School District of Waukesha
A forward-thinking, personalized approach to instruction is at the core of the School District of Waukesha’s educational mission — teachers are facilitators of each student’s learning journey. And the administration believes innovation and continuous improvement are vital to maintaining high academic standards. Information and technology are considered valuable tools. One of the main reasons the district chose First Student as its new transportation provider was the level of information sharing offered; Teams look for opportunities to extend the benefits of technology used in operations to district partners. In Waukesha, First Student provides Customer FOCUS, its proprietary route activity and performance dashboard.
Evonne Johnson, the School District of Waukesha’s transportation coordinator, needs direct access to facts when responding to inquiries and concerns; evaluating whether or not the district is realizing efficiencies; and communicating opportunities and constraints during the decision-making process. Coming to the district from the operations side of student transportation, Johnson understands the importance and challenge of drawing out useful information from such a complex system — especially when considering how changes will affect performance. “It’s not just a matter of telling the driver to do something different. There’s a whole process that happens on the transportation provider’s end to make certain kinds of changes.”
Further, as stewards of limited resources, school district administrators such as Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Joe Koch, are continually evaluating how dollars are spent and looking for ways to make the most out of budgets. Throughout the School District of Waukesha, from the classroom to the boardroom, the ability to use data to drive sound decision-making is highly valued. “I view every dollar that I didn’t need to spend as a missed opportunity to spend on something that will enhance learning,” says Koch. The district’s staff, however, did not have enough visibility into its transportation system and, as a result, was not able to pull the data it needed, when it needed it.
Shared information is the foundation of a trusting and successful partnership. When First Student took over the School District of Waukesha’s transportation system three years ago, a suite of integrated technologies to improve efficiency, visibility and communication was implemented: GPS units, computerized routing software and FOCUS/Customer FOCUS.
The initial step was to install GPS units on all buses. This allowed data pulled directly from vehicles to be associated with route and driver. It is then brought into First Student’s FOCUS program, its proprietary web-based software and information hub for operations. FOCUS enables dispatchers to assign routes and monitor activity; technicians to load tasks into the work schedule; safety managers to verify pre- and post-trip inspections; and payroll staff to verify hours.
First Student also brought in its internal team of routing professionals, First Planning Solutions, to run a full analysis of the district’s routes and to install new routing software.
“They spent a lot of time with us at the beginning, getting us up and running with Versatrans. We pretty much started from scratch and only had about eight weeks to get everything ready,” says Johnson.
The project manager worked alongside First Student’s and Waukesha’s transportation staff over the course of the summer to set up and configure the Versatrans system in time for the new school year.
With GPS units on all buses and routing tools in place, Customer FOCUS was launched. The program pulls vehicle, driver and route-level data directly from the FOCUS system, giving the district’s transportation coordinator the ability to review real-time route activity. Planned vs. actual performance, on-time arrival and real-time route replays are all accessible through the web-based dashboard.
Customer FOCUS gives district personnel the ability to respond to questions or concerns with accurate information. “I don't have to call them [location staff] constantly asking questions or asking them to look things up for me. I have it right at my fingertips. I can see it firsthand,” says Johnson. “I can check and see if the bus was running on time, and I can also field those calls.” She is also able to build her own reports and, during the billing process, cross-reference an invoice with actual route activity as needed.
With First Planning Solutions’ expertise and Versatrans’ program features, route planning and management are much more collaborative and effective. Over the first few years, in fact, First Student was able to help find efficiencies, trimming the original 130 district routes down to 110.
According to First Student Location Manager Robb Schuelke, “The district has a greater understanding of the transportation system. They work very, very closely with our team to make sure we’re running efficiently.”
This is a big advantage when incorporating changes such as the addition of a new student to a route or avoiding hourly surcharges when adapting to unanticipated service requirements.
With First Student’s integrated technology solutions, information is readily available for a higher level of communication among the bus terminal, school district officials and parents. It also provides a precise picture of what the School District of Waukesha is getting for the resources it has allocated. Says Schuelke, “We’re holding everybody accountable for their job performance.” School districts and transportation providers enjoy higher quality partnerships as a result. “It just adds a tremendous amount of value. I couldn’t imagine operating a transportation system in a community and a district as large as ours without these features,” says Koch.