Much more than a driver | January 7, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - January 7, 2011

Much more than a driver

School bus operator Janice King adores her 'precious cargo'

by Nick Veronin

As the sun begins its groggy crawl over the Diablo Range, Janice King is checking signal lights, kicking tires and verifying that the alarm sounds when the emergency doors at the back of her bus are ajar.

"Ow," she mumbles, reacting to the screeching siren that is activated as she opens the vehicle's rear exit.

It is 7 a.m., and King, a school bus driver for the Mountain View Whisman School District, has been up since 5 a.m. She maintains a chipper air as she prepares to head out on her morning special education route.

"We're off to pick up the kiddos!" she exclaims. King seems genuinely enthusiastic about another day transporting children to and from school. Her job might not always be easy, she says, but overall it brings her joy and a sense that she is contributing to her community.

Getting behind the wheel

King began in1979, after one of her friends told her about an opening for a bus driver in the Cupertino Union School District. She was 20 at the time, working at Tower Records as a music buyer, evaluating the quality and condition of various vinyl jazz LPs and EPs, and purchasing good finds to be resold.

The young King had always wanted to be a teacher, but hadn't been able to dedicate herself to a full time college career.

"My parents were always very supportive, but they couldn't afford to send me," she says. "So, I worked right out of high school, paying for school as I could."

She applied for the job and very soon found herself behind the wheel of a large yellow bus. King worked in the Cupertino district for 10 years before quitting to spend time with her young children. She came back to driving two years later, this time operating vehicles for Peninsula Day Care Center in Palo Alto. For the past 10 years she has been working for the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Dual roles

Currently, King serves as both a driver and dispatcher. In her dual roles she operates a smaller, special education bus and a larger, 84-passenger bus. When she isn't driving, she schedules routes, coordinates drivers and plans transportation for field trips and other special events. King even works over the summer, when Mountain View Whisman buses are used by organizations like the City of Mountain View and the Police Activities League.

As dispatcher, she is the lead driver in the district, keeping track of her fellow drivers' schedules and routes. There are a total of six Mountain View Whisman bus drivers, including King, who reports to Jim McCloskey, maintenance and operations manager for the district.

The drivers operate a variety of buses on the district's six main routes. Two of the buses run on gasoline, two run on compressed natural gas and nine use diesel; they range in size from 16 seats to 84 seats.

After her morning special ed route ends at about 8:45 a.m., King plops down at her desk, which sits in the middle of a small portable trailer on the northeast corner of the Crittenden Middle School campus, home to the district's bus depot.

This is the time she uses to plan for field trips, make schedules and, on occasion, write disciplinary reports. At the beginning of this school year, she spent time here and at the Mountain View Whisman main office with superintendent Craig Goldman, mapping new bus routes to accompany the district's new master bell schedule.

The new schedule and streamlined routes allowed the district to cut a driver position, which has saved money. It was a logistical challenge, King says, and one that people might not consider part of a typical school bus driver's day.

"They picture us as loading kids and unloading kids," King says, imagining what others must think of her job. "But there is so much to take into consideration."

Some routes look great on paper, she says, but in the highly congested after-school hours they can become a nightmare.

For their part, both Goldman and King compliment each other on the roles they played in putting together the new routes.

"She was instrumental in the work we've done to create an efficient transportation system that is well coordinated with our new bell schedule," Goldman says.

"He's a genius," King says. "All the routes have been a major success."

Other drivers use the time in between morning and afternoon routes to perform bus maintenance, run intra-district paperwork to and from the main office and various schools, and sometimes drive for field trips. In this way, all of the drivers, like King, wear multiple hats and stay busy all day.

A teacher, too

When King first signed up to drive for the Cupertino district, she never thought the job would, in many ways, fulfill her desire to teach.

"It was a delightful surprise to realize the impact I could have with kids," King says. "I was so young when I started; the kids just flocked to me. It was wonderful to capture those moments with them. It was heartwarming."

King says that teachable moments abound nearly every day on all of her routes. Some arise out of behavior issues, other times it comes from a child's inquisitiveness. No matter the reason, King relishes the time she spends with her "precious cargo," and considers herself an integral part of the children's education. She is the first school representative the kids see in the morning and the last one they see in the afternoon, and she is conscious of the fact that she has the ability to deeply impact a child's day.

On this morning's special education route, she is painstakingly patient with one of her riders, whose attitude, she says, often shifts on a dime. Making sure that the child's day starts off right can make all the difference for both the child and the child's teachers.

'Great' learning experience

In addition to seizing every teachable moment, in her 30 years behind the wheel King has also learned a thing or two.

"I had the chance to have kids before I had kids," she says from behind the wheel of the big bus on her afternoon route. Her son just turned 26 and her daughter is 24. She believes raising them was easier because of her experience on the bus.

Driving a busload of jumpy children, giddy to be out of school for the day, can be a test of the nerves, but King handles it like a pro. As she calmly instructs some giggling boys to sit properly in their seats, she explains that her job takes someone who is giving, tolerant and doesn't expect anything in return.

Yet, catching sight of King's smiling eyes monitoring the kiddos in the rearview mirror, it is clear that she does get something in return: joy.

At times she wonders why she continues to work a job that makes her wake up so early — "I've never been a morning person," she confesses. Yet, most days, by the time she clocks out at around 5 p.m., after a day filled with little bouncy smiles, she remembers.

