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Driving change: How to restore faith and build trust in your school transportation department

transportation

When parents drop their kids off at the bus stop each morning, they want to be assured of two things: 1) Their kids are safe and 2) They get to and from school on time.

Of course, ensuring a smooth transportation operation in schools is easier said than done, especially early in the school year when the number of parent phone calls and questions often skyrockets.

After a disastrous first day of transportation issues nearly three years ago, the communications and transportation teams at Richmond County School System in Georgia knew they needed to rethink their approach.

They turned to K12 Insight’s cloud-based listening solution, Let’s Talk!, to create a culture of customer service and accountability, and restore faith between the school and home. In less than three years, the district has overcome its communication challenges and restored faith in its transportation department.

We recently sat down with Kaden Jacobs, the district’s director of communications, along with Dewayne Porter, senior director of transportation, to find out how Let’s Talk! has helped transform the district’s transportation and communications systems.

What follows is a transcript of that conversation.

SHELBY MCINTOSH, VP CLIENT SUCCESS, K12 INSIGHT: Thank you to all of you who are joining us today. I’ve been really excited about this webinar since I found out that are friends from Richmond County School System in Georgia could join us today to tell you about their story.

We know this time of year transportation is at the top of a lot of our minds–whether we are working in a school system or, like myself, I’m a new parent now in a school system. So this story is just so very timely and I’m really excited to have them share it out with you all.

Before we get into their story, I do want to give you a little background about K12 Insight and myself as well. I actually got my start in the classroom. I was a teacher in Lewisville ISD up in north Texas, and worked in D.C. for a while in education policy. But all of that work really brought me to K12 Insight where I’ve been able to work with school districts across the country and really learn from the best in the business. I like to say that I have the best job in our company because I get to learn from really everyone who has the best ideas about how to use our products in the best way, and obviously we include Richmond County in that list.

So, again a little background about our company before I turn this over to them to tell you their story. We’ve been around since about 2002. Our company has evolved a lot since then. We’ve learned a great deal about how to best serve public school systems and from K-12. But, regardless of how our company has changed, we’ve always been about helping school districts build relationships with their stakeholders that are founded on trust. We want to create leaders who listen. We feel that a school system’s very difficult job becomes infinitely easier when they have the support of the community that they serve. So that’s what we try to do every day when we’re working with our school district partners, is help them build those relationships and do it in efficient ways. We’re really proud to partner with over 400 school districts across the country and we’re also very proud of our affiliations with some of these national organizations which teach us a lot about how to best support those districts.

Our work started back in 2002 and we still do a lot of this work around the idea of surveying. On about the nine o’clock on this dial here you see that word Engage, and that is referring to our survey platform where, again we feel like there’s a lot of power around building those relationships with stakeholders when you go to them and ask for their feedback and then say we’re going to use this feedback to make informed decisions, because we really care about what you say. And we want to make sure that we’re making decisions that reflect your opinions and what you feel is most important.

We had a lot of success with that work but also felt like there was more that could be done and wanted to really extend the life of a survey–which brought us to Let’s Talk! That’s what our friends in Richmond County, Georgia are going to tell you a little bit more about today. The idea was that we could have a tool that enabled a school district to always be listening. And one of the things I love about working in school systems is that often we’ll create something, but then our partners, our clients will turn it into what they need. And what they’ve really turned Let’s Talk! into is a customer service platform. So, you’ll hear quite a bit more about that today.

But another really important component of that work is what we do onsite with school districts to help them use the data that they gather from a tool like Let’s Talk! or from surveys to really improve their practice. But some of my favorite work is being onsite and helping to give them counsel and advice on how to make better decisions to best serve their communities.

But again, regardless of what kind of service our school districts are using and what combination, the end result is that we want to build trust in the public school system.

So, like I said at the beginning, we’re really focusing in on this idea of transportation today. I don’t know about you but these statistics from the American School Bus Council are shocking to me. They say that we serve 26 million students throughout transportation services across the country. Almost half a million school buses put on 12,000 miles per bus on average per school year. I mean that’s a remarkable system.

And again as a parent now of a son that started kindergarten this week, I look at these school buses and think,  “I just can’t believe that we pull this off everyday.” But obviously it’s not without challenge, and it’s a really, really difficult job, because there are two major expectations that school systems are expected trying to meet everyday.

  1. They’re trying to make sure that parents feel like their children are safe when they step on that school bus.
  2. And that bus is going to arrive on time.

Neither of these things are small things to accomplish every single day, and obviously it’s not without challenge, and it’s a major feat that we’re able to accomplish those every day.

So because of that, this story that our friends are going to tell us today I think is even more compelling this time of year when we have this major rush of parents and community members calling us at the beginning of the school year wanting to know, “Is my school bus is going to be on time? Where is my bus stop?”

It’s just this high anxiety time of the year. And on top of that, the first impressions we make this time of year set the tone for the rest of the year. And we really feel like the customer service that is provided right now sets that tone and it’s incredibly important.  If we get it right at the beginning of the year, that it makes the job of this department and our bus drivers and our aids and all of the people that are fielding those phone calls and questions throughout the year, it makes their jobs easier if we get it right from the beginning.

So again I’m so excited to have Kaden and Dewayne here from Richmond County, Georgia to tell you a little bit more about their story. I’m going to stop talking and let them take it away.

KADEN JACOBS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, RICHMOND COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM (GA.): So our district has about 32,000 students, 50 some- odd schools and 4,000 employees. So we’re the tenth largest district in Georgia, but nationwide we’re in the 200’s or 300’s. So, I’d consider us a midsize district. But I think we have a lot of the same issues that a lot of your districts probably also have.

So everybody kind of has a day that they wish they could forget, and I certainly remember mine. It was the opening of my first school year in 2015. We had implemented new changes for our transportation system, and on day one we received over 3,000 calls from parents. We had tried to set up a call center to make sure that enough people could answer the phones. But with that volume of calls we left thousands unanswered and we had to call people back. It was truly a nightmare. And Mr. Porter wasn’t with us yet, he was in a neighboring county. I’m sure he was pleased that he was not here back then. Little did he know that eventually he would come back to help us clean up that mess.

DEWAYNE PORTER, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF TRANSPORTATION, RICHMOND COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM (GA.): Yeah, I would have never guessed after watching you guys–Richmond County– on the news that year. I was the director in a neighboring county and everything was going fairly smooth for us. About the same time of school starting as Richmond County had at the time. But the most important thing for a transportation director is being able to talk with the bus drivers while they’re out on the road. And on that particular day I believe the radio system actually shut down. It was an old antiquated system and the dispatch office was not able to reach out to bus drivers and talk to them via radio. And like Kaden said, with over 3,000 calls the first day of school that’s almost impossible to task to complete, and to do it correctly. Especially when you can’t communicate with your bus drivers.

 

“With over 3,000 calls the first day of school that’s almost impossible to task to complete, and to do it correctly. Especially when you can’t communicate with your bus drivers.” – Dewayne Porter, Senior Director of Transportation, Richmond County School System

 

So I was watching this form a distance at the time. And one year later I was the senior director of transportation here after some of the changes had already been implemented, such as a new phone system that tracks and records the number of calls and the number of calls answered.

This past Monday started our third week of school this year. And we had approximately 2,400 calls and we answered just shy of 2,300. Some of those calls could have been calls from folks that just didn’t want to wait–that’s the reason we didn’t answer them. But, by the second day of school we cut that number of calls almost in half. And by Friday at the end of the week we had less than 400 calls for the day. And what I mean by the school day–we start answering phones at 5:30 in the morning and usually go until about 7 o’clock pm answering calls. But we hire approximately 15 to 20 temp agents for the first month of school and we train them on how to operate our routing software to answer questions from parents that are fairly simple.

