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‘It’s important to me to make sure they’re at school’

January 13, 2022

 

By GRAYSON LEE MAXWELL

Rutherford County Schools

 

As the first assistant director of transportation, Wanda Barnett plans to use her extensive experience to serve students to ensure they get to and from school daily.

 

“I’m here to support the staff in our office, the students, the schools and Mr. Everett,” Barnett said, “as well as bus contractors and drivers." 

 

A new role, the assistant director provides direct support to Transportation Director Jason Everett and oversees the routing of buses. Barnett comes to the role with experience both in the classroom and more than 16 years of experience in the transportation department.

 

“I start back 26 years ago,” Barnett said, “I did elementary school, at Christiana Elementary, as an EA in the special ed classroom there. Then, when Christiana Middle was built, I transferred to the middle school.”

 

After the classroom, Barnett began working with Edu Log — the software used to create bus routes. However, Barnett’s experience in the classroom has kept one thing top of mind: the students.

 

“The students are important to me. I’ve been there,” she explained, “worked with them. I know what they need.”

 

In particular, Barnett will continue helping students in the ATLAS program to get them the transportation services they need. ATLAS — which is an acronym for Academic Time Leads to Achieving Students — is the program RCS uses for students who are homeless or in transitional housing.

 

“We have had an uptick in ATLAS students, students who may have been displaced from their home. I want to make sure that, especially for ATLAS students, we can roll those students over quickly and get them to school.”

 

There are also challenges. Barnett explains her new position — it’s like “working a puzzle.”

 

Between Covid concerns and overloads on some buses, there are ways parents can help, she said.

 

“Communicate concerns,” Barnett said. “It’s very important for us to help parents work out their problems. For overloads, we’re in a pretty good position now. As we get them, we try to fix those problems (quickly).”  

 

At the end of the day, and at the start, Barnett is concerned most with ensuring students can get to school safely.

 

“It’s important to me to make sure they’re at school — so they’re able to be with their friends, so they can learn and have a safe environment.”

 

Every school has an ATLAS contact person who is trained in identifying students who qualify for the program.

 

If you or someone you know is a student experiencing homelessness or transitional hoursing, please contact your school and ask for the ATLAS Contact.  You may also contact the Rutherford County ATLAS Liaison Jessica Johnson by email at johnsonje@rcschools.net