SAD 17 has displayed this help wanted banner for ages, however it was able to recruit 8 substitute bus drivers from within. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — Student transportation services in Oxford Hills had a woeful start to the school year, with seven buses taken out of service by state inspectors last month, the bus garage and mechanics having their inspection licenses suspended for 90 days, a shortage of full time drivers on staff and no substitute drivers to speak of.

In a Sept. 7 interview with the Advertiser Democrat, School Administrative District 17’s Superintendent Monica Henson outlined corrective measures she had put into place and pledged to work on solutions for remaining issues, namely the driver shortage.

Henson was not kidding. She volunteered to undergo training herself to become a licensed bus driver and serve as a substitute.

Earlier in her career, while a teacher/coach in Georgia, coaches were required to drive buses to transport student athletes to competitions, so Henson’s training will be more of a refresher course.

After Maine television media caught wind of her pledge, Henson’s plans to substitute drive put her on the ABC national news (https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/news/video/helping-hands-80130977) and the story was picked up across the internet.

At home in Oxford Hills, her plan resonated with enough SAD 17 employees that seven more women (at last report) stepped up and signed up for the same training.

Oxford Middle School educators Kathleen Fraize, Michelle Wood and Sarah Demer have enrolled in training, as has Vanessa Schultz of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, Leah Libby Menezes of Paris and Bethany Shaw of Waterford elementary schools, and Brandy Moore, the district’s Assistant Director of Special Services.

Fraize says that she has never driven a school bus but has been behind the wheel of other commercial trucks.

“The largest vehicle I’ve ever driven was a 14-wheel car carrier, when I was 19,” Fraize said in an email statement. “I remember it was very difficult to push in the clutch. Most recently, I have driven a town dump truck.”

“I have never driven” a commercial vehicle, added Moore. “I am happy to help where I can. Not being in the classroom gives me a little more flexibility in my availability to help.”

“I decided to volunteer for two reasons,” said Fraize, who started working at OHMS last year after buying an old schoolhouse that she is renovating. “The first is that there was a need, and my children are grown so I have more flexibility in my schedule than younger teachers do.

“The second reason is that when I was younger I had the goal of being able to drive any vehicle. I had forgotten about that goal until now!”

The eight women are studying the training course independently, with Transportation Director Dave Fontaine making himself available to answer questions as their studies progress. Driving lessons and practice time will start later in October.

 

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