Now Shelby said she was a parent of a new kindergartner. I have two children that ride the school bus–10th and 6th grade. And their mother and I want to know if the bus is going to be on time or if it’s going to be late and where it’s at. So, those temp agents do a really good job for us answering those calls. And very few [calls] get to my level, thank goodness. But the ones that do really do require a little bit of effort on our part and my part to make sure we answer their questions or concerns.

KADEN JACOBS: So we’ve made a lot of progress, but that first day, the communication gaps are what make the headlines, and typically they’re bad. We couldn’t talk to the buses. We couldn’t answer the phones. So, it really was a bad situation for the school system, for the transportation department and the system as a whole. Because it did not look positive.

The headline that always sticks out in my head–and unfortunately I couldn’t find it–but it said, “Richmond County Schools botches transportation on first day.” It was the headline of the local newspaper. And it was such a bad day, I think botches was actually a kinder word than they could have used back then.

But after this kind of day, where there’s so much chaos we all sat and felt, there has to be something better. We’ve got to communicate better. We have to be more efficient. And we have to make sure that we serve our community. And if we can do those two things. We can eliminate a lot of the issues and we can make our community happier. So we started to look for ways to do that, and solutions to do that. And really improve our customer service across the entire district.

 

“But after this kind of day, where there’s so much chaos we all sat and felt, there has to be something better. We’ve got to communicate better. We have to be more efficient.” – Kaden Jacobs, Director of Communications, Richmond County School System

 

So one of the things that our superintendent did for us, she pulled us all into the board conference room–there were about 400 of us. She said, “Someone tell me an example of a time when you had good customer service.”

Hands shot up and everyone talked about Chick-Fil-A. How they always say, “my pleasure,” every time that you go through the line.

So that was one of the things we really had to think about. What are ways that we can communicate more effectively? What are ways that we can do more for our community? How do we hear back from them when they have concerns? And how are we responding? Are things getting to the right people? I’m sure your districts are very similar to ours in that if we get an email, it may be they sent ten emails to ten different people. Mr. Porter may get an email that’s really more in my purview. And then you’ve got forward, forward, forward, forward. And by then it’s been three or four days, it’s gotten lost and it still hasn’t gotten to the right person. There’s no way to track those responses. It could be that somebody just answers finally and says, “This has nothing to do with me,” and sends that back to the community member who’s now frustrated because it’s been days and they still don’t have an answer.

So we really had to dig deep and find ways to fix those things.

 

“So that was one of the things we really had to think about. What are ways that we can communicate more effectively? What are ways that we can do more for our community? – Kaden Jacobs, Director of Communications, Richmond County School System

 

DEWAYNE PORTER: And from my point of view as the transportation director, I’ve been in the school bus business for 28 years and most of that time–21 or 22 years–has been as an administrator. And I’ve always been looking for technology to solve some of the most basic things for me as a director. And it’s always communications. If you don’t know where your buses are then it’s hard to answer a question. And if you don’t know where they are, it really makes a parent concerned, especially the parent of a kindergartner on the first day of school.

So along with Let’s Talk! we have GPS on all of our buses and actually implemented a lot of technology. Over this summer and over the last year, we transitioned to a new routing system complete with an app for smart phones or devices that will allow parents and students to download the app and they can track their particular bus in real time. But through Let’s Talk! we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.

KADEN JACOBS: And so one of the things that we sat down with Mr. Porter when we first implemented this was, when you’re getting all of these calls, how do they normally start. And so it normally started with, here’s our issue. Which then the person on the phone would have to say, “Okay, what’s your student’s name, what’s your address, grade, what school do they do to. Do you know the bus number?”

So all of those things, we worked with K12 Insight and the Let’s Talk! folks to get into a customized form, so that we could eliminate that right off the bat. There are required fields. The parents would put that [information] in and we could provide them an answer very, very quickly because we got all of the information that we needed right off the bat.

That contact us button is how people access Let’s Talk on the transportation page. We have a hotlink on the home page, it takes them to this. They can check bus routes, they can do all sorts of things on that page. But also that big blue contact us is kind of their way to get to this custom form. They fill out all this information.

And one of the things that we did this year, but we also worked on throughout last year as well, was that people answering the phones are also checking Let’s Talk! So if they need to make a phone call, they can do that. They can answer these in between phone calls, send really quick responses, and really take care of our customers, so.

The universal inbox–that meant that everyone can see it. So, if Mr. Porter starts to answer it–or if it’s assigned to Mr. Porter but somebody else actually can handle it–that can go head and get answered. It’s not just on his notepad or a phone call came in.

People were getting their feedback, literally, almost instantly through email through the system. Or if a phone call needed to be made it could be made with the correct information already at hand because we had asked for it through the Let’s Talk form.

DEWAYNE PORTER: And for my piece of mind, that is a wonderful tool because the majority of the calls that we get, those 3,000 plus calls are from families that need to know–on the first day of school of all times–what bus their child is going to ride, what time it will be there, and where is the stop. And so those questions can be answered by just about anybody in this building and it can be done rather quickly.

KADEN JACOBS: The binder incident is probably one of my favorite stories for the communication directors on the call, and probably the superintendents as well, you’ll appreciate this. This is one of those moments where everything comes together and works how it should.

What actually happened was a student threw a binder out of the bus window and it hit a passing car’s windshield and cracked it. So the way that the person who’s windshield was cracked found us was through our social media page. And they sent a message through the social media page, which we have an AI bot that answers.

So, they said they were a community member and [the page]gave them some options. One of those was transportation concerns, because we know that our community does provide us a lot of feedback. So when he clicked on transportation concerns it took him to that custom form. And he was able to say, “Hey I was on this and this road, here’s the bus number, here’s what happened.” And literally that next morning Mr. Porter and his team were able to get in touch with the man, help him though the situation, work with him to get his windshield fixed and all those things.

So we stayed off off of the news, which is always a plus. We helped a community member with an issue that they had, that was genuinely our fault. And everyone left the situation happy. I mean obviously the man had his windshield cracked he wasn’t thrilled, but by getting good customer service and getting an immediate response he was as happy as he could be in the situation.

Porter was certainly happy because he didn’t have to go on the news. I didn’t have to field media requests. And all the systems we had put in place really, really worked.

So it’s not just people are complaining or people are sending things in. There’s a lot of utility to the Let’s Talk! system and to having the ability to get that instant feedback from folks and be able to correspond with them right away.

 

“So it’s not just people are complaining or people are sending things in. There’s a lot of utility to the Let’s Talk! system and to having the ability to get that instant feedback from folks and be able to correspond with them right away.” – Kaden Jacobs, Director of Communications, Richmond County School System

 

SHELBY MCINTOSH: Kaden, I hate that you guys experienced that, but I do love hearing you tell that story every time. That’s one of my favorite stories, so thanks for sharing that.

DEWAYNE PORTER: One of the things that I like as administrator is the dashboard component, to where I can see how we’ve done as far as responding and the feedback that we get. Not all of it is negative–of course we get some that are–but there are some that are positive. But I can at least see how my people are responding in a timely manner. I do like that about the Let’s Talk! system.

KADEN JACOBS: And with our goal of improving customer service and increasing our ability to be efficient. I think the previous slide said 10% of them are actually compliments. Which a lot of times through email, those don’t go to the right places. But it’s fun to see that we are doing good things, and it’s good to hear that. I know in education a lot of times especially when you’re in a central office or a district office, you always have to deal with the problems and you’re firefighting and trying to find solutions to make things better. But it’s been really, really great for our folks to get those compliments.

We even got one the other day for one of the administrative assistants who had helped a lady solve a problem. She said, “This is the sweetest lady ever and I’m just so glad that she was there to answer my call.” And those kind of things make you feel really good about what you’re doing.

