EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: NAPT Leadership Previews 2023 Conference & Trade Show

School BUSRide spoke with the executive leadership team from the NAPT and NAPT Foundation. They spoke about the importance of the NAPT Conference & Trade Show returning in 2023, the significance of its return to Columbus, Ohio, and what members can expect in October.

The NAPT Conference & Trade Show is consistently recognized as the premier school transportation conference in the nation. It will return this year, running from October 27 — October 31, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio.

For complete conference information, visit the 46th Annual NAPT® Conference and Trade Show Website!

Molly McGee-Hewitt,
NAPT Executive Director

For our new readers, please introduce yourself and your role at NAPT.

Molly McGee-Hewitt: I am the CEO and executive director of NAPT and the NAPT Foundation. My job is the leadership of the day-to-day operations of both association and the foundation.

One of my biggest responsibilities is to help this year’s conference be a big success.

Rick Grisham: I am the current president of the NAPT, and will be the outgoing president when the conference comes. I am looking forward to getting face-to-face in Columbus.

Donald Tudor: I’m a member of the NAPT Foundation Board, where I also serve as the Board’s secretary.

Rick Grisham, E.d.S
NAPT President

What are you hearing from NAPT members, now that the NAPT Annual Conference & Trade Show
is returning?

McGee-Hewitt: The feedback we’ve received is that people are excited for the return of our Annual Conference and Trade Show! Our members have missed our signature event which brings together student transportation professionals from all parts of the country; the NAPT Annual Conference may have been the only time some of our members were able to connect year after year with their peers. The fact that our people are excited brings us so much joy as we are planning a spectacular return! From the program which will offer a vast offering of professional development opportunities to the opportunity of being back with their peers.

Donald N. Tudor, CDPT
NAPT Foundation Vice President & Secretary

Grisham: I agree with Molly, people are excited for the return of a full scale NAPT Conference. Many that I have spoken with have brought up how thrilled they are for the camaraderie. Being caught up in the business of our daily operation can bring on a strange feeling of solitude, almost like you’re alone on an island but events like the NAPT Annual Conference brings you back to humanity. It is the human aspect that refreshes and rejuvenates myself and my peers.

Tudor: Our members expect a high level of educational offerings from us, which is the main mission of the NAPT Foundation. We are looking forward to getting back on the conference planning path again, so we support the development and education of the professionals responsible for the safe and efficient transportation of our school children.

From a networking and professional development perspective, how important is the return of the conference to NAPT members?

McGee-Hewitt: Our conference is dedicated to our members and our member needs; they, as so many in the world, need inspiration and motivation because the post-pandemic era has been tough in many ways, including professional motivation. That is why, our return to the student transportation marketplace is vital. We are here to serve our members, provide them with whatever is needed and the information to help them improve their operation. Our Trade Show will have a cross section of products and information that is available in our industry, our program will feature the more important issues impacting our members, and our Professional Development Series (PDS) offerings will be plenty! For some, this will be the first opportunity to complete some of their certification requirements since 2020 and the Annual Conference will qualify as a national event to help our members work toward their certification and renewal of their current certification. 

The professional staff and volunteer leaders are putting together a member-centric conference where it revolves around our members and their needs, no external agendas allowed, which is important in today’s climate. More than ever before, we will get to the core of what our members need and provide just that. 

We are working hard to be the source of the best and most relevant information possible. Our member-centric approach and determination to promote our industry are coming together beautifully to create a dynamic program!

Tudor: Important. That is why we are offering 12 Professional Development Series (PDS) opportunities multiple times during the program. We want attendees to be able to go to multiple, different PDS courses so they are able to learn as much as possible during our short time together.

Grisham: I have seen firsthand the value a professional certification can bring to an individual for securing a position or advancing within a district so allow me to echo Molly & Donald’s sentiments – our return is at the right time with the approach that will positively shape the marketspace.

McGee-Hewitt: That is a good point made about job advancement, Rick. We have taken that into consideration during the planning process. This year inside our trade show, we will have a special booth set up for attendees to obtain a complimentary headshot to use for their professional needs. Our members are fantastic at what they do, they are experts in student transportation, but sometimes they put their own professional needs second to that of their district and to the organizations they serve. We want to provide a space that puts their needs first. 

One of the things that we really want to do at our conference is help our members see what the possibilities are for advancement in the industry. NAPT is currently investigating potential partnerships with universities, where we are looking at possible degree completion programs and programs especially geared for student transportation folks. 

There’s a lot of exciting things, not only at the conference, but upcoming for us as an association.

What is the significance of returning to Columbus, Ohio, for the conference?

Grisham: Columbus holds a special place in my heart as it was in Columbus (in 2017 & 2019 respectively) that I was elected to both of my board leadership positions. This year, I will have the privilege of turning over the reins to Teena Mitchell and bid my time of the NAPT Board farewell; Columbus will bring it full circle for me. Columbus lays a beautiful backdrop by offering plenty of restaurants and sights, all of which is very walkable. It has been a great home for NAPT in the past, we are excited to be back there.

Tudor: From the Foundation’s perspective, it offers a good, central location for our membership to attend. It is cost effective and easily accessible!

McGee-Hewitt: Columbus is what many people consider the heart of America because it’s right in Midwest, it’s a very safe city and it’s beautiful. The Convention Center, hotels, tourism, and location make it the perfect location for us! The Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation is a strong affiliate partner, they have been supportive of us (as many of our fellow state association partners) so it makes it easy for us to be in their home state – we are welcomed, with open arms.

What unique experiences can members look forward to at this year’s conference?

McGee-Hewitt: Earlier this year, our professional staff and I held a site visit in Columbus, something I would like to identify is the variety of spaces that the hotel and convention center have for people to gather and have conversation. There are a variety of options available for those necessary impromptu networking opportunities. Attendees can also look forward to move interactive sessions, we will be working with our speakers to ensure that they realize gone are the days of one sided presentations. Some exciting new program features include a new member/first timers special event, a pedometer competition offering winning prizes, and as previously mentioned, complimentary head shots will be available on the trade show floor. Our leadership wants to make this the most engaging NAPT conference that our members have ever seen – I promise, this will be a major win for attendees! 

Grisham: Also, Molly! She will not brag about herself but this year our conference will feature her leadership and association expertise. One of her fortes is planning big event, creating special lifetime memories and moments! 

McGee-Hewitt: There’s another aspect that I would be remiss if I did not mention, we are aware that in school districts professional development dollars, especially on the business side of the house, and that’s where transportation resides, are not always approved. We have many members who pay for their own certifications and continuing education, even our conference out of their very own pocket.

It is important that we point out to all of our members that depending on where you’re at, there are tax advantages to that they can write it off, but many are not doing that.

While I am very grateful to our school districts that put together enough money in their budgets to allow professional development for all their professional staff, we can overlook that some just cannot. That is why, we need to help our members who see our conference as their professional lifeline so they come on their own dime.

With that being said, I am also very pleased that I will be hosting an event at the conference for our affiliate leadership. Our executive directors and folks in leadership of our 19 affiliate states in Columbus, which will be the first time we’ve had to be face-to-face. I’m hoping between now and October that many other states will join us as affiliates of NAPT. We have a lot of great state associations out there who are doing really good things in their states for their members.

We’re hoping to connect with them on a national level to expand our reach a little bit and to see what we can do to partner with them. This will be a first for us of having this meeting with our affiliates. I’m in the process right now of holding phone calls with those 19 different states and getting some feedback already to help us and prep for it. But I think this face-to-face meeting will be a great opportunity for us to move the industry forward.