Superintendent Doug Rutan has found an unusual method of communicating with students in his southwest Idaho district: by way of school bus.
As evidence of this method, a visitor may look no further than the 30 toy school buses lined up on the shelves in his office.
And two or three times each month, the superintendent drives some of the Kuna school district’s 2,750 students to school-related events.
“I have always had an interest in vehicles,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “And I like getting to know the kids.”
The collection got started when “someone gave [a school bus] to me, and then I started buying them at flea markets,” he said. “Once I started, I got hooked.” The aficionado is also restoring a 1937 International school bus, which he keeps at the district’s garage.
Mr. Rutan, 50, began driving a bus four years ago, when he first became the superintendent of the district, located in Ada County. His first foray involved taking the Kuna High School band on a three-day trip to a state band competition.
“I remember the close relationships I developed with some of those kids, and that enforces what I do,” he said. “It keeps me going even if I don’t like the idea of giving up all my weekends.”
According to Bill Moore, the supervisor of transportation for the district, in order for the superintendent to drive the school bus, he had to obtain a commercial driver’s license. Each year, Mr. Rutan also must attend bus-driver- training classes and participate in four hours of in-service training.
During his first year driving the bus, Mr. Rutan won a local school-bus-safety competition in the novice category.
“At first, the school bus drivers’ reaction was not very positive, because they felt he was taking away from what they do,” Mr. Moore said. “Now they see the rationale behind it and accept it. I don’t think he could have done it without the training and the involvement. He comes to the drivers’ coffee break once a week and attends social events.”
Mr. Rutan sees numerous positive reactions to his way of reaching out to students.
“The kids who didn’t know me before, now when I see them in the hallway, they acknowledge me, say hi, and stop by to talk to me in my office,” he said.
Thanks to the bus trips, the students see him on a regular basis, and the familiarity has helped lead to comfortable and trusting interaction.
For instance, “The students are more open to asking questions of me if they have a problem,” Mr. Rutan said. “They see there is someone else who cares about them and someone else they can talk to.”
Many of the students appreciate the time and effort that Mr. Rutan takes to get to know them.
“I think he is amazing,” said Holly Keller, a senior at Kuna High School. “He is so involved, and he really cares. It is really good to know that he is listening. It is rare that a superintendent would be so involved with students.”
Ryan Boschma, a senior at Kuna High, said the superintendent “talks to us about normal, everyday stuff: ‘How’s school, what are you doing this weekend, how’s your family?’” And because Mr. Rutan attends the events, he shares the students’ ups and downs for the return trip. “After the games, he talks to us when we get back on the bus,” Mr. Boschma said.
Coaches and teachers also appreciate the superintendent’s interest in everyday events at school.
“It adds a little bit of class when the students know someone else in an authority position is on the trip,” said Kip Andrus, a teacher at Ross Elementary School and a coach of girl’s basketball at Kuna High. “They behave better, and they take more pride in what they do.”
The demands on time are considerable. For example, Mr. Rutan’s January bus schedule is filled with basketball and wrestling tournaments. Even though every weekend is booked, he doesn’t complain.
“I know more of the kids on a personal level,” he said. “I know their needs, wishes, and desires. It makes me feel good if I can make their school experience more successful.”
Getting to know the students also helps the superintendent keep up the collection. His riders are well aware that they should keep their eyes open for toy buses to help fill that shelf.
A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as Yellow Bus Connects Schools Chief To District Students