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Staff Spotlight: D'Allah Laffoon

D’Allah “D” Laffoon’s began working as a substitute bus driver for the Waterloo Central School District in 2013 and liked the job so much that he applied to be the district’s transportation supervisor when the position opened up in late 2019.

Laffoon was hired and started his new position on Feb. 18, 2020, less than a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and has been learning on the job ever since.

A native of Woodstock, Vermont and Alfred University graduate, Laffoon takes great pride in his department and its dedicated employees. The transportation department is made up of more than 30 bus drivers and monitors, a mechanic and administrative assistant who are focused on making sure each WCSD student arrives safely at school and home each day.

Laffoon is a World War II history buff who enjoys restoring cars and trucks. He and his wife Kathleen, a school counselor in Moravia, have two young sons.

Laffoon recently took some time to talk about his job and the role that the transportation department plays in the district. His responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What do you like the most about your job?

“I would say the thing that I like most about it is that there are so many facets to it that go into bringing students to school safely every day. … There is a lot that goes into it and being able to help pull that all together and provide safe transportation for students each day is very rewarding.”

What is your management style?

“My management style is more of an empowerment style. The biggest thing with the staff here is that a lot of them have been here quite a while, so they know what they are doing. A lot of it is, ‘How do I support the staff so that we can provide safe transportation for students and staff every day.’

“I probably learn more from my staff than they learn from me. Now, how do I take that information and use it? Also, with empowerment comes accountability. If someone is empowered to do something, they also know they are accountable for their actions.”

You started shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. How did that impact your early days on the job?

“One of the things that I do well is work under pressure. When COVID started, it was crazy. Taking a 66-person bus and putting eight kids on it is a crazy concept. One of the things that benefitted me was delivering lunches during COVID so I could learn the district and where things were.

“When we reopened, I went right to the math and used that data to help determine our transportation plan. … One of the things that helped was that I wasn’t breaking a mold that I was used to, we were creating a new one.

“One of the biggest things that was a factor in our success last year was the community. … The routes were constantly changing and the drivers had different routes every day, so it was a logistical challenge. The drivers know the routes and when we do the routes, their input is worth its weight in gold. I wouldn’t be as knowledgeable as I am now if I didn’t go through making the COVID routes. I had to learn a lot very quickly.”

What makes a good bus driver and bus monitor?

“There are a lot of qualities that are required that you won’t find on any application. Being a school bus driver and school bus monitor is a lifestyle. Bus drivers and bus monitors are very observant as to what is going on all of the time. Management skills are very important when you are out on the road driving between one and 66 kids, you are a teacher, a counselor and you are training students every day. The list of qualities needed is long and the Waterloo Central School District is blessed to have the bus drivers and monitors that are here.”

Is there anything more that you would like to let the community know about your job?

“I think the biggest thing to know about my job as the Transportation Director is just how safety is our top priority every day. From the mechanics to the secretary who answers the phone to me, the goal is the same: how do we get your children to school safely every day.

“I would just ask for people to always be aware of a school bus in your area and the crossing lights. Be prepared to stop when the lights are yellow and know that when they are red that you must stop. Also, remember to expect the unexpected, especially when you are dealing with children. Be on the lookout for that bus and those kids because the more eyes we have on them, the safer we will all be.” 

How does someone become a bus driver in Waterloo?

“They can contact me at (315) 539-1515 or DAllah.Laffoon@waterloocsd.org. The process includes a filling out a Civil Service application, interviews and a background check.”