So, we’re getting voices that we wouldn’t normally hear as well. So eight percent of the dialogues we’ve gotten are from students. That was certainly something that we did not expect. But one of the things we found, and I’m sure that we knew this ahead of time, we just didn’t know how to leverage it–but the students are kind of the troops on the ground. They’re the ones that see everything. I know that the heat is out during the winter because I’ll start getting Let’s Talk! dialogues that say, “Hey man turn the air off or turn the heat on in this and this building. And we can contact our maintenance department and they can look at that.”

 

“One of the things that I like as administrator is the dashboard component, to where I can see how we’ve done as far as responding and the feedback that we get.”- Dewayne Porter, Senior Director of Transportation, Richmond County School System

 

And then 17 percent community members. Folks that don’t have any affiliation with the school system whatsoever are providing feedback, reaching out to form partnerships or to ask questions, or provide recommendations. So by having that all come into place we can really see it. And it does help build trust and faith in our schools through our community. And then has been a really positive thing for us.

SHELBY MCINTOSH: I want to summarize three things that I hear every time I hear you guys tell this story and I read about the great work that you guys are doing there.

I think step number one is, you guys gave parents and everyone else an easy way to reach you, and I think for a lot of school systems this is the hardest part. That whole, if you build it they will come thing, if I create this place now, they’re just going to come at us with complaints and concerns and we’re going to be inundated. We’re not going to be able to take it. I think in your case they were coming anyway.

And for those of you on the call that are thinking, “It’s going to increase and we’re not going to be able to handle it.” I think one of the things I would say–and what I hear a lot of our school district partners saying–they’re already talking they just may not be talking to you. They may be saying these things to the media and it becomes an even bigger problem for you. Or they’re talking about it in the grocery store or on social media. And there is power in having them come to you, but you have to give them a place to do that.

And then our job I think at K12 Insight is helping you be able to respond to those in a very efficient way.

Kaden or Dewayne would you guys say anything to those that are worried about if I give them this access now, it’s going to create a bigger problem for me.

 

“Let’s Talk! helps build trust and faith in our schools through our community. And then has been a really positive thing for us.”–Kaden Jacobs, Director of Communications, Richmond County School System

 

DEWAYNE PORTER: Yeah, I can respond to that somewhat. A lot of times people are reluctant to change. And I’m one of those people, I have been forever. But over the years that’s really the only constant is change. And we thought, and my people thought more than I did, that it was just going to be another layer, another layer of emails. But what I’m finding over the last year is that there’s fewer emails from the public that come to me directly. And most of my emails are from in-house people or salespeople that are trying to get in the door somehow.

It’s just easier to find that contact us button for Let’s Talk! instead of searching for an email. And we still do get a few emails directly to us, but it’s not nearly as many as what it once was.

KADEN JACOBS: One of the things that helped out early on as well, was I looked for the people in our building that I would call the influencers. The ones that I knew if I could win them over early it would spread like wildfire throughout. And so those five or six people I really spent a lot of time on making sure that they were comfortable with everything. And then it just kind of caught on from there because they were speaking positively about it, and detailing their interactions. And so it took some of the fear away from people that I would have never been able to get in touch with.

SHELBY MCINTOSH: I love that.

Another thing is you talked a lot about responding on time. I mean Dewayne the statistic that you said this year that you guys got 2,400 calls in the first day and answered 2,300 of them. That timeliness of response is such a key component, as we mentioned in the beginning, in setting the right tone.

Unfortunately in a lot of places where we work, one of the first things that happens is that parents are surprised that they actually get a response, that someone answers the phone, or that they return their message. So getting a response is step one, but then doing it actually in a timely way. I mean it’s not a very frequent thing to see a customers leave feedback where they say, I didn’t love the response, that’s not the answer I was hoping for, but you responded to me, and you got back to me quickly, so I’m happy.

KADEN JACOBS: Yeah, we get a lot of responses on the feedback surveys that are like “Wow, I can’t believe you answered me so fast.” Or “I can’t believe I got a response at all.” I know especially for transportation on the first day, the first couple days of school people were really appreciative.

