A steady hand behind the scenes, new bus manager Ms. Katherine Stemler navigates the Orange plan

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Katherine Stemler

Ms. Katherine Stemler in Potomac’s transportation office

Charlotte Castle, Staff Writer

Before we knew anything about quarantines, zooming, or mask hygiene, early morning bus rides were not the highlight of anyone’s day. But now, as we return to in-person classes, if only once a week, after nearly six months away from campus, the early morning commute represents the beginning of our community’s gradual return to normalcy.

That being said, the ride will look very different. 

In preparation for Potomac’s color-coded reopening plan, this past summer, the transportation staff designed a new busing protocol in accordance with CDC recommendations and mandatory guidelines. 

New Transportation Operations Manager Katherine Stemler was appointed to her position last March, and began shortly before the pandemic lockdown began. This period gave her an opportunity to perform an in-depth look at the arrivals and departures of buses, and how the unloading and loading process of students works. 

“Since then, my work has centered more around dealing with the planning for back to school with the pandemic. So I haven’t been doing my normal job but instead negotiating the safety plans for the buses. Hopefully, in the future that is not something I will be doing every day,” she said. 

Ms. Stemler joins the Potomac team with ample experience under her (seat) belt. She first worked as a bus driver over 20 years ago for the Fairfax County school system, where she herself attended school as a child. She has also worked for Arlington County Public Schools –experience that prepares her for the unusually complicated busing system this year.

“I come from a background with public schools where bus drivers serve multiple schools, and they have many different bell schedules, and they’re all kind of stacked upon one another. So I have to remind myself that we have one school, and one bus time, and the drivers do one run instead of doing multiple runs in a row,” she said.

Ms. Stemler works under the Director of Special Projects, Security and Transportation, Mr. Perry Swope. She will be in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly, ensuring students have timely and safe transportation to and from school. A key step towards this goal, she believes, comes with formalized protocols and strong communication. 

“I would like to establish some standard procedures where everything is on paper. In case there is a transition of personnel, it is very easy to communicate [procedures] to everyone else,” she said. 

Bus rides bookend every student’s school day, and at a school like Potomac, whose buses cover an unusually large geographic area, the transportation department, now led by Ms. Stemler, plays a crucial role in the success of the Orange Plan.