The Spring ISD Board of Trustees on Tuesday recognized Transportation Routing Specialist Valerie Blaha, who over the summer received the 2021 Operations Specialist of the Year award from the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation (TAPT).
“The Texas Association for Pupil Transportation is one of the largest organizations of its kind in the United States,” said Spring ISD Director of Transportation Jack Mann during his remarks to the board, explaining that Blaha had been selected by TAPT officials over more than 80 other nominees from across the state.
“It is a very special honor,” he said, describing how Blaha’s detail-oriented nature and willingness to serve the people that she works with represented “the team atmosphere that we try and build in the Transportation department to support students in the district.”
Each year, the TAPT Employee of the Year Awards Program honors a handful of deserving staff members from school districts across the state. Employees are nominated by their district supervisors, and those selected are recognized during an annual awards banquet. Blaha found out she was in the running shortly before learning she had been named the award’s winner for 2021.
“I didn’t even know that I had been nominated, so it was kind of cool,” Blaha said after the board meeting. “I was excited. You know, when you’re doing what you love, it’s easy, and you don’t do it for things like this, but it’s nice when somebody else recognizes it.”
Blaha first joined the district in 2007 as a bus driver, after a search for a job that would allow her more time with her own young children after they got home from school. Later, she served as an auxiliary driver and trainer, working her way up to become a routing specialist. She currently manages routes for all of the district’s special needs students, many of whom require special equipment or other accommodations en route.
“I love it,” Blaha said. “It’s like a puzzle. I mean, you have all of these houses and it’s like, OK, I have a bus and these kids that need to go to school. What’s the best, most efficient and safest way to get them there? And it’s up to us to figure that out. It’s the coolest thing.”
Like many in the department who have driving experience, Blaha has been called on to step up and help keep things running during the current bus driver shortage affecting many area districts. Most mornings this semester, after arriving at the Spring ISD Transportation Center between 5 and 5:30 a.m., Blaha starts her day out on the road, driving several bus routes herself before coming back to the office to manage all of her regular responsibilities, then heading out again to drive students home on afternoon bus routes.
Although the extra time spent driving does come with some added stress, Blaha said it’s always a joy to greet students at the bus stops in the morning and to see them home safely at the end of the day.
“It takes a special person,” Blaha said of bus driving. “It takes a lot of patience, but it’s a fun job. People just have to give it a chance. Before I did it, I was petrified. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But then after I started I was like, ‘This is great! I love this.’”