Would you say that’s accurate Dewayne?

DEWAYNE PORTER: Yes, I would. I was really lucky to get the job in Richmond County when I did. My position was created, from what I understand, through consultants because of the botched year that they had prior to me coming. But that very first school opening that I was involved with, the news media around here used to keep reporters on standby just so that they could do a bad story on us. This year, my picture’s on the front page of the Augusta Chronicle praising the Department for the easy and smooth opening.

But when you got people answering the phones at 5:30, ready to go and ready to answer questions, people are impressed with that. Now they’re not always happy with the answer they get, as in any organization. But the fact that they got a live person and they got a response says a lot about the whole organization.

 

“The custom form allows us to be accurate, because we’ve got all of the information. It allows us to be complete because we don’t have to keep going back and forth in order to have the full conversation. And then it’s much easier to be courteous when people don’t get frustrated because we’ve got everything right off the bat and we can just answer their question.”– Kaden Jacobs, Director of Communications, Richmond County School System

 

SHELBY MCINTOSH: That makes sense. And that actually leads us to this third point here about keys to providing quality service. This is I think the more intuitive aspect of it. And often where people go first, is I have to make sure that we’re providing accurate answers and complete answers and that we’re being courteous. And all of that is true. We’ve found, though, that the step one and step two have to come first. They’ve got to have the access point, the ability to reach you. You have to have the capacity or a system in place where you can actually respond to them, and respond to them in a timely way. But then of course–this is an incredibly important aspect of it–when they’re interacting with those stakeholders or customers, that they are being courteous and they are giving them accurate responses.

We work really hard in a lot of the customer service training that we do to try to get people to think about every interaction as an opportunity to win someone over. That your community member, your parents, they’re either going to be promoters of your district and celebrating all of the wonderful things that your school district does everyday or they’re going to be what we call your detractors. The people that are saying the negative stuff. They’re reinforcing that likely very false narrative and inefficiency. And so viewing all these interactions as a chance to win 2,300 people over on that first day of school is an incredible opportunity.

So just framing that mindset for your staff that “This is our chance to really set the tone of the school district and create as many advocates for us as we can.”

And again I just, I love that story.

KADEN JACOBS: That’s one of the benefits of the custom form too Shelby.

SHELBY MCINTOSH: Oh right, how do you think that works in that way?

KADEN JACOBS: Well the custom form allows us to do all three of those things. So it allows us to be accurate, because we’ve got all of the information. It allows us to be complete because we don’t have to keep going back and forth in order to have the full conversation. And then it’s much easier to be courteous when people don’t get frustrated because we’ve got everything right off the bat and we can just answer their question.

Q&A

COREY MURRAY, SENIOR DIRECTOR, STRATEGY AND ENGAGEMENT, K12 INSIGHT:  One thing I wanted to touch on, and some people have actually written in on here was about those two things that parents really care about. The fact that they’re kids are safe or knowing that their kids are safe. And the fact that are they getting to school on time or not. Kaden, when you think about these two things, how can strong communication contribute to parent confidence in the transportation department?

KADEN JACOBS: Well, I think when we talk about the safely aspect. Whenever there are issues, we try to respond quickly. A lot of times, because the students are texting their parents that there are issues, we get them through Let’s Talk! at about the same time that Mr. Porter and his folks are getting them over the radio from the bus driver.

So we are getting all of that information all at once and collaborating allows us to say to the parent, “We are aware, here are the steps that we are taking in order to correct it.”

And so if I think of an instance from last year: Somebody ran a red light, hit the bus, luckily the bus was empty. But, because we were made aware of it through a community member–as the bus driver was actually recovering and unable to radio in–we could dispatch another bus. Whenever things came into Let’s Talk! saying, “Hey, the bus should have been here already,” we could respond quickly because we already knew because somebody had told us that was driving by through Let’s Talk!, “Hey, you have a bus that just had an accident.”

