The Oxford Hills School District based in Paris is addressing a bus driver shortage through training, reinforcing positive behavior and counselor support. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — The chief operating officer for the Oxford Hills School District advised directors Monday night of strategies developed to counter employee shortages in the transportation department.

“I think everyone acknowledges that we have a crisis going on with transportation,” Chief Operating Officer D.J. Thorne said. “We have too many kids not making it to school on a daily basis.”

Maine School Administrative District 17 covers eight towns: Norway, Paris, Oxford, Otisfield, Harrison, Hebron, Waterford and West Paris.

Even before the pandemic, school districts statewide struggled to fill bus driver positions as seasoned drivers reached retirement age, and logistical and financial barriers to licensing made it difficult to attract new employees. Since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, Oxford Hills has had periods when bus routes had to be canceled and families scrambled to get students to and from schools.

Thorne said administrators are focused on four key areas: communication, driver retention, problem-solving and recruitment. They have provided ongoing training for department employees and positive behavior interventions, a process of rewarding students for positive behavior.

All bus drivers were brought in for initial training, Thorne said. “I got some really good feedback on it when I met with the bus driver association last week. We will do another round of training with drivers and then do a problem-solving/brainstorming session with them, mostly around recruitment and retention.”


Margaret Emery, principal of Harrison Elementary and Waterford Memorial schools, said those schools are in the first year of positive behavior interventions and use them on buses and in the schools.

“We are very proud of the work our school counselor/social worker has done with our school bus drivers,” Emery said. “Every day she talks with the drivers to find out how it’s going on their bus and what may be happening so that she can support them. Two or three times a week, she’ll get on the bus and ask the students to talk about what are the expectations on the bus while they’re riding it. The students are very aware of what they need to be doing.”

Oxford Hills School District interim Superintendent Heather Manchester, second from right, introduces educators Emily Eastman, left, and Sarah Kearsley on Monday at the board of directors meeting in Paris. The educators serve at Roberts Farm Preserve on Roberts Road in Norway. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

Directors also heard a presentation from Roberts Farm Preserve educators Sarah Kearsley, a dedicated science, technology, engineering and math teacher in her first year with MSAD 17, and Emily Eastman, an activities and nutrition program coordinator employed by Healthy Oxford Hills.

The 165-acre preserve on Roberts Road in Norway is a conservation and recreation project of the Western Foothills Land Trust. Curriculum is focused on fifth graders from all eight district towns. A total of 226 students from 12 classes have attended classes there this school year for instruction in STEM disciplines as well as for hiking and skiing.

“We aim for each class to have 32 hours during the year at Roberts Farm,” Kearsley said. “Thirty-five students visited the preserve for the first time. Ninety students cross-country skied for the first time.”

“We have logged 3,332 miles by those 12 classes,” Eastman said. “Each student wears a Fitbit to track how many steps they take during the day. It can motivate them to move more and be more active.


“I’ve had 522 students this year involved in the 100-Mile Club,” she said. “It’s crazy that there are some kids who have reached 400 miles.”

Kearsley has developed resources at the farm for Oxford Hills educators to use, including lab equipment purchased with a Consolidated Communications grant and created a library for teachers with help from the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy in Norway. She said she plans to launch a website by next fall to support teachers incorporating curriculum from Roberts Farm into their classrooms.

Third graders from Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris and students from Oxford Hills Middle School’s South Campus in Oxford have also been visitors to the farm during the school year.

Summer school programs have been set up for elementary students this year. Children from the region’s summer recreation programs will have scheduled visits, and high school students at the Alan Day Community Garden Youth Leadership program will mentor the younger students.

In other business, the board approved acquiring a new portable classroom from Schiavi Builders to replace one at Otisfield Community School. The cost is $221,000. Groundwork and utilities hookup will be $36,600. The unit is expected to be installed by November.

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