During National School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 18-22, Atlanta Public Schools will highlight various APS transportation staff members and their outstanding commitment to student safety. The following feature is part of this special series.
James Harden understands what it’s like to be a school bus driver.
That’s because he used to be one.
Now an Atlanta Public Schools bus maintenance technician, Harden proudly shares the perspective of both an Atlanta Public Schools bus operator, as well as a mechanic. Whether a driver is transporting students to and from school, field trips, athletic events, and special activities – or making sure that all school buses are well serviced – safety remains the No. 1 priority of all APS transportation professionals like Harden.
Consider these facts: APS bus operators transport more than 28,000 students each day and drive a total of 4.1 million miles during the academic school year.
According to Harden, National School Bus Safety Week is the perfect time to remind parents and families, community members, schools, and the general public about the importance of school bus safety.
“I understand that the mission of the drivers is to get students to and from school safely, and now my mission is to do the best I can to make sure that issues and problems with the bus are not their problem. They have enough to worry about out there on the street,” said Harden, who began his APS transportation career in November 2020. “My goal is to make sure the bus operates correctly. I want to do my part and do the best I can to make sure that happens.”
“And having been a bus driver gives me a different perspective than a lot of other guys who work at the [transportation] shop because I know what it’s like to be on a bus that’s malfunctioning or shutting off,” Harden added. “I have a better understanding because I was out there. I’m carrying that into the shop and into everything I do when I’m working on these buses everyday.”
A retired bus maintenance technician with MARTA, Harden knows his craft. Prior to coming to APS, he worked at MARTA for 29 years, and was responsible for diagnosing and making repairs to buses that came in for service.
After learning about the solid team work and great camraderie among staff, Harden decided to join the APS Transportation team. He joined the ranks as a bus operator and was soon promoted to a technician in September. In his new role, Harden does diagnositic work, performs mechanical repairs, and investigates other issues and problems affecting APS buses.
And while he loves his new role, Harden admits that accepting the position was one of the hardest professional decisions to make.
“It’s something I never imagined I would do,” he said about becoming a bus driver. “I’m a mechanic – that’s my field – but something told me, ‘Just try it to see how you like it.’ I normally never do anything different, but I tried it out and once I got into it, I found that I loved it. It was not an easy decision to switch over, but the good thing is that I’m still with APS. I just tell people, I’m on the same team. I’m just playing a different position.”
In addition to his new role, Harden is quick to salute his fellow transportation colleagues for a job well done – during National School Bus Safety Week and throughout the school year.
In fact, he often refers to bus operators and transportation supervisors as “superheroes” who are charged with one of the most important jobs in the school district: transporting children and returning them safely to their families.
“Bus operators are in charge of some of the most important people in everybody’s life, which is children. They’re responsible for them, and no matter what the situation is, we do what we have to do to make sure children get home safely,” he said. There’s a lot of teamwork. The operators and transportation supervisors put in the work, and it’s all in love. That’s one thing I like about APS. Teamwork is important.”