KAREN BALLARD-SOHAYDA | Director of Transportation | Oceanside Unified School District | California Karen Ballard-Sohayda’s work schedule in 1990 didn’t leave her with much quality time to spend with her son. The single mother was juggling a job teaching students with special needs at a private school during the week and providing short-term relief for primary caregivers of disabled or chronically ill individuals on weekends. Her own mother was a school bus driver

at the time and suggested that she take one of the new driver classes being offered. “[My mother] always loved being a bus driver, and having the holidays and summers off was perfect while she was raising my brother and me,” Ballard-Sohayda said, recalling her mother’s career. She followed her mom’s footsteps and drove a school

bus for Oceanside Unified from 1990 to 2017. She has also served as the fleet manager and, for the past year and a half the director of transportation. Deputy Superintendent Shannon Soto said Ballard-

Sohayda is the type of leader all districts should be lucky enough to employ. Soto referred to her as an outstanding and successful fleet manager with even higher aspirations. She completed the California Associations

of School Business Officials Transportation Leadership Academy in 2019 and used the knowledge she obtained to strengthen her own department, Soto noted. “The transportation department is now

a department with clear expectations and accountability while providing an avenue

for fairness and equity,” Soto added. While COVID-19 has changed the overall working environment, it hasn’t altered the im- portance of being present for her team and the students they transport, Ballard-Sohayda said. She shared her favorite part of the day is watching the

buses roll out of the yard each morning and return in the afternoon, as the team effort fills her with a sense of ac- complishment. This fall, one of those buses will be electric, thanks to a Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund grant. Ballard-Sohayda said she hopes to use more grants to purchase the zero-emission vehicles. “I love yellow school buses and I love the back-to- school tradition and its symbolism of new beginnings,” she shared. “COVID-19 has delayed our return to scholar transportation, but it hasn’t stopped us from supporting our scholars or the community we serve.” ●

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