By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Songer Named OJUSD Transportation Director
Newly appointed as OJUSD Director of Transportation, Kat Songer settles into her new desk and begins plans for the 2022-23 school year. - photo by TERESA HAMMOND

Kat Songer always had aspirations of being a teacher.

Yet as life took certain turns, her once childhood dream of becoming an Ag teacher would go to the wayside, as she sought other employment. What started as an “on call” position 16 years ago, has now grown to something much bigger.

Songer was named the Oakdale Joint Unified Transportation Director late in the recently completed 2021-22 school year.

Now, 16 years since first joining the transportation team in an “on call” capacity, Songer shared it’s even a bit hard for her to believe. The recently promoted director recalled being asked in her initial interview where she saw herself in 10 years. Both jokingly, yet serious, she stated she would be the Transportation Director.

“Yes, I wanted to, but I didn’t think it would happen for at least the next 20 years, hopefully,” she confessed.

Once being moved from on call to a substitute driver, Songer spent two and a half years filling in, riding along and learning routes.

“That two and a half years was crucial,” she said. “I solely wanted to focus on being a driver and being good at it. It was quite interesting but I had the time of my life.”

Through those early years and shadowing veteran drivers like Kay Martinelli, Songer shared her love for the job and the students became undeniable. She noted the responsibility of the drivers who care for the students to and from home and school, often filling voids which may be lacking at home.

“It’s like I tell the incoming staff, you are their parent, their teacher, their best friend, you’re the person that they’re mad at. So many things that go on inside of that bus,” Songer shared.

Adding that the drivers’ livelihood depends on being the best at what they do, she said each turn, stop and decision behind the wheel must be thought out for the safety of the students as well as the others they share the road with.

“It takes a special person. People who get up at five in the morning,” the director stated. “It takes them 12 hours to complete a six- or seven-hour day. It’s just been something that I absolutely love.”

Through time and commitment that love would eventually find her promoted to the position of Driver Trainer or State Certified Instructor in 2020. Songer attended the academy that summer and returned to apply her passion for teaching with other drivers.

Sharing her love of teaching, the director noted a mentor from her early days as a driver as an inspiration when she first stepped into the trainer role.

“I knew that she was one of a kind,” Songer said of former trainer, Donna Beserra, “and if I could be just a little small blip on her radar of being able to teach as well as she does, I’m good.”

Training also opened up new avenues of service for Songer.

“I could teach somebody to be a bus driver. I could teach somebody how to treat these kids,” she said of the trainer position. “That was my way of ensuring these kids got good bus drivers. People that cared about them, knew the laws and were the best of the best.”

Songer also credits former Transportation Director Ralph Meza with much of her success, drive and overall happiness within the Transportation Department. She said that the changes and program he brought to the district left a lasting impact.

“Every teammate here is a leader,” she said of the team and the impact of Meza’s Mustang Movers. “Everybody here has the opportunity and is able to go out and teach anybody everything there is to know about school bus driving.”

While she admits to being nervous initially applying for the position, she shared that she felt through her tenure and lessons learned from Meza she would be a good fit.

“I knew as the Director, I could continue everything we were already doing,” she said. “No one was going to come in here and change the path of what we had already set, of being the Mustang Movers.”

Now, she is gearing up for her first full school year at the helm.

“I’ve never wanted anything handed to me. I’ve wanted to earn it and I feel like I’ve earned this position,” she summarized. “So now I’ve got to keep it. I’ve got to earn my way to keep it. I hope I do it well and I hope that everyone is happy.”