In this interview you will hear from Kim Rentner, who has an accomplished, 18-year background in K-12 transportation, serving in various roles such as Safety Officer, Third Party Tester, Director of Transportation, and Northern Regional Director for the Illinois APT. During her career, she has written training manuals that are now used at many school districts in Illinois. Her training policies have been adopted by the state for special needs transportation and are now a part of mandated material for driver training. She now represents Tyler Technologies with a seat on the supplier council steering committee for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). Kim’s reach and influence grow with each step in her career and now, as part of Tyler, she feels she can “truly make a difference across the United States and Canada and is proud to be part of a team that develops products that help increase the level of safety and service for all students.”
Caring professionals like Kim manage the thankless task of getting our children to school safely and on time each day. In the busy rush of K-12 transportation, it’s wise to take pause and recognize people like Kim — drivers, mechanics, trainers, directors — who make it all possible. The technology that gives them control and visibility over their operations is just one of the many tools they use to improve safety and service. The first tool is drive — personal development, perseverance, and leadership abilities. With the right people, anything is possible. Hear how Kim used this trait throughout her career.
How did you get into transportation? I was almost due with my eldest daughter and I was struggling with wanting to stay home but also wanting to contribute financially to our household. I met someone at a family picnic, and she told me she was a bus driver and her children came with her to work. I investigated it right away and I was off to obtain my CDL and permit. It was the perfect fit for my family and me. My girls grew up riding the bus with me and cleaning the bus with me. We spent so much quality time. I am so grateful that I had this opportunity. Once my girls were in school full time, I got bored. I went to my transportation director and asked if I could help in the office. Shortly after that I asked if I could help in the bus shop and learn from the mechanics. They thought that wasn’t going to last long, but it did! I learned so much. I volunteered for free education whenever and wherever I could. I asked neighboring districts if I could shadow their training program, and soon I was writing my own training manuals and moving up the ladder, which motivated to keep making a difference and learn as much as I could.
It sounds like you carved your own destiny through a lot of grit and perseverance. What advice do you have for transportation professionals who are just starting out? I would like new professionals to know how many opportunities there are in this industry. I know when I started, I had no idea that I could help make a difference beyond my own operation. I would encourage everyone to reach out for help. If you just ask, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’ll say no to helping you learn. Get out there, get involved, get to know others in the industry, and you will find a lot of people willing to pay it forward. We are all on the same team — for the safety of the students — and there are no secrets in the industry. There are many resources out there, because this is an industry that is ever-evolving and changing. The reality is that no one can know everything, so always be willing to keep learning and always help others do the same.
When you became a director, what kind of software or other technology did you use? None. We routed by hand! Pins and strings. The district I worked for was very open to technology and hearing how it could improve the operation. While I was researching software vendors, my number one goal was to improve safety and service for the students.
What benefits did you learn on the job about GPS tracking? I originally knew the obvious benefits of GPS such as being able to see where the vehicles are in real time and looking up yesterday’s routes to confirm or deny a complaint call. What I came to realize is there are many other ways GPS can benefit an operation and the students. Transportation never wants to be the reason that students miss classroom time. GPS can send mechanics a message about items like low coolant or low battery, for example, and they can take care of the problem before anyone is affected.
You will be speaking at the NAPT Conference (National Association of Pupil Transportation) about tablet solutions this year. What kind of benefits do you see for our industry with this technology? This technology is so exciting because it puts more information than ever before right into the driver’s hands. When we do this, we create an environment where our drivers feel secure with their tasks. The anxiety is gone for them. Trying to read a route sheet while driving with 60 students on the bus is a very difficult task. Helping with driver retention is another safety bonus. Students need consistency, so we need to keep staff consistent. Tablet solutions can also increase the functionality of card reader student tracking. For example, the driver can see what child scanned on, even their picture, and receive an alert if someone is trying to board or deboard that should not be. How much safety is increased with this technology is almost beyond measure, but tablets are fast becoming necessary for safety.
What are you offering about tablet solutions during the time you are speaking this year at the NAPT conference? On board tablet solutions are among the newest technology putting more information than ever in the bus driver’s hands. These solutions help increase the level of safety and service for all students. There are so many important things to consider when implementing a solution like this, and I am here to help my fellow directors by arming them with all the information they need regarding acquisition, compliance, deployment, and training their staff for success. In addition, I will also talk about the benefits of this technology for students, drivers, parents, and district administration.
The upcoming NAPT Conference includes NextPloratory Sessions with all sorts of great content and is a wonderful place to meet leaders like Kim. You can register for NAPT here, and if technology for your operation is important to you, please check out this webinar to hear about all the amazing benefits from existing tablet users.