Interview: New NAPT Board Members

In November, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) announced the re-elections and election of four NAPT Board members:

Teena Mitchell, CDPT, CSNT
South Carolina

School BUSRide spoke to all four Board members about how the association plans to use a mix of tenured, experienced leadership combined with fresh outlooks to help propel its members forward in 2023. They also discussed what drew them to leadership positions in the organization, and how NAPT can continue to best serve its members dealing with real-world issues in the field.

Please provide an overview of your time in the pupil transportation industry. 

Teena Mitchell: I have been in pupil transportation for over

Peter Lawrence, Ed.D, CDPT
Region 1 Director
New York

17 years at Greenville County Schools in South Carolina. I began my career as a school bus driver where I had a great passion for serving my district; that very passion led to a promotion into a supervisory role, followed by the beginning of my pupil transportation career with a special needs focus. I am now the Special Needs Transportation Coordinator where I coordinate special needs services for the entire district for students with disabilities. It was important to me to invest in my professional growth, to that point, I have two NAPT® educational certifications, I am a Certified Director of Pupil Transportation (CDPT) and

Alex Spann, CDPT
Region 2 Director

Certified in Special Needs Transportation (CSNT). My passion for pupil transportation has never faltered throughout my career, it has only grown stronger which has led me to this incredible path of serving as NAPT®’s President-Elect. 

Athena Gerzanic: Pupil transportation was not my intended career choice, I became a substitute bus driver while going to nursing school. It was in those early days that my focus shifted; I began to love the work of transporting students and meeting their families, so I decided to change career paths and became a full-time

Athena Gerzanic
Region 5 Director

bus driver. That was 21 years ago, in South Carolina. Shortly after, I moved to Wyoming for personal reasons, and I continued to drive a school bus for Carbon County School District #1. It has been 10 years since my district rewarded my commitment and promoted me to Director of Transportation. Today, I manage a team of 34 people and 20 routes. My professional goal is to become certified in my profession, which is why I joined NAPT®. I am excited for what the future holds as I work on my goals and serve as your newly elected Region 5 Director; I am dedicated to sharing my experience and encouraging others to become involved at the national level. 

Alex Spann: Like my peers, I started as a substitute driver 12 years ago while I pursued my undergraduate degree in Elementary Education. Like many colleagues, I fell in love with driving, the challenges that accompany it, and the entire spectrum that is student transportation. I moved up the proverbial ladder over time and transitioned into a training role with my district. I then went to work for a contract company where I was director of safety and training overseeing drivers for two different school districts. At the onset the pandemic in 2020, I moved into my role with the State of Tennessee Department of Education as student transportation consultant. I work alongside the director of student transportation as well as our partners in various student transportation roles providing oversight on the annual training process for transportation directors across the State of Tennessee. Together, we are responsible for 147 districts plus charters, as well as on-site monitoring of transportation offices, daily transportation support for both districts and legislative inquiries, and grant management. I also continue to drive for my local district. I believe strongly in the continuing education which led me to become involved with NAPT® in 2018 and in 2021 become a Certified Director of Pupil Transportation (CDPT). The past year I served as Acting Region 2 Director, and this past election has granted my seat for the next 3 years; I look forward to cultivating a culture in Region 2 that focuses on the power of education in career advancement.  

Peter Lawrence: I started in the pupil transportation industry in 1988. Like my fellow board members, my career did not begin at the director level. For me, I began as a school bus mechanic and developed from there. Throughout my career, I transitioned to head mechanic, driver-trainer/safety coordinator, head bus driver, and filled in as a school bus driver and attendant as needed. I spent six months as a head driver and then became director of transportation for the last 18 years. I retired from the Fairport Central School District in Fairport, NY last year; I now work, part time, as a Senior Consultant for the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI). I have been a member of NAPT® since 2000, serving on the board as Region 1 Director for the past six years. I am now serving my final term now until 2025. For me, education is directly correlated to career advancement; for that reason, I am committed to my adult education journey. I am a Certified Director of Pupil Transportation (CDPT) through NAPT and became a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Educational Administration in 2014. As a tenured board member, I plan to continue sharing the importance of education and community with pupil transportation industry leaders. 

What drew you to serving on the NAPT Board?