As far as the getting to school on time. Since Mr. Porter’s folks are so committed to Let’s Talk! and looking at it and answering all of the phones, as soon as those come in they can respond within a couple minutes, and say, “Hey we checked the GPS, the bus is five minutes late.” Or “The bus came a little bit early, we’ll send them back around if we happen to miss you if you didn’t make it out the door in time.” And it allows the community to give us feedback in a way that we just don’t get through email and through a phone call because that only goes to one person. So, there’s multiple people on the team that are able to respond to all of these and to do it very, very quickly. And that’s been very beautiful for us.

 

“It allows the community to give us feedback in a way that we just don’t get through email and through a phone call because that only goes to one person.”– Kaden Jacobs, Director of Communications, Richmond County School System

 

COREY MURRAY: Really good answer. And you kind of segued into the next question that came in, because someone was asking about the influx of calls, particularly during back to school and how you keep up. I would take that even a step further, and I would ask in addition to helping you keep up, how does it help you create accountability?

I know Dewayne you touched on this a little bit, but when you’re looking at this notion that not only do you need to listen to, people but you have to get back to them, and you have to make sure that you’ve closed the loop. How does the system help you do that?

DEWAYNE PORTER: It gets more people involved in my office, my organization that we can all put eyes on a problem. And most of the time once I look at it, one of my administrative members of my staff have already dealt with the issue, and closed it out and I can see what’s closed and what’s still open. That helps a lot.

And when you’re trying to deal with 2,200 or 2,400 calls in a 12 hour period, that’s important. And so that whole dashboard component that I spoke of earlier is really good for that. And we have people that have been trained multiple times on how to respond, how to close out a conversation, and a lot of them just take very little effort to fix, and to respond to.

I never liked email because people like to pass the buck so to speak. You know reply all, or forward it to somebody else. And to me that’s never been an effective way of communicating the way that I like to communicate. So Let’s Talk!’s a little different in that somebody owns that conversation and everybody else can see who owns it and who’s responded to it.

SHELBY MCINTOSH: I like how you guys referred to it earlier as the universal inbox. It makes me imagine how if on my worst days, when just everything hits the fan, if I had 20 other people looking at my inbox too and sort of taking the emails out of my inbox that they could handle, how powerful that would be and more efficient that would be. So I liked how you framed it in that way because I think that is exactly how it happens. You’re just able to share and distribute the workload there so that you are able to keep up.

KADEN JACOBS: And we don’t have to operate in a silo either. So if there’s a concern or an issue with a special education or exceptional education but we can add them as team members and they can see the same dialogue and we can have a conversation back and forth within the same piece of software. And if it becomes something that they’re afraid is going to get to the media or that they need some communications advice, they can add the communications team in. They can loop in the superintendent or the deputy superintendent. And all of that can take place in one spot, instead of sending emails and getting replies from different places and trying to get a complete picture, all of it is right there in the dashboard.

COREY MURRAY: How long did this take you guys to set up the system once you decided you wanted to do something like this? And what was the training like?

KADEN JACOBS: We implemented it in stages. We started with the central office. So, on our website we got rid of all of the email addresses for the central office and so Let’s Talk! was the way that we get information from the community and from parents and students. So, unless you were on the internal network you couldn’t see email addresses for the central office, including transportation.

So from start to finish to get that done I think it took us maybe three months. And that was a matter of our board approving the funds to actually get the system and then I think we had Lynn and Tori come down and do our training for our folks. And we did that in three days. And it was very, very easy. The system is very intuitive–as long as you have one or two people who are experts on it you can answer almost any question that they need.

And now we’ve rolled that out to high schools. And we just finished, actually at the end of July, at the start of this school year, we’ve gotten it rolled out to our elementary and middle schools as well. And we see the community now embracing it for everybody and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the schools. But it’s not a heavy lift at all. The K12 Insight folks are a great team. They really understand how much work that we have to do and so they take care of as much as possible to make it as smooth of a roll out.

 

“The K12 Insight folks are a great team. They really understand how much work that we have to do and so they take care of as much as possible to make it as smooth of a roll out.”– Kaden Jacobs, Director of Communications, Richmond County Public Schools

 

COREY MURRAY:  You guys mentioned at the beginning that you get a lot of compliments from parents now. I love hearing that. I’m just curious, since you’re getting these compliments from folks, it probably means you also have to put out fewer fires. What does that free you up to do more of so that you can improve the quality of your transportation department or your school system overall?

KADEN JACOBS: To do the other things you’ve implemented. Because you had to worry about answering the phones and doing all this less, so you could actually implement better ways to communicate because we implemented this one first.

DEWAYNE PORTER: Well, and that’s true. I’m going to tell on myself here. In my former job including me there were seven people in my office. And I actually ran more buses and probably got just as many calls, which we didn’t know because we didn’t have the same type of phone system. So I was constantly talking to parents, getting cussed out. You can imagine the amount of stress it was.

This past opening of our school year two weeks ago, for the entire week I talked to three parents on the phone, and responded to a few in email. So what that did after we rolled all this new technology out, I wanted to get out and put a face to the name for our new administrators at our schools. We have 52, 53 some-odd schools, so it frees me up to do what I really need to be doing and that’s making connections with other administrators and community members. That alone really goes a long way because the safety aspect of what I do is extremely important.

Like I said, I have two children that ride the bus every day and it’s the safest form of transportation. And I have to be the preacher so to speak that preaches that sermon every day and every chance I get. So it really frees me up to do what I think is more important for the community and for the school district.

SHELBY MCINTOSH: You made such a good point, Dewayne, because you brought something up we haven’t mentioned yet about the employee as the customer, the stakeholder. It’s not just parents that sometimes feel frustrated with the transportation system. Sometimes, it our school-based staff who are wondering, “Where’s the bus now,” or “Why is it here instead of here.” And we’ve heard that in some focus groups and survey work that we’ve done with employees. So, I think that is such an incredible thought that you’ve had, is now that I have this additional capacity I’m going to go and build those relationships with our school-based staff and our internal employees so that they become advocates of ours as well as the parents that we’re working to please every day.

DEWAYNE PORTER: That’s true. And being that Kaden and I are really, this time of year, the two faces that are on the news the most, for good or bad. After, I get off and everything slows down each, not every day, but I have a local watering hole that I like to go to. And when I walk through the door, instead of people saying, “God it looked like it was horrible out there.” The last couple of years I’ve had people come up to me that I didn’t even know because my face was on TV and they say, “Hey you’re the school bus guy.” I prepare myself for some terrible conversation that I’m about to have to listen to, but with the technology that we’ve rolled out, both with Let’s Talk! and our routing software and the app that I mentioned earlier, I’ve had nothing but really positive feedback from people that don’t even have students or children in school anymore. They just said, “I wish that had been available when my kids rode the bus or when my kids were in school.”

So I’m in the twilight of my career, thankfully. And I wish I had had this technology 20 years ago instead of waiting so long to be developed. But you know good things come to those that wait. So for me it’s been, it’s been really a career changing experience.

 

“So I’m in the twilight of my career, thankfully. And I wish I had had this technology 20 years ago instead of waiting so long to be developed. But you know good things come to those that wait. So for me it’s been, it’s been really a career changing experience.”– Dewayne Porter, Director of Transportation, Richmond County School System

 

SHELBY MCINTOSH: We have more information about transportation and customer service. There’s a couple of case studies on our website, certainly you can read more about Richmond County, Georgia. We also have a great one out of Douglas County School District in Colorado where you can read how they improved their customer service metrics dramatically, just in one school year. It’s another story that I just love. In addition to a whole host of other topics. If you’re interested you can find those on our website.Of course, we really, really appreciate Kaden and Dewayne joining our call today. And hope that this has been a valuable use of your time.

For more about K12 Insight and Let’s Talk! visit k12insight.com.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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