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Plenty of pride and fulfillment for Montague schools’ transportation department

It’s much more than transporting the district’s students to and from school.

MONTAGUE – In his fourth year as a bus driver for the Montague Area Public Schools transportation department, Jeffrey Pierson considers himself “Captain of my vehicle.”

The retiree who lives in rural Montague Township, close to the bus barn, works part-time but make no mistake: Pierson performs his duties with “serious responsibility and authority.”

His colleagues as well as his transportation director, Keri Plichta, would have it no other way.

Plichta has been in the school transportation business for 25 years, one with Montague.

Montague’s transportation department employs a staff of 22. The department has 13 regular routes and a special needs route that travels to Muskegon’s Wesley, LLC, and Craig schools. It transports six students to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at Reeths-Puffer.

Additionally, Montague’s transportation department transports students to the Career Tech Center as well as transporting McKinney-Vento students throughout the county. The team of drivers averages five to seven field trips or athletic trips per week on top of handling New Era Christian Schools transportation.

Plichta is tasked with “making sure our fleet is safe, communicating with parents, scheduling, mapping, guiding drivers, preparing new drivers, and covering routes.”

It’s no secret the favorite part of Plichta’s job.

“By far the students,” she said. “I have always been honored that I get to write in the pages of students’ lives.”

That sentiment is echoed by Pierson as well as by Kelly Hall, who considers herself a “student delivery specialist.”

Hall has worked for Montague transportation for two years. She was born and raised in Montague and always wanted to give back to her alma mater.

Hall’s routes include one for kindergarten through fifth grade and another for sixth through 12th grade — Number 6. She’s also the office secretary at the transportation building.

While the early start to the day is a bit challenging, Hall quips, “building relationships with the students and the great team of drivers that we have” are highlights for her.

In addition to being a “great grandpa” of sorts for the students, Pierson thoroughly enjoys driving through the changing countryside, “watching the humans grow year to year – maybe a 13-year span” – camaraderie with other drivers, and tutoring grammar and math as they ride.

Pierson’s routes include sixth through 12th grade and kindergarten through fifth grade – Number 74 to Stony Lake Road. He also substitutes on various routes as needed.

His most memorable moments working for Montague transportation have involved the district’s extracurricular groups.

“Enthusiastic band trips to Cedar Springs’ Red Flannel Days on crisp, autumn mornings, facing the morning sun from the stadium bleachers while many bands strut their stuff,” Pierson vividly expressed.

“Also, special weather challenges involving snow, low visibility, and loss of traction. Morning smiles, before, during, and after orthodontic treatment, really make my day.”

Seeing students outside of the school environment is a perk for Hall.

“I love seeing kids outside of the bus,” she said. “They give you the funniest look – almost like you aren’t an everybody person; you are their bus driver.”

Another source of pride for Montague’s transportation department is the high-level bus garage.

Plichta pointed out that Montague has the only enclosed bus garage in Muskegon County, which is very much appreciated during the winter time. The facility has an automated bus wash, which Plichta noted adds to the longevity of the fleet.

“We have the Taj Mahal of all the bus operations, with our heated garage and bus wash,” Hall said with pride.

Becoming a bus driver requires many steps.

Plichta said that one must have a clean driving record as well as pass background and random drug testing and pass a DOT physical yearly. One’s driving record is put into a federal database. Written tests must be passed at the Secretary of state – 175 questions in all.

Twenty-four hours of training videos must be viewed with the State of Michigan with tests that must be passed. Weeks of training are followed by a road test with an examiner. Twenty hours of beginning bus driver class with a six-hour update class every two years is required.

“This job is not taken lightly,” Plichta said. “Our drivers are dedicated, arriving to work at 6 a.m., driving in all kinds of weather conditions with 50 students behind them.

“The relationships that are built with students, their families, and co-workers make this job rewarding and quite amazing.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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