Mitchell: My passion for education. For my district, I created a special needs training program for all drivers and aides to meet the unique needs of transporting students with special needs. The program became popular which led me to train other districts as well as my own. As a trainer, I wanted to advance myself which was what originally drew me to NAPT®; I started taking classes, expanding my knowledge base, and knew that sharing my knowledge on the national stage was important, it was NAPT® that gave me the opportunity to do that. Training is what gave me a solid foundation with NAPT®, however, it was the people that inspired me to serve in a leadership capacity. It was the leaders that came before me, such as Dr. Linda Bluth, who taught me that I wanted to be at the table where decisions were being made. Especially if those decisions were centered around educating the current and future leaders of the pupil transportation industry.

Gerzanic: Like Teena, it was the educational component, but also the networking opportunities. Teachers have always held a special place in my heart and while I am not one, I know there are other ways to educate school communities. As I previously mentioned, I am on the path to becoming certified through NAPT®, to do so, I must fulfill the Professional Development Series (PDS) course requirements which led me to becoming actively engaged in the programming offered by NAPT®. While in attendance at various NAPT® events, it became apparent to me that the leaders of NAPT® were dedicated to creating a world where every student has access to safe transportation by building a community of informed pupil transportation leaders. The members of NAPT® learn and grow from one another. Just by being part of this community motivates me to be the best for my school community. A leadership position opened in my region; for me, it was a no brainer; I wanted to be at the table that focuses on developing the best leaders to serve our nation’s children.

Spann: Education is a trending theme amongst NAPT® leaders, I think anybody that is a part of NAPT®, at any capacity, is here for that reason. I became involved with NAPT® when I was managing a transportation operation in a very challenging environment, especially in the way of recruitment. I was looking for anything that could help me, and our organization, succeed and I found that during my certification process. If you really want to grow in the pupil transportation industry, the education offered is second-to-none. Serving on the board felt like a natural progression for me, not for anything other than using my experience to help the collective leadership make decisions that could impact the work of those who come after me.

Lawrence: In 2000, when I first joined NAPT, it was the first year that they unveiled the PDS series. My first NAPT® conference was very beneficial to me and my career and because of that, I knew I wanted to be involved at a high level. I cannot say this enough, my success as a pupil transportation director, is directly correlated to becoming a certified director of pupil transportation through NAPT®. Serving on the NAPT Board has given me the opportunity to share my passion for school bus safety and I am hopeful that it has resonated with others.

What are NAPT membership’s biggest needs as we enter 2023?

Lawrence: We are at a critical point. The industry is shifting, and the world is shifting. We too, must shift. NAPT® hired a new Executive Director and CEO earlier this year, Molly McGee-Hewitt, PhD, CAE, who is going to be a great asset for our association. Dr. Hewitt has educational and association experience, both can catapult us forward to help the pupil transportation industry and its members. With Molly’s expertise and our newly crafted strategic plan, we hope to address all that our members need us to do to support them in the field.

Mitchell: I agree with Peter, we are at a critical point. The NAPT® Board has worked hard this past year in developing a new strategic plan and navigating through a leadership change. We need to ensure we stay mission-focused for our members in the upcoming year. One of the biggest needs that we need to immediately address, speaking to what Peter had mentioned, is the shift that we are all feeling. To do that, let’s stay on trend with what we have discussed in detail today – education. Our education needs to shift to keep up with the needs of our members. That includes subject matter, how members receive educational content, and how our certification is recognized in the national educational arena. That will be an immediate focus for our board in 2023. We will continue to build leaders by working closely with our state associations, members, and business partner communities. Defining their needs and addressing them the best way that we can. Our association’s most precious asset is our people, we intend to enhance our industry relationships to ensure that we can deliver solutions that help our members’ needs.  

Spann: I would say the biggest thing that people are looking for is a sounding board and professional recommendations on how to move forward from the driver shortage in a productive way. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, every district and state is different, but being able to provide an outlet for people to discuss ideas and processes that have worked (or not worked) is extremely important. We are all in this together, when someone finds that magic answer then we are all going to jump onboard that train, or the bus you could say. 

Gerzanic: I will add, connection. People want the connection with likeminded professionals from across the nation. NAPT® has big plans to address this need in 2023 with the return of our Annual Conference and Trade Show (October 27 — October 31, 2023 in Columbus, Ohio) and regionally focused events.

What is the value proposition of NAPT membership? What does the association provide its members that they can’t find elsewhere?

Spann: We have our state organizations, we have our regional organizations, but there is nothing else out there that connects the broad spectrum of transportation professionals like this national association. That is the biggest thing that we can offer is just the broad range of knowledge and professional connections.

Mitchell, Spann, Gerzanic: Agreed.