It’s a profession which few may give thought to yet many rely on or encounter every single day – the school bus driver.
For newly appointed Oakdale Joint Unified School District Transportation Director Ralph Meza III, however, his love for the school bus began at the age of four.
“I started following my dad around, he was a school bus driver,” Meza shared. “I loved it. I knew at the age of four, I was going to be a school bus driver.”
His father retired from Fresno Unified as a Transportation Director following 38 years of service.
While many may dream or aspire to drive a school bus as a child, for Meza it was different. His aspiration, as well as admiration for his father’s profession was anything but fleeting. By the age of 17 he began training. Before turning 18 he knew how to do a pre-trip inspection and at 18 he took the test for his commercial license.
He began his career shortly thereafter, as a school bus driver in his hometown of Mendota, California. While his career began as a driver, his dedication and passion eventually led him to the Transportation Director for Mendota Unified. He spent 24 years there.
“At the height of my administration (with Visalia) I had about 280 employees,” Meza shared of the next seven years following his time with Mendota. “It was too much. I wasn’t home and it was starting to become a problem.”
During this time, he was also approached by a colleague to do work as an instructor, a job he was educated and qualified to do. Not long into the job, he shared he came across Oakdale’s advertisement for a Transportation Director and felt drawn to return to his longtime career.
“When you have 31 years of experience, it’s the same game everywhere you go. It’s just different people,” he stated.
“School bus drivers are very, very unique people,” Meza continued. “They have a passion in them that is hard to describe for those that are not in the industry. They transport a commodity that is irreplaceable and that does something to school bus drivers.”
Now with just a week behind him at OJUSD transportation, Meza shared he hopes to bring revolution to the department and its 15 employees. A word the Transportation Director defines as change, cause and creating change.
“I want to revolutionize the way people think and I want to improve everything that we do,” he said, adding his feelings on the need for a purpose, “a why, a rhyme and a reason.”
Safety and effectiveness are equally important to Meza.
“That’s our C1 program: Safety, effectiveness and efficiency,” Meza stated. “I was asked one time how do you achieve that?”
“We strengthen, empower and enrich all of our staff in order to achieve the C1 Program,” he added. “Support, encourage and enhance.”
After 31 years on the job the thing which inspires him most to get to work each morning is that the parents depend on and trust the driver to care for their child every day. As for the misperception of the driver, while it may not consume Meza he shared the stereotype could not be more incorrect.
“That they’re not professional,” he said. “That their jobs aren’t important. They’re just school bus drivers. That’s the biggest one I’ve come across in my 31 years. Bus drivers are part of their kids’ lives.”
The 31-year veteran is excited about his new role at OJUSD. He shared it reminds him much of the small town of Mendota that he came from.
“I came from a small town,” he stated. “Mendota is a very small town, rural just like here. I like it. Agriculturally based, just like here.”
He’s also looking forward to ushering in a new perception for the department.
“Now that they have a true transportation director,” he said of his hope for the community, “one that’s been dedicated to transportation for over 30 years, that they continue to support us and stand with us and help us and guide us.”