CADDO PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Caddo Parish School Board has approved the appointment of former Southwood High School principal Jeff Roberts as the district’s next transportation director.
The school board approved Roberts’ recommendation in a vote of 8 to 4 at Tuesday’s meeting.
That recommendation came following a nationwide search that drew 85 applications, according to the school district. He was was one of six finalists including three internal and three external candidates that were interviewed, all with experiences in transportation, student services, and management.
Dr. Lamar Goree says, “I can hire people to do a lot of the technical skills, but you can’t force anyone to be a leader. That’s something that you’re born to do. I’m so excited that someone like Mr. Roberts accepted the challenge and has stepped up to lead our transportation department.”
In accordance with district policy and state law, approval of the recommendation required a vote by the Caddo Parish School Board.
The Director will be responsible for the more than 2 million miles run by Transportation each year in the service of students.
The board’s approval of a new Director of Transportation for the district follows complaints from Caddo’s school bus drivers about problems within the department. Those complaints, and the bus drivers’ claims that they were not being addressed, led more than 50 drivers parking their buses for a one-day “sick-out” in October. Among the drivers’ concerns have been management, working conditions, and pay.
According to a statement on Roberts’ background released by Caddo Parish Schools ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the longtime educator is poised to use his experience as Southwood principal and as assistant principal at Green Oaks Performing Arts Academy in taking on the challenges facing the school district’s transportation department.
Roberts has extensive experience in improving work environments, raising expectations and changing perceptions. In his 29 years with Caddo Schools, Roberts has become known for his team approach to problem-solving and willingness to take on challenges.
“I’ve never been good at sitting on the sidelines,” Roberts said. “I prefer to take on a task, get to understand every aspect and tackle it head-on.”
This drive is deep in Roberts’ DNA as he worked as an assistant principal at Green Oaks Performing Arts Academy where the school faced state takeover. His ability to partner with his team to drive change was key to his selection as principal of Southwood High School in 2010. At the time, Southwood had faced years of declining academic performance and enrollment as well as an issue with teacher retention.
“Whether that was improving math and science classes or moving into administration, my goal has always been to do what was best for students and I look forward to working with the drivers, mechanics and office staff to ensure we are doing everything we can to support students in Transportation,” he said.
Roberts knew he had to change the perception of Southwood. To do so meant holistically addressing longstanding concerns that plagued the campus.
“We weren’t going to shy away from what was wrong. Instead, we took it as an opportunity,” Roberts said. “If we were really going to make this a school where parents wanted to send their kids and teachers wanted to teach, we needed to take a hard look at what we were doing wrong and what could be better.”
That began by meeting with the teachers, staff, parents, and students to gather their thoughts into what was going well and what could improve. From there, Roberts and his team developed a plan of action, which included increasing access to advanced coursework, changing the way the school delivered math instruction and creating a freshmen academy.
From there, the work began to pay off. The school rose under Roberts’ tenure from the cusp of failing status to a ‘B’ with commendations from the Louisiana Department of Education along the way for school turnaround efforts. Along the way, enrollment spiked to the highest level in recent decades.
Roberts said he plans to bring several components of his approach to Transportation.
“Our drivers and staff members often feel unheard and we have to change that dynamic,” Roberts said. “Our drivers are the first and last faces from Caddo our students and families see each day and we have to come together and discuss how we can all work together to benefit those very students and families we serve. This has to be a team approach if we are going to do anything to improve how we support our students. No one is above anyone else. Everyone has a role to fill and we only do the best we can when everyone is doing their part.”
Roberts said his top priorities include ensuring safety and customer service are at the highest levels. Additionally, Roberts said he seeks to improve the overall morale of the department all the while increasing efficiencies and expectations.
For Roberts, the position brings him full circle to his beginnings growing up working for his grandfather at his tire shop servicing fleet and commercial vehicles and wanting to make his grandfather proud.
“I have so many fond memories from that time and gained such respect for the drivers, mechanics, and individuals I met,” Roberts said. “I learned quickly the importance of treating people right and going above and beyond to help others. It is an honor to be able to work alongside some incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable staff members to transport 23,000 students each day.”