As sure as the winds will change, Philip Kuckyt, Manager of Transportation Services, can rely on the fact that each day on the job will be different. But unlike many professions, the weather isn’t just a metaphor for him.
“I’m always up early, but when there’s the potential for inclement weather, my work day starts around 4:30 a.m., and my office at that point is my kitchen table since I need to be close to my phone and computer first thing,” says Kuckyt of the make-shift command central he sets up on early mornings in his home in Cayuga. “During this time, I’m looking at updated forecasts and projections, checking in with a meteorologist about how and when those weather patterns are expected to affect specific areas within Grand Erie, and speaking with municipal road supervisors and school bus company operators about current conditions as they’re experiencing them.”
There are a lot of variables Kuckyt needs to consider long before anyone else’s alarm clock goes off, because the decision to close schools is not taken lightly.
“We’re looking at everything from a school-bus perspective: the traction on buses is very different compared to an all-wheel drive vehicle. The buses are required to make stops at locations cars normally don’t, and they don’t have the option of changing their route to avoid secondary roads that haven’t been plowed yet, for example,” he says. “The track of weather systems can affect certain areas very differently as well, so knowing what municipalities are utilizing to treat roads and deal with conditions, along with their timelines for completion, feeds into the decision-making process.”
The process also involves a group discussion with superintendents about the best options available, considering both morning and afternoon windows of school bus travel. Occasionally, conditions amount to the perfect storm, and Kuckyt’s department, which is a consortium owned and operated by three school boards – Grand Erie, Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, and Conseil Scolaire Catholique MonAvenir – makes the recommendation to cancel transportation services in the interest of safety. When that happens, the boards close schools to staff and students for the day, and the information is communicated to all stakeholders by 6:30 a.m. by the boards’ communications teams and by the consortium.
“We’re making the most informed decision we possibly can,” says Kuckyt of this pre-dawn collaborative effort.
Kuckyt got started in this field following the completion of a business degree at Wilfrid Laurier University. The opportunity came up to apply to a manager-development program in the transportation field, and he was one of two successful candidates. The on-the-job education took him to Toronto, Ottawa, and Edmonton, gaining practical knowledge of dispatching, preventative maintenance, finance, and human resources management he couldn’t have learned as effectively from a textbook.
He’s been in his current role for 10 years, but Kuckyt’s history in Grand Erie goes back further than that. He’s an alum of Cayuga Secondary School, born and raised in the rural town he now makes his family home with his wife, a Grand Erie teacher, their three school-aged children, and golden retriever Brody, who accompanies him on early-morning walks which double as an opportunity to check on road conditions.
Kuckyt covers breakfast and lunch duty in his busy household before heading into the office to meet with his team.
“Every day is uneventful, until it’s not,” he says of the fast-paced field, where business-as-usual means keeping track of annual goals, optimizing routes, managing contracts and procurements, tracking key performance indicators, metrics, and as well as the budgets. It also means answering questions from stakeholders – school administrators and parents – and evaluating decision making. “We’re always asking what we can learn from a given scenario.”
Kuckyt’s responsibilities are also a direct extension of Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan. With nearly half of all students using transportation, the service has the ability to set a positive tone for the rest of their day.
“We get students to school, ready and able to learn and succeed,” he says. “The school bus is an extension of the classroom in many ways, so ensuring an inclusive, respectful environment on the bus can have an important impact on student well-being and achievement.”
Well-being is something Kuckyt takes very seriously, and his team uses the lunch break to prioritize exercise. A group of transportation-department staff members can often be found in the common area at the Joseph Brant Learning Centre during their lunch hour, keeping up with a challenging Jillian Michaels workout.
“When you add physical activity to your day, it brings a balance that can help you perform better at work,” he says. “It helps relieve stress, keeps you healthy, which can help minimize sick days, and when you work out with coworkers, it further develops relationships which can build a stronger team dynamic.”
Kuckyt says that the people he works with in the department and at the Board are a large part of what makes the job so positive.
“It’s a healthy, open, collaborative place, and I enjoy coming to work every day” Kuckyt says. “There’s a mix of financial, safety, and operational responsibilities that my particular role is entrusted to, and that means the work itself is incredibly fulfilling.”