Pinellas marks School Bus Safety Week, names Driver of the Year

School Board members pose with the 2017-2018 School Bus Driver of the Year during the Oct. 9 meeting. From left are School Board members Linda Lerner, Joanne Lentino, Vice-Chairwoman Peggy O’Shea, Chairwoman Rene Flowers, School Bus Driver of the Year Kimberly Johnston, School Board members Carol Cook, Terry Krassner, Eileen Long and Transportation Director Rick McBride.

LARGO – National School Bus Safety Week is Oct. 22-26, and Pinellas County Schools is joining the rest of the state to recognize the job local drivers do to get students to class safety each day.

The theme of this year’s week is “My Driver – My Safety Hero.”

“Our bus drivers … are some of the bravest souls in the world that go out every morning,” said Transportation Director Rick McBride during the School Boards Oct. 9 meeting.

The county’s 450 school bus drivers travel more than 9 million miles each year and transport about 33,000 students to and from class every day. They also provide transportation for about 3,300 field trips.

During the first week of October, 206 buses had been out Monday-Saturday doing field trips, as well as doing the job of taking students to and from school every day, he said.

He also pointed out that school bus drivers were “on the front lines” for evacuations during storm emergencies. During Hurricane Irma last year, school bus drivers transported 1,200 nursing home patients to various shelters throughout the county.

McBride highlighted a recent media report about school bus safety that said Pinellas was a District where accidents had been decreasing over four of the last five years. He said that trend was continuing.

The School District also recognized the 2017-2018 School Bus Driver of the Year – Kimberly Johnston.

Johnston has been a school bus driver in Pinellas since 2014. She was chosen based on letters of recommendation from supervisors, co-workers, parents and students. Many of the students that she transports are special needs students.

One of the recommendations came from a parent who wrote, “Kimberly is an amazing school bus driver. From last year to this school year, I have watched how my 4-year-old with autism has transitioned greatly with her. She is so amazing that I requested she is his driver for this school year.”

Another parent wrote how Johnston had visited her child in the hospital after she had open-heart surgery.

Keeping with the theme, School Board members also recognized 72 school bus drivers with 10 or more years of safe driving. Twenty-seven of those drivers have a 15-year or longer safe driving record and were presented with certificates during the meeting. Four of those drivers – Ruth Cobarras, Charles Russell, Yvonne Taylor and Wanda Prosser - have 25 years of safe driving.

The drivers will be honored at a recognition luncheon on Oct. 26.

The School District began its Driver Recognition for Outstanding Performance at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. The mission is to not only recognize school bus drivers but to also bring awareness to the community of the work they do.

As part of the program, eight drivers are named as “Compound Driver of the Month,” from the districts’ six compounds. From those eight, a single driver of the month is selected and those drivers become eligible for recognition as driver of the year.

School Board members also approved two other proclamations - National School Lunch Week Oct. 15-19 and Florida Principals’ Month in October.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.