Roaring Fork School District transportation official earns state accolades
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” For students lucky enough to be on Carol Burns’ bus for the ride home after school, the learning didn’t end with the final bell. Nor did the excitement, at least not for some of the young riders on her more remote mountain routes.
“It was kind of like a nature show, because I’d always have the kids looking for wildlife to see what kinds of new animals they could see,” Burns said.
Beginning in 1981, Burns drove buses for the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 for 14 years, including the sometimes treacherous Fryingpan route up to Thomasville from Basalt and back. She spent the last 14 years as the district’s assistant director of transportation, based out of the Roaring Fork Career Center in Glenwood Springs.
“I remember one time during the winter I had to open the side door and watch the ditch line coming down the Fryingpan, because I couldn’t see the road in the whiteout,” she said.
Then there was the time she was driving the East and West Sopris Creeks route south of Basalt when she came upon a lost child sitting on the side of the road.
“It was the last day of school, and I only had a couple of kids left on the bus,” she recalled. “I rounded a corner, and there was a young child sitting on the side of the road all by himself. He couldn’t have been more than about 3, so I had him get on the bus.”
She contacted the authorities, and soon learned that the child had wandered away from his baby-sitter.
Burns retires this week after 28 years with the district. And as an unexpected parting honor, she was recently recognized with an award as the Colorado Student Pupil Transportation Association (CSPTA) Operations Person of the Year.
“It was a huge surprise, and a great honor,” she said. “I’ve been part of CSPTA for a long time. It’s a great organization that really works hard to make school transportation safer.”
As assistant transportation director, Burns has been in charge of everything from hiring and supervising the district’s bus drivers and making sure they comply with the requirements, to payroll, dispatching and attending to any student disciplinary issues that arise.
The training required to become a school bus driver is one of the biggest changes she has seen over the years. When she began driving, she said she was only asked if she had ever driven a farm truck and was given a short driving test.
“The next day I was out driving students around,” Burns said.
Today, school bus drivers must undergo 50 hours of training, take four written tests, take a physical, be American Red Cross First Aid certified, take ongoing training during the school year and learn how to conduct bus evacuation practices with students.
Burns began driving buses at the same time she was working in the lunch room at Glenwood Springs Elementary School. When the time came to pick between the two career paths, she chose school transportation.
“It was a chance to work with the kids more closely, and it was also nicer to be outside where you can enjoy the scenery,” she said.
Her own daughter was in kindergarten when she first started driving. Before they moved, Burns was driving her granddaughter to school.
She drove the Glenwood town route for a while, and then the Cattle Creek route. Being a native of the Roaring Fork Valley, growing up on Missouri Heights and graduating from Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale in 1971, she had the advantage of being familiar with the roads.
“I am going to miss it,” she said. “It’s been a great place to work … and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great people.”
Burns won’t be retiring completely, though. She still plans to work as a third party tester for commercial drivers licensing, and the Colorado Department of Education transportation division has asked her to be a statewide consultant.
And she’ll always enjoy it when someone sees her in the store or somewhere and says they remember when she drove their school bus.
“Sometimes I’ll get a big hug from them, and that just means a lot,” she said.
Contact John Stroud: 384-9160
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