Q&A with San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

The Office of the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, located in the Greater Los Angeles area, provides services, information, advocacy and educational leadership to the 31 school districts in San Bernardino County, California. With an area of 20,105 square miles, the county is the largest county in the U.S. by area with more than 406,000 students in 552 public schools.

What problems, issues, or needs led you to engage Student Transportation of America (STA)?
We were in dire need of better customer service. Our transportation system was plagued by poor on-time performance. The buses were older and many were in poor condition. Ninety-five percent of the students we transport have special needs, so we were concerned with their safety and care. In addition, a large number of students move in and out of the county each year requiring changes to existing routes and sometimes the creation of entirely new routes.

We needed a transportation company that was up to the task, so we visited STA’s shops and bus yards before we approved the new contract. We wanted to see their operations, how they interacted with us, and how they interacted with their employees. What we saw was a very professional and clean operation that was well run – very different from what we saw with our previous contractor. STA had the personnel, the equipment, customer service, and attitude we needed.

What have the implementation phase and ongoing relationship been like?
Anytime you change contractors there are challenges with the initial start-up, but STA and our team established an open dialogue from the outset. That collaboration began well before the first day of school and continued through start-up. We worked together to tackle start-up issues and saw immediate improvements in our transportation system. STA knows we have very high standards and they reflect those standards in their performance.

Our day-to-day relationship with STA is very positive and highly professional. We are their customer and they work hard every day to meet our needs. It takes great people and a distinct company to transport and care for special needs students who require extra attention and treatment. I’ve seen many STA drivers who care for these students like family members. They are very kind and sincere and genuinely care for their passengers. In addition, our transportation system is very fluid as students move in and out of our county. We are in touch with STA managers daily regarding ridership changes, construction projects that impact routes, and student and parent issues. It’s a very collaborative and open relationship.

What have been the greatest benefits of working with STA?
The greatest thing about STA is the company’s commitment to the safety and security of our students. That was evident right out of the gate with the new vehicles they brought in to serve our needs. Our contract did not mandate video cameras, but STA took ownership of our system and installed cameras on every single bus. Another top benefit of working with STA is the professionalism of their managers, dispatchers, drivers and staff. Let’s face it – the first part of any student’s day is not the teacher or the playground; it’s the bus ride and the driver who greets them when they step on the bus each morning. That’s why our team and STA agree that great customer service begins with the bus driver.

Can you share specifically how STA helped you reach your goals?
The quality of service and the maintenance and cleanliness of STA buses stand out to me the most. One of our major goals in seeking a new student transportation contractor was to update the school bus fleet serving our students. With our previous contractor, multiple buses would breakdown daily – buses overheated, the air conditioning didn’t work, or the buses were not clean. With STA, I can honestly say I don’t recall the last time a bus broke down. STA buses are relatively new, kept clean, and well-maintained.

How is STA aligned with the values that drive your school district?
Here in San Bernardino County, we have a cradle to career service ethic. We transport these children from the time they are three or four years old and many with special needs ride with us until they are 22. We just renewed the STA contract for another five years, and if we continue to renew they also will serve many of these students throughout their school years. STA employees are part of our students’ daily lives and they are vested in serving them from cradle to career as well.

How has working with STA made your job/work life easier?
Compared to our previous contractor, working with STA has made my life tremendously easier. It’s a night and day difference, trust me! We have fewer emergencies, fewer worries, fewer irate parents, and fewer upset administrators. We now have more time to be proactive with students and parents. We have time to visit schools to see students picked up at the end of the day and to develop real relationships with the students and parents we now can get to know. STA truly has made a difference in the lives of our students and staff.

What surprised you or pleased you the most about working with STA?
It sounds simple, but I always say STA gets it. I’ve met many people in my life and worked with many companies that just don’t get it. And I continue to be especially impressed with the way drivers, aides, and other STA staff treat our special needs students. They truly care for them and get to know each one as an individual.

Would you recommend STA to others? What positive benefits would you emphasize?
Yes, I would definitely recommend STA to any school district. One of the most positive things about the STA team is they are true to their promises. They go above and beyond in service and align themselves with the goals and objectives of their customers’ organizations. And, because we always have to balance costs with service to students, I would emphasize that STA provides outstanding service at a cost that is very fair.