Exclusive Interview: Melody Coniglio, CDPT, CSNT

School BUSRide spoke with Melody Coniglio, CDPT, CSNT, director of transportation for the Kenston Local Schools in Ohio and Region 3 director for the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT®) about National School Bus Safety Week, NAPT® leadership, and pupil transportation safety.

Melody Coniglio, CDPT, CSNT

Please introduce yourself – let us know a little about your background in pupil transportation, and your
daily responsibilities.

I started my career in 1995, at the age of 19 years old, as a bus aide, working with children with special needs at the Highlands County School District in Florida while I trained to obtain my CDL. It was in those early days that I discovered my passion for serving the special needs community which led me to get my CDL within a month after I started training. Shortly thereafter, I moved back to Ohio to continue to pursue my passion. I began working at the Lake County Board of Development Disabilities, transporting individuals of all ages, from preschool to 90. 

It was in 2009, that I moved into management, working for Koinonia Homes, an integrated whole-person care facility for people with developmental disabilities. Koinonia Homes gave me the opportunity to lead yet, I craved a challenge. At the encouragement of fellow transportation professionals, I made the move into big yellow. All these years later, here I am, a pupil transportation professional who has seen the profession from school bus aide all the way to director of transportation.

Today, I am honored to be the director of transportation for Kenton Local School District in the beautiful Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. 

Our district encompasses approximately 1,800 students over 112 square miles with 35 bus routes. I manage a team of 52 people, including school bus drivers, mechanics, dispatchers, and supervisors. Each day presents new opportunities and new challenges, especially within the winter months as our district resides on the snow belt; therefore, creating a culture where student safety is a top priority for my team is my main responsibility as a leader of pupil transportation. 

How did you get involved with the NAPT and the Board?

Early on, I wanted to learn more about the transportation industry. I knew that I needed to surround myself with peers that had the same passion as I did. I quickly discovered that in pupil transportation there is not necessarily a class that you take in college to learn, it is about building your professional network that will help you to grow. Seeking out information and finding the best mentors that you can.

In 2009, I met Steve Simmons, former NAPT® president and director of transportation for Columbus City Schools, at the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation (OAPT) conference where he enthusiastically spoke about the work that NAPT® was doing around professional development. From that time to the present, I’ve worked hard to obtain two NAPT® certifications; the first as a Certified in Special Needs Transportation (CSNT) and the second, a Certified Director of Pupil Transportation (CDPT). Both certifications have proven to be extremely valuable to professional toolbox, strengthening the knowledge that I bring to the field. The NAPT® Professional Development Series (PDS) will meet you where you are in your career, either catapulting you further or sharpening your skillset and focus. 

I wanted to become part of NAPT® leadership for the opportunity to build upon all the innovative and wonderful experiences that NAPT® has offered me and my fellow industry leaders. It was speaking with Brad Aemisegger, a close friend, peer, and at the time, NAPT® Region 3 director, who encouraged me to become involved at a national level. In 2021, I was elected as the successor to Brad, who was retiring from the industry and the board, to serve as NAPT®’s region 3 director.  

Since becoming involved at the board level, I have gained a greater understanding of the organization and what they stand for. All of which have really spoken to me and my values.

This month, we observe National School Bus Safety Week. Please tell us about why the week is so important to the industry.

National School Bus Safety Week is an important part of creating awareness for our fellow motorists who may need to know (or be reminded of) the importance of sharing the road. For example, a common question from many communities is: “when should I stop for a school bus when I see the flashing lights?” This question demonstrates the need for knowledge surrounding school bus safety, which is why there are many published illustrations reminding motorists when they should stop for a school bus which the National School Bus Safety Week will highlight. It all stems back to communication and understanding of the laws that our children’s lives depend on.

The 2022 National School Bus Safety Week is held this year from October 17-21, 2022.
Held during the third full week of October each year, National School Bus Safety Week is an active and evolving public education program and an excellent way for parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and other interested parties – to join forces and address the importance of school bus safety. School districts throughout the country observe School Bus Safety Week.

The greatest risk to our student riders is getting on and off the school bus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) goes into detail about this topic and it is national initiatives like School Bus Safety Week that can offer the k12 education community the opportunity to disseminate curated content centered around school bus safety. The week offers the opportunity to remind and educate riders about the danger zone that surrounds the school bus, how to disembark the vehicle safely, bus evacuation tips, the importance of not distracting the bus driver, and school bus stop safety.

In addition, the week gives us the opportunity to highlight the talent of students nationally who submitted posters for the National School Bus Safety Week Poster Contest, the centerpiece of this initiative. This year we will highlight the work of Jihyeon (Elly) Han, a student at Altamont Grade School in Altamont, Kansas; Han’s poster was voted as the overall winner of the contest for best depicting the theme of 1 Bus + 1 Driver = a BIG Impact on Education. Jihyeon’s submission, along with the submissions from 15 other states, reminds us that children are getting highly creative by demonstrating the need for their safety and it is our responsibility as a nation to respectively respond. 

NAPT’s vision is a world where every student has access to safe and efficient transportation; how does the work that NAPT® does during National School Bus Safety Week advance the vision?

Isn’t that such a wonderful vision to have? A world that promotes accessibility and safety for all our nation’s children to be educated. Our vision is supported by the collective wisdom of our leadership, members, and staff and we need to ensure that the work the association is doing supports it. 

The National School Bus Safety Week gives us the platform to do just that.

We are constantly ensuring that our association’s work reflects our vision, what School Bus Safety Week offers us is strength in numbers. It is an annual event where a group of members and non-members alike join forces to promote the very thing that we are working so hard to achieve, school bus safety. Throughout the week, NAPT® will highlight our core belief that transportation is integral to education by spotlighting pupil transportation professionals as equal and vital to the national education system. We will give a public eye to the hard-working people who are in the field doing the work every day, all the while reinforcing the established research surrounding school bus safety that has been so thoughtfully created by our fellow transportation organizations, for instance, NHSTA, NSTA, NASDPTS, and our business community, to name a few.

We understand a week is not enough and that is why we will work tirelessly throughout the year to expand upon what School Bus Safety Week offers us. We are the National Association for Pupil Transportation, the credentialing body for our profession, and we promise to never stop working to ensure that our vision becomes a reality.

Can initiatives like National School Bus Safety Week help address the driver shortage?

Absolutely. The bus driver shortage has long been an issue which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic to levels we may have never seen before. The National School Bus Safety Week gives us the opportunity to get in front of our respective communities by speaking to a national initiative; the job market is competitive, and we need to set our industry above the others. The more media coverage and attention to the issue that is received, the more visible our needs are, which will inevitably help with recruitment efforts. We can use the week to display opportunities that are available to those who may be able to help. For instance, a retired individual who is looking for a meaningful opportunity may be watching the evening news and see a local news segment about the week, or a parent who is looking for work that fits into their children’s schedule could receive information sent home from school and realize this may be an opportunity that works best for them. No matter how the information is received, the week offers us a national spotlight that we can shine onto our local communities to help combat the shortage. Every k12 community should use this week to create awareness about the school bus driver shortage which impacts school bus safety. 

What advice can you offer to NAPT® members looking to provide better and safer transportation for students?

The main goal of a pupil transportation professional is to get students to and from school, field trips, and sporting events, safely. Districts should encourage student ridership by focusing on school bus safety facts. Next, showcase the bus drivers – this is a must; we need to ensure that school bus drivers are connected to the community. Tell their story and honor their accomplishments, they are an invested member of any transportation team who want to see success, recognition to them is beyond deserved. People who feel seen, heard, and valued will come to work and do right by their children that they serve.