Des Moines Public Schools could use some more Danny Johnsons.

Danny’s been driving district school buses for 13 years, the same length of time it takes for a student to run the route of grades K-12. And he loves it, still.

“I just enjoy being around the kids,” he said while making his rounds on a soggy, foggy Monday. “I like sharing advice with them. I like getting to know them and watching them grow up.”

Johnson’s seniority carries some perks. His bus, #626, was the first one equipped with seat belts acquired by the district. He takes good care of it, just like he does with his cargo. While he waited for students to dismiss and board at Studebaker Elementary School on Monday afternoon, he swept the aisle spotless.

A policy change implemented by DMPS Transportation Director LaShone Mosley means Johnson and other full-time drivers generally get to chauffeur the same kids morning and afternoon, something he appreciates.

“That really helps in getting to know your passengers,” Johnson said, and that’s a good thing.

“Yes, we try to keep the students with the same driver AM & PM,” said Mosley. “This makes it easier for the students and the drivers. They build a good relationship with each other, decrease behavior issues, and provide consistency, especially for our special needs students who may not handle change well.”

Adult mass transit commuters often keep to themselves, enduring their daily comings and goings in silence, ear plugged into their smartphones. Kid commuters, not so much. They all know each other, and spend their days together. When it’s all aboard for the ride home at the end of the day, they have A LOT to talk about.

But they obey Johnson’s reminder over the PA to “use inside voices,” and away goes #626.

The dashboard is somewhere between your family sedan and a commercial airliner in complexity. Radio chatter competes with the dull roar of the Studebaker Lions behind him for a fragment of Johnson’s attention. Most of it is reserved for what’s going on in front of him, beyond the department store window-sized windshield that’s getting intermittently squeegeed by a pair of oversized wipers.

At stops, while kids are disembarking into the waiting arms of loved ones, he waves to parents and plays via his rearview mirror with rascals peek-a-booing at him over the seatbacks.

A misty day in October is one thing, weather-wise, but what about wintertime?

“Nah, it’s no problem,” according to Johnson. “I like the challenge of moving around in the weather.”

The unsung but vital job of getting kids to and from safely and on time is not for everyone, but Johnson makes it look easy. “That was a piece of cake,” Johnson said to some first-time riders when he dropped them off between the Studebaker run and his next, a load of students from McCombs Middle School, right next door. They knew better.

He’s another good example of the esprit de corps that runs through DMPS support staff who feed students and maintain their schools. They see themