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Spencer County Schools Transportation Manager Jack Senior never thought he would find himself behind the wheel of a school bus, but 13 years ago that is exactly where he landed. His route through the district’s transportation department has taken him all the way to the top as transportation manager, and now it is time for his next stop in life: retirement.
“I felt like God was speaking to me to get involved with the school system and start driving a bus,” he said, noting that before driving a bus he pastored a church for 15 years.
Senior was promoted to driver trainer shortly after becoming a driver and then to transportation manager, where he has served the district more than 10 years. He said he believes God clearly orchestrated his career move.
“A year had gone by and I thought, ‘I could run this thing,’” he said.
But now retirement is on the horizon and June 30 will be his last day with the district. It was a bittersweet decision for the 66-year-old who learned to love the stress and demand associated with managing 28 bus routes that include traveling roughly 3,600 miles each school day.
Senior said his job includes being on call 24 hours a day to address district transportation emergencies that often arise in the wee morning hours, such as snow or a driver calling in sick, which requires a substitute to be confirmed before the morning route. His job includes many responsibilities, some of which are planning routes, ensuring safety regulations are followed, hiring and managing drivers, transportation budgeting, addressing bus discipline issues, managing the district’s bus mechanics and even calming parent fears. He said it’s not a job for the weary.
“This is not something you get into to make a check. If you are not called – if it doesn’t fit you – it will eat you up,” Senior said, noting that transportation management includes a continuous balancing act of ensuring student safety, meeting student needs and addressing student, parent, administration and driver concerns.
Senior said when he took over the department, his main goal then was the same as it is now: avoid accidents that could injure or, even worse, kill a student or a driver. He said since he’s been transportation manager, district buses have been involved in six or seven head-on collisions, none of which were the bus driver’s fault.
“We’ve had a real good track record,” he said.
But the years have not been without challenges. Senior said he has seen bus discipline issues increase and that it is harder than ever to keep good drivers healthy and behind the wheel. He noted that recruiting good drivers is paramount to the department’s success.
“You try to feel the person out to see if they love kids,” Senior said of hiring good drivers. “That’s the main thing. If they don’t love kids, you can forget it.”
Senior attributes his retirement decision to some medical issues and to the fact that he feels like it’s time to move on. He suffered a heart attack in June 2010 and said he needs to lower his stress level.
“I’m 66 and it’s time to leave. You just know,” he said. “I’m not sleeping as well as I used to or anything. I just need the break.”
Senior said he definitely had more energy for the job several years ago.
“When you’re younger, it doesn’t bother you so much,” he said.
Senior says much of his department’s success – including numerous state accolades and recognitions for safety and training – is because of his driver trainer, Mitzi Stump, and his administrative assistant, Patti Cotton and the 53 drivers he manages. He said his department’s teamwork has made his job much easier over the years.
“I’ll miss a lot of the people, especially the ladies that work with me and my mechanics,” Senior said. “If I shine at all, they’re the ones that have made me shine.”
Stump said she will miss Senior’s leadership, professionalism and caring demeanor.
“He has been the driver, he has been the driver trainer and then the transportation manager,” Stump said, noting that she in fact trained Senior when he first came to the district. “He knows first hand how to treat the students as being the driver, and knows what is expected first hand because he was there and did that. That’s why he is so good about understanding when a driver comes in with a situation.”
Stump said Senior has a special way to lighten stressful situations and cares deeply about every person he manages.
“He prays for the district. He prays for these routes. I know I do myself. We pray that the routes get through and that no one is injured,” Stump said. “I can’t ask for a better transportation manager than to have the support that Jack gives the department.”
Cotton agreed, noting that Senior often works with other districts to ensure Spencer County is on top of the latest transportation safety issues and trends.
“He’s served on various different boards and committees, as well as jumping in there and lending a helping hand as far as networking and making sure [we are] in line with the other districts,” Cotton said, adding that Senior is a team player.
“Jack doesn’t look at himself as being someone’s boss, and he looks at himself as being part of the team,” she said.
And Senior recognized that he will miss that team come July 1 – but with retirement comes exciting destinations and new opportunities. He said he looks forward to becoming more involved in Christian ministry again and is considering an invitation to go on a mission trip to Africa in September.
He is also looking forward to being more involved in a different kind of transportation group – the Motorcyclists for Jesus Ministries, for which he serves as chaplin and is on the organization’s board of directors.
“There’s all kinds of stuff to do,” he said, noting that he also enjoys fishing.
Stump and many others in the district office agree that Senior will be sorely missed come July 1.
“I do know, with this man, his heart is in pupil transportation, to make sure every student has a safe and comfortable ride to school,” she said.
“He is by far the best boss I’ve ever had the privilege of working for.”