Q&A with Director of Transportation Dr. Kayne Smith
Written by Aylin Cook
HopSkipDrive spoke to Dr. Kayne Smith, the Director of Transportation (DOT) at Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, about his career trajectory, what he loves about being a DOT and the challenges of the job.
How did you get started in the school transportation industry?
I actually started driving a school bus as a way to pay for college. In high school, I asked the school staff if they were looking for school bus drivers. They told me to call them on my 18th birthday — and I did. The first thing I did on my birthday was parallel park a school bus!
A few years later, when I was working in the transportation shop doing oil changes and small repairs, the high school principal pulled me into his office and asked if I wanted to teach social studies. That’s how I became a high school teacher at age 21. I taught for two years.
How did you become a Director of Transportation?
After two years of teaching, a School Transportation Supervisor position opened up, which I moved into. When I was 24, I became the Operations Supervisor; three years later I became the Area Director and then the Director of Transportation.
What do you like most about being a Director of Transportation?
The people are the best part of my job. I have an amazing team that does the day-to-day to get kids to school and home. The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District gets 85,000 kids to school every day on 1,400 school buses. My team focusing on that lets me focus on tomorrow.
What is the biggest challenge of your job?
The bus driver shortage is the biggest challenge — it’s been that way since I started in the industry. There are not very many people who wake up in the morning and know they want to be a school bus driver. It’s always a challenge to go out and find new people.
What are you doing to address the school bus driver shortage?
The bus driver shortage ebbs and flows; sometimes it’s more critical. In 2015, we were fully staffed. Last year, we ran into a challenge. While retention rates increased, we weren’t getting the number of applicants we normally get. There’s almost a bidding war in the Houston area. If one district raises an hourly rate, the other districts do the same.
At Cypress-Fairbanks, we have been trying many methods to deal with this issue, from social media campaigns to going into the communities for grassroots recruiting. I find it’s more successful when school bus drivers do boots-on-the-ground recruiting. Who better to promote this job opportunity?
What efforts are you making to increase the school bus driver retention rate?
We really do our best to make sure our drivers feel appreciated every day. We want them to feel like they are an important part of the team coming to work, and we want them to feel valued.
As a Director of Transportation, I — and my leadership team — focus on being accessible to staff. We go to campuses to say hi — we’re visible — and we keep an open mind and open ears. We listen and address concerns. We also do fun activities such as Popcorn Thursdays and Snow Cone Mondays to show appreciation to the staff.
School bus drivers aren’t just drivers. They’re educators. They are responsible for educational success by getting students to school and giving them access to educational opportunities. At Cypress-Fairbanks, we have a connection to that larger mission.
What makes Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District unique?
Texas does not mandate school transportation for any student except those with IEPs. Cypress-Fairbanks is unique in that we offer every student a ride to school. In fact, in our district 72% of students ride a school bus to school every day.
Generally, rides are focused on kids who live two to three miles away from the school. Students at Cypress-Fairbanks can get a ride to school no matter how far, or how close, they live.
What is your outlook for the 2021–2022 school year?
I see this school year as being full of opportunities. Coming back from a unique year last year, we have replanned and prepared. We want to make sure we are very welcoming to students who have been out of the classroom for 18 months.
The transportation staff is incredibly busy. We are replacing around a third of our fleet, and we redid all the routes this year. While we have a lot on our plate, everything we are doing will ultimately make us more efficient.