he saying goes, “Treat others how you want to be treated.” It’s a common lesson taught to children of all ages, even those who lead large student transportation operations.

Todd Watkins, the director of transportation for Mont-

gomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Rockville, Maryland, is child at heart. He embodies the above saying as well as anyone by establishing an ongoing, positive culture throughout his department. This is one of the rea- sons why he was selected as School Transportation News’ Transportation Director of the Year. A family man, a church man, and a leader in his com-

munity, among many other traits, Watkins is the perfect candidate for any year but especially in 2020. COVID-19 has thrown so many curve balls at every transportation operation nationwide, but it’s the teamwork, consistency and encouragement that keeps MCPS running smoothly during virtual learning. And it’s also Watkins’ commit- ment to family, both at work and home. He and wife Stephanie started dating in 1991 and

were married a year and eight months later. They now continue to raise four children together: Noah, Hannah, Samuel and Adam. When he’s not running the trans- portation operations for the largest school district in the state of Maryland, and the 16th largest in the U.S., you can find Watkins at his lake house waterskiing, boating and catching Maryland Blue Crabs that he likes to cook himself. Growing up, Watkins had a “typical Maryland high school experience,” he shared. He later attended the University of Maryland, which was the only school he applied to, and set out to major in computer science. But that didn’t last long. He quickly switched to eco- nomics during his first semester, after taking a course taught by the leading economic advisor for the Clinton administration. “I really liked that it taught you to think analytically,” he

recalled. “It really taught you to think through situations and what are the incentives that drive people, and those kinds of things. And I think that kind of training in how to think logically and think through situations has really benefitted me since then.” While his friends were partying their way through col- lege, Watkins said he was instead looking for a job. On Dec. 13, of his freshman year, which also happened to be his 18th birthday, he began his career in transportation. He started working for the student-run transportation service on campus, Shuttle UM, which ran commuter routes for students between campus and home. An avid driver, Watkins excelled, figuratively of course. He worked his way up through the management ranks during his four-year college career, becoming a

44 School Transportation News • NOVEMBER 2020

dispatcher as a sophomore, a paratransit manager as a junior, and his senior year the coordinator of the sys- tem, which was the highest rank a student could hold. Upon graduating college in 1988, due to his relevant experience in transportation operations, he started to work for a professor on campus, Harvey Clearwater, in the Department of Health Education, for which Watkins performed transportation services across the state, and to some degree across the country. While he enjoyed his work, he also enjoyed Clearwa-

ter’s company. Watkins shared that the professor was like a father to him. Clearwater passed away in the late 1990’s from bladder cancer, but not before Watkins he took him to all of his chemotherapy treatments. During his work with Clearwater, he was an instructor in the University of Maryland Safety Education Cen- ter. Watkins conducted driver training for the police academy on campus, taught commercial driver license training, and traveled to different locations, including American Samoa, to train drivers on school bus safety. “I really enjoyed it,” Watkins said. “I just enjoy driving

anything. In fact, on my 30th birthday as a present, my wife worked with [Clearwater], and they arranged for me to drive the back of a hook and ladder truck.” During this time, Watkins also got his master’s degree

in health education, which he said has opened doors for him throughout his career. He worked with Clearwater on and off until 1996, when he and Stephanie were ex- pecting their first child, Noah. He shared that by then he was looking for more permanent work. He applied for a transportation depot manager posi-

tion at Montgomery County Public Schools in July 1996, and the rest is history. Watkins became the operations manager within two years and served in that capacity until 2004, when he took over as the assistant director of transportation. He worked for then-transportation director John Matthews, who Watkins also referred to as a great friend and mentor. “He really gave me the benefit of co-leading the

department with him,” Watkins explained. “We were in- terchangeable in all the things we did. We chose to take a real team approach to things, one because we thought it made us more effective but also because we just really enjoyed each other’s company and working together.” When Matthews retired in 2009, Watkins seamlessly transitioned into the director of transportation role.

A Real People Person When asked to describe his leadership style, Watkins

shared he’s an easygoing guy who tries not to get upset when things don’t go right. He said he tries to set a cul- ture in his department, in which people are encouraged

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