"It's been a great experience," she says. "The longer I do this job, the more comfortable it becomes."


Posted by abby, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 7, 2011 at 9:36 am

Lets not forget about the wonderful team of bus drivers Mrs. King has behind her. good job girls/ guys.

Posted by Beth, a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 7, 2011 at 9:51 am

WOW! Mrs King must have changed her ways over the past few years, I had a son that rode on her bus and I'll you right now it was anything but enjoyable .

Posted by Kathy, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Janice appears to be a busy lady, but I know for a fact that it takes a team to transport all of the children of Mountain View. To & from school, to Science Camp, after school sports & the many other wonderful field trips that the MV/Whisman kids have been attending for many, many years. Thanks to our fellow School Bus drivers from Peninsula DayCare, Santa Clara, Cupertino and the many other devoted men & women who do this job. It takes true dedication to do this job right. I know, because I've been doing it for 24 years. Thanks specifically to Teresa, Liz, Jackie, Mickey, Jose, Francisco, Bill and Janice. You are all awesome!

Posted by Ophelia, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 8, 2011 at 8:30 pm

It is amazing how none of the other drivers who work just as hard (if not harder) were not mentioned by either the reporter or Ms. King. I am sure without their support and hard work none of what Ms.King does can be possible. As a parent I have had first hand experience with Ms. King and it was not a positive one. I have also dealt with the other bus drivers and it is amazing how much more of a pleasant experience it was. I don't mean to rain on Ms. King's parade but maybe further research should have been done or maybe even talking to parents and kids who have dealt with her should have been considered. I do admire the patients it takes to transport our kids to and from school safely but it is a team effort of many not just one!!!

Posted by Jen, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Jan 9, 2011 at 6:22 am

I've witnessed the MVWSD maintenance and transportation crew in action a few years back before a few were fired--now there was a story. But here there's nothing to write about.

Posted by Concerned Reader, a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 11, 2011 at 7:33 am

I’m more than a little confused about the point of this article.
While I'm sure Ms. King does a decent job, I would much rather have learned about the bus team as a whole and how it works within the community than read an over-blown, entirely biased and falsely glossy report of one woman within the team. Not to mention that the whole article seems resoundingly unfair to the remainder of her coworkers and gives so few details about how the bus system actually runs, I am in fact more confused and concerned than before I read it. How are the routes for my child's bus determined? By one lone woman’s intuition? That’s certainly how the article makes it sound and logically I doubt that’s the case. While it's great to know who creates them out of thin air, I'd much rather have been informed about their (possible) use of traffic congestion analysis, statistics on the geographical demographics of the students homes vs. schools and transport routes between, etc... These and other reassuring statistics would have been far more interesting and relevant to my comprehension and assurance of how my child gets to school safely and in a timely manner than how one bus driver happened to get her job many years ago rather than pursue her failed dreams of being a teacher. No offense Ms. King, but I could care less. If I wanted a personal biography I would have picked one up at the bookstore. Although the overly fatuous nature of the article makes me wonder maybe if I was reading a work of fiction instead. I was under the impression that the school bus service was run by someone else entirely, and that Ms. King was newly appointed. And yet this article makes it sound as if she’d been running things for years, when, in fact, I’ve noticed that over the past year, things have been rather less well run.

I’m also a bit shocked that this was the cover story for the newspaper. A bit of local color is one thing, but filling the newspaper with overly large glossy photos of what was already a rather inane story to begin with is one of those things that makes me a bit concerned for the fate of newspapers. Was there really nothing better or of more import to report on than an already overly biased and one sided interview? I would have much rather read more about the new mayoral candidate or had way more pictures of the history/future of the Grant Road house demolish deal than this article in its present state. William Randolph Hearst would be mortified. Get your priorities straight Mountain View Voice and at least TRY to minimize your bias when you’re writing ~ was she someone on the paper’s relative or something? I can’t figure out what political gain the newspaper achieved by writing such a spazzy article.

Posted by MV mom, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 12, 2011 at 12:09 am

Thank you for the nice article on Janice. It's great that we can honor those people who work so hard in our community. It was interesting to "hear" her story. She is truly dedicated to her job, and our children in Mtn. View. Kudos to you Janice!

Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 12, 2011 at 9:59 am

The Voice is little more than a mouthpiece for the local unions, the schools, and the city. Look how long it took for the paper to step up and stop promoting the ex-superintendent Ghysels--only once the facts were brought out by readers and posters who are time and time again being accused of being reactionary, racist, and nut jobs.

A small town community paper is one thing, but a paper that refuses to delve into potential issues, or ask tough questions of police, fire, city, and school administrators, or file Freedom of Information Act requests to get to the bottom of such stories or issues, really begins to cancel itself out as a reliable source of news and information. Just keep distracting us with fluffy articles about nothing.

Many of the problems facing California is partly to blame on the media which has not taken a leading role in questioning political authorities partly because they share and are at times blinded by the same liberal and social values that are helping bankrupt the state.

Posted by parent, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 13, 2011 at 8:18 pm

OMG!! Who chose this woman for this story? Why did they not report all the mistakes she has done. Everyone makes mistakes, but as a dispatcher she has even forgotten students. The other drivers have always been a pleasure to deal with. I just don't get it.