind—and that is, student transportation. It never left my thoughts because of what is at stake.
New Jersey has extensive requirements concerning the structure of school buses, safety enhancements, and training. Thankfully, just about every day, New Jersey students travel to and from their schools without incident. On extremely rare occasion, however, we hear of a tragedy involving a school bus. One such loss happened earlier this month in Camden County, when a 6-year-old Waterford Township boy was struck by his own school bus. The first-grader was killed near his home in the Atco section of the township.
Our hearts go out to his family, his friends, and his teachers.
While we pursue excellence in academic achievement, encourage our teachers to inspire young people, and strive for fiscal efficiency, an accident like this reminds us that nothing is more crucial than keeping our students safe. It underscores the importance of school bus safety education and training for students and staff.
Several of the NJSBA Officers and I discussed the Camden County accident recently, and Vice President for Finance Don Webster shared a school bus safety message that is posted on the website of his local school district in Manchester Township. It includes school bus safety procedures and reminders for both students and parents.
For example, the guidelines provide students with instruction on waiting for and boarding the school bus. They advise parents on supervising younger children, caution against parking near the school bus stop, and offer other safety tips.
The Manchester Township document is available at www.manchestertwp.org/Page/668. I’m certain many other school districts with transportation programs have issued similar guidance. Please let us know about them.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].