Local bus drivers take state title

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Driving a school bus anywhere in Henry County is not an easy job. Ask anyone who maneuvers a vehicle more than 40 feet long through morning rush hour traffic with dozens of loud students sitting only a few feet away.

Sandy James (front, left) and Lori Partee (front, right) hold the trophy for the win in the Georgia Special Needs Bus Road-e-o. They are surrounded by (L-R) Murry Chambers, Asst. Director – Transportation; Cliff Shearouse; Director – Transportation, and Rosalyn Gibby; Route Supervisor and Trainer for Special Needs Buses.

For those who operate the buses carrying special-needs children, there are even more responsibilities that are critical to the students’ safety and well-being. Those drivers deal with passengers in wheelchairs and other accessories relating to physical challenges, not to mention the unique behavioral challenges also presented.

Recently the annual Georgia Special Needs Bus Road-e-o tested the skills of drivers from around the state, and two drivers from Henry County outperformed their peers to capture the state title.

The tandem of Lori Partee and Sandy James won their division’s competition in Tifton this past spring and will now represent the state of Georgia in Louisville, Kentucky, in the spring of 2016.

“These two ladies are excellent examples of the outstanding drivers we have here in Henry County,” said Cliff Shearouse, Director of Transportation for Henry County Schools. “We are very pleased to have them represent us and the state at the national competition.”

Events the team competed in covered a wide array of tasks and skills required every day for their jobs. Wheelchair loading and securement, car-seat securement, special needs evacuation, and managing student behavior were just a few of the many challenges the ladies passed to secure the title as the best in the state.

Lori Partee is a 21-year veteran in transportation and has worked for the Henry County Schools Transportation Department since 2008. She is a full-time special needs bus driver and primarily transports students in the Hickory Flat Charter Elementary and Ola Middle School zones.

A regular first- or second-place finisher in the Henry County Bus Road-e-o competitions, Partee will be making a return trip to the national competition after having made her first trip to nationals in 2013 in Frisco, Texas.

Sandy James has been a bus driver since 2008, but she joined the Henry County Schools driver ranks in 2013. Her experience in a previous school district’s competition included a finish in first place.

This is the first year competing for Henry County Schools in the skills challenge for James, a full-time driver for special-needs students attending the EXCEL Academy (formerly Patrick Henry Academy).

The national competition will take place in conjunction with the Transporting Students with Disabilities and Preschoolers (TSD) Conference and Trade Show in March of 2016. It will be the 18th National Special Needs Team Road-e-o.