Private Grant Funds School Bus Safety Initiative Aimed At Measuring Judgment Skills Of Bus Driver Job Applicants

  • Monday, February 6, 2017

In the wake of the November 2016 Chattanooga school bus crash that killed six children, The Dash Group – an Atlanta-based organizational consulting and coaching firm – has created a private-public partnership with the Cleveland City Schools (CCS) district in nearby Bradley County. Aimed at understanding the judgment skills of potential school bus drivers, the initiative grants funding to give the online Judgment Index Safety/Risk Assessment to 100 applicants.

“We have chosen this particular school district because they are showing they are already doing everything they can in terms of safety and risk but didn’t have a strong assessment protocol for hiring drivers,” said Catherine Hickem, LCSW, ACC, founder and CEO of The Dash Group. With an enrollment of approximately 5,400 students in nine schools, CCS transports 2,448 general education students and 80 special services students each school day. Upon applying, aspiring bus drivers must pass three background checks – Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Division of Children’s Services and Abuse Registry – even before obtaining an interview. The grant will add the Judgement Index as the next step in the process.

“We’re not just looking for people who want a job,” said Hal Taylor, director of operations for the district. “We want to know that they have a purpose, an intent. We want people who understand the responsibility and know that they are affecting someone’s life every day.”

A nationwide bus driver shortage is exacerbated in certain states, including Tennessee, where the level of funding allows for part-time drivers only. Drivers may, as a result, work at least a second job as was the case with the driver in the Chattanooga incident.

“The Dash Group felt compelled to initiate this grant because of our sadness and indignation at the useless loss of children’s lives in the Chattanooga bus accident,” Ms. Hickem said. “We believe that careless driving could be significantly reduced if school system leaders would put this assessment protocol in place to ensure their drivers have the capacity for good judgment.”

A simple scientific instrument which has been validated in studies and through ongoing use in business settings for four decades, the Judgment Index was developed by Robert S. Hartman, PhD, who received a Nobel Prize nomination for his life’s work. Stewarded today by the Chattanooga-based company Judgment Index, the safety and risk assessment tool is quick and easy to use and, at $25 per person, inexpensive to administer. The Dash Group, certified to administer it, uses it routinely in its work with corporate clients.

Steve Byrum, president of Judgment Index, said, “We believe that for anyone directly working with children, be they teachers or coaches, chaperones or drivers, we need to understand the kind of judgment that may guide their actions and decisions.  It is compelling to know that National Safety Council data strongly suggests that upwards of 70% of accidents in business and industry are caused by errors in human judgment.  With children's lives at stake, we need to be aware of the judgment skills of those who work with them, including those who drive them back and forth to school.  The issue being raised in our local school system right now is whether seat belts and other restraint systems should be used on our buses.  It is an important, perhaps even vital question, but not nearly as important as the capacity for good judgment possessed by drivers.”

In Ms. Hickem’s estimation, this measurement tool should become part of every school district’s hiring protocol given the range of conditions and situations that can influence a driver’s behavior when transporting a busload of children. “This is a vulnerable place in our culture that we can do something about,” she said. “Measuring driver judgment is a crucial safety measure that provides balance to the current focus which favors vehicle maintenance over human performance.”

The instrument is designed to reveal an individual’s beliefs and values based on two questions that ask the respondent to rank 18 topics from “best to worst” and “agree” to “disagree”. The resulting analysis and report provide insights that point to one’s likely use of judgment on the job. “What determines a person’s success is, ultimately, judgment,” said Ms. Hickem who is a psychotherapist with extensive experience as a coach, consultant and therapist. “Crisis always reveals what we believe, who we are and how we are going behave under pressure,” she notes.

“The Judgment Index is such a powerful instrument,” said Ms. Hickem’s partner, Cindy Barber, ACC,CDWF, president, The Dash Group. “It really allows us to gain insight on what lies beneath the surface, revealing things that would never show up in an interview.”

The grant is at the leading edge of a proposed Bus Driver Safety Initiative and National Qualification Protocol which has been drafted by The Dash Group. The six-point process recommends a combination of background checks, Judgment Index assessment, vehicle training, a GPS safety tracking system on board each bus, annual refresher training courses, and legislation at the state and/or federal level that sets an age limit for drivers, similar to what is in place for airline pilots.

“Beginning with school bus safety that addresses society’s most vulnerable – our precious children – this type of measurement should be extended to any industry that involves transporting people,” Ms. Hickem said. “This can absolutely save lives.”

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