INTERVIEW: New NAPT Board Members

Incoming National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Board Members Alex Spann, CDPT; Kimberly Martin; and Melody Coniglio, CDPT, CSNT, met for this exclusive conversation in School BUSRide. They discussed the issues affecting our association, the driver shortage, 2021’s harsh winter leading into 2022, and the value that NAPT brings its members.

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

Alex Spann, CDPT

Alex Spann: I was hired as a part-time substitute driver by Dickson County Schools (Tennessee) in April of 2010. After some time, I moved into a full-time driving position on a general education bus and began assisting in the training of new drivers. In 2019, I began as safety manger for a contract school bus company operating in the Nashville area where I assisted in the hiring and oversaw the initial and ongoing training of all drivers. In May 2020, I was hired by the Tennessee Department of Education as the student transportation consultant in the office of School Safety & Transportation, where I continue to serve. When possible, I continue to drive as a part-time sub for my home district – I feel this continuation allows me a different angle as a state leader to connect to drivers and directors when visiting with districts and hearing their concerns.

Kimberly Martin

Kim Martin: I have 23 years experience in in K-12 transportation. Prior to joining Tyler my 18 years’ experience in the industry has allowed me to serve in various roles such as northern regional director for IAPT (Illinois), safety officer, third party tester, and director of transportation. During my career, I have written training manuals that are used at several school districts and transportation operations. The special needs training material was adopted for the state-mandated Illinois driver training manual. I proudly represent Tyler Technologies by serving on several national committees including the supplier council steering committee for NASDPTS and the NSTA manufacturers suppliers and technology committee. I am an official NAPT instructor and was appointed to the NAPT Board of Directors in 2021 as the affiliate member director. I am passionate about student safety and grateful to be a part of a team that does such important work.

Melody Coniglio, CDPT, CSNT

Melody Coniglio: I started my career in the transportation field in 1995. Since then, I have been in school, developmental disabilities (Boards of DD), transit and limousine fields. I have participated in: 

• Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation (OAPT) Secretary 2015-2017

• OAPT Second Vice President 2017-2018

• OAPT First Vice President 2018-2019

• OAPT President 2019-2020

• OAPT Past President 2020-2021

• Presenter at State Conference 2015,2017, 2019 and 2021

• Stakeholder for Ohio Transportation Special Needs Rule Committee

• Geauga ESC SPED Transportation Committee Member 

• Committee Member for Ohio SB134

• Testified on behalf in favor of Ohio SB134

• OAPT Professional Development Committee Chair 2016-2020

What drew you to serving on the NAPT Board?

Martin: My mission has always been working to help give a voice to the K-12 transportation industry. Serving on the prestigious NAPT board allows me to be a dutiful conduit to represent transportation professionals for what are often challenging job circumstances.

Spann: Upon moving into an administrative role in 2019, I immediately joined NAPT to help broaden my knowledge on school transportation issues. After attending an annual conference and beginning work on my CDPT designation, I was drawn to the organization and dedication shown by NAPT. Their work in helping districts, states, and companies navigate the COVID pandemic solidified to me their desire to see school transportation succeed regardless of the circumstances presented.

Coniglio: I began as a member of NAPT in 2010 when the conference came to Cincinnati, Ohio. I loved that NAPT has the opportunity to meet its members’ needs wherever they are in their career. I also like the networkability of being able to get perspectives from others outside your state.

This has been a wild winter for school bus operations. How has your district or operation’s day-to-day work been affected, or adjusted, by winter transportation? 

Coniglio: Being from the “snow belt” in northeast Ohio the weather is just one of the normal wintertime events we plan for.

Martin: At Tyler Technologies I work with all parts of the industry from management to technicians, bus drivers, parents, school admins, board members, and of course the students across the United States. In addition, I served as transportation director in the Chicago land area during some very harsh winters. Each year operations everywhere have different ways to prepare for the winter months and or extreme weather of any kind.  People may be surprised that during the summer building routes includes many winter factors for transportation professionals since they know it’s coming and strive to best prepare. 

Spann: In the south (for my states representation), our winters can be very hit or miss – in Tennessee, we tend to experience all four seasons within one week, sometimes less! This keeps drivers and directors on their toes to handle whatever the weather is that day. Luckily it doesn’t seem to have taken a toll on transportation as a whole, like other factors have.

Do you think harsh winters effect the nation’s driver shortage? Please elaborate. 

Coniglio: I believe that winters do affect recruiting efforts. Normally we do not hold recruitment efforts in January and February as this is the worst time of year. We like to give them the opportunity to get comfortable behind the wheel. That way when winter comes and the snow starts flying, it is not as much as stressor. It can be a deterrent when thinking about a career in the transportation field.  

Spann: I think this can help and hurt the driver shortage. In regard to helping, nobody wants to see a child standing out in the cold longer than necessary awaiting a bus. Children tug at our hearts and people are always willing to step up and pitch in when it comes to kids. However, who wants to get up with sub-zero temperatures and fire up a 40-foot metal vehicle that may or may not ever get warm?

Martin: I believe it very well could and it has in the past. One exciting thing to see is how much technology has changed the game for our industry, helping drivers with their job duties now more than ever. 

As you enter your new position at NAPT, in your estimation, what are the NAPT membership’s biggest needs in 2022?

Spann: I would be remiss to not mention the driver shortage. I heard a quote recently that all of us dealing with this need to take in to account – instead of jumping right into the “how do we fix this shortage” mindset, we need to back up and figure out “how did we get to this point or why are we in such shape?” If we collectively work with our membership to look at the root cause, might we then find a common denominator to help us avoid this getting so severe again?

Coniglio: I believe the membership’s biggest need at the moment is support for one another. This year has come with a new set of challenges. We as board members want our membership to know we’re here for them. No matter what that looks like. Make the phone call, FaceTime call, or Zoom meeting request. Know that you are not alone in this, and we are here in whatever capacity they need.

Martin: Being so new to the board and keeping in mind that transportation is a moving target, I can say that not just resources but an easy way to access those resources are more important than ever. Support could be considered the biggest need now and always, but careful consideration must be taken on how NAPT delivers that support. 

How has your new commitment to NAPT Board affected your own daily work schedule? How do you foresee managing that time commitment with your existing operational responsibilities? 

Martin: This does not pose an issue for me. Being a seasoned transportation professional, I am used to looking at “the big picture.” If I can contribute to solving an issue and identifying resources, then all time spent will always be worth the effort. 

Spann: It hasn’t affected my work schedule. If anything, the discussions had in meetings have sparked ideas that I am able to bring back to the table in Tennessee to help ensure our program is helping to set the bar high for student transportation.

Coniglio: Before I became the Region 3 board member, I had already held various positions with the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation (OAPT). For me it was a natural shift from one organization to the next. The time I spent on OAPT is now used for NAPT.

In your own words, what is the value proposition of NAPT membership? What does the association provide its members that they can’t find elsewhere?

Martin: During my prior years as a member there wasn’t anywhere else that offered classes for our profession. So the PDS courses are invaluable to anyone striving for excellence. Regarding my vendor experience. NAPT allows enormous visibility to the affiliate members. NAPT recognizes Vendors as one of the “experts in the room” and that we successfully merge transportation experience with business experience to provide the latest and greatest solutions that are being requested.

Vendors are passionate about this industry. NAPT, NAPT ACTS! the Road Show, conferences, and School BUSRide allow not only for the visibility but easy access to the information we provide. For example, nowadays you may not be able to attend a webinar live when it is happening but as a member I know where I can go to access them anytime. I know who I can call at NAPT when I run across something new and want to hear how others in the industry are handling the same issue. If you are a vendor that is thinking of becoming a member, I hope you will join our town hall meeting on 17 February where you will get to see all the accessible tools on the different platforms.  

This year Tyler Technologies is proud to announce that at our very own conference Tyler Connect we are offering several NAPT PDS courses. It can be tough for our transportation professionals to be away from their operations at this time, so we want to offer this incredible opportunity to these professionals seeking to fulfill their National Certifications.  

Coniglio: NAPT has given many transportation professionals the tools needed to be successful in their career. The professional development offerings are superior to those currently offered nationally. NAPT goes above and beyond ensuring learning experiences are memorable. The association’s members are the driving force in the planning of professional development and keeping up with industry trends/leadership. When we talk about value added NAPT is definitely the leader in career development in the transportation industry.  

Spann: CONNECTION: this organization allows you to connect. There are districts out there, like anyone reading this article, that are facing the same issues, shortages, and complaints that you are – use those people to your advantage! We are all in this together and if we lean on our partners to help, we can overcome any issue that may arise. The vast network that has been established by NAPT is something that cannot be matched. Many states have their own local association which is a huge asset to staying updated with your individual state needs and changes, but having a national “brand” allows ideas to come from other places and stakeholders – ideas which may prove beneficial to you and your entity.