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For bus drivers, it's safety first
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Recent snowstorms in the area have forced businesses, schools and other establishments to close their doors and people to nestle indoors for safety. And for one Newton County Schools bus driver, the recent storms were all about keeping children safe.

Lisa Salers, who began her bus-driving career in DeKalb County but now drives for Newton, was one of the many bus drivers in Georgia who battled freezing rain and snow during the recent winter storms in January and just this week.

During the Jan. 28 snowstorm, which brought icy conditions to the area and shut down most of the metro Atlanta area, Salers said she was concerned for the children’s safety.

The Newton County School System called an early release day for students that Tuesday, which had a number of school bus drivers like Salers making their way through streets and neighborhoods dropping students off at their homes.

"You know, its nerve-wracking when the snow is coming down and you’ve got to get the children at home and yourself as well. Get the bus parked, and get yourself home. But, we rely and trust our authority — our superintendent (Samantha Fuhrey), our director (Michael Barr, director of support services/transportation), and so I mean, it was just a matter of safety. Safety is always first with our school system and with us," she said.

A bus driver for Flint Hill Elementary, Cousins Middle and Eastside High, Salers said she had a group of middle- schoolers she had to get home that day.

"They were off the chain. I’m not kidding," she said. "By the time we got to the middle school, it was coming down hard. So I had to calm them down and you know… you just got to watch the other drivers."

Salers’ daughter Jami Hale, who’s a bus driver for Mansfield Elementary and Eastside High, said much like her mother and students, she was also anxious to get her students home that day. She said, "They (the school system) wanted to make sure all the students were home by 2 p.m."

This last week, a wintry mix expected Tuesday night again had school systems and bus drivers on their toes. Though NCSS students attended school that day, many after-school activities and field trips were canceled due to the expected weather that night around 7 p.m.

However, a scheduled regional science fair in Griffin had Salers on the road, keeping up with weather updates and again ensuring safety for about 20 students and six teachers.

"I kept up with the weather on my iPhone, and I had blankets on my bus. And I kept up with the temperature once it started raining, but luckily we were south in Griffin," she said.

"I left at 7 a.m. that morning, and I came back about 7:15 p.m. that night. And not only were myself, the teachers and the students anxious, but everybody at the transportation department was anxious as well," Salers said. "When I got back, everybody kind of breathed a sigh of relief.."

"I was in constant contact with them (transportation officials) because they didn’t want to leave me out there hanging because of the weather. But luckily, it came later. I had to call them when I got there, while I was there … but it was kind of that warm, fuzzy feeling when I got back.

"I called them on the radio and let them know I was back and they were kind of applauding that I was safe and that the children were safe."

During the expected winter storm Tuesday, Salers said many bus drivers were prepared for the worst, packing essentials for their students.

She said, "They (bus drivers) packed toilet paper, water, blankets, just in case."

Salers, whose mother Randy Holt retired as a special- needs bus driver from DeKalb County Schools, said you definitely have to have a passion to be a bus driver.

She said it’s not for everybody.

"There’s sometimes I look in my mirror and I look at the kids, and sometimes I’ll have teachers on there and I’ll think, ‘Wow. I’m responsible for all of them,’’ Salers said.

"There are times where we have to go through a pre-trip every day. And on that pre-trip, I pray for the safety of those kids and me driving those children every day."

Jami, who is in her first year as a bus driver, said she enjoys the job because she loves the children, the people she works with and feeling she is making a difference.

"It’s a different atmosphere. You’ve got to have a lot of love in your heart for it. You may get agitated and aggravated, but the next day, you’re fine," she said.

Salers added that the whole team is serious about teaching safety and said the transportation department has a great atmosphere.

"The support is unbelievable. ... Mr. Barr, he doesn’t sit just behind the desk. He is out there with us. He is out there with us, side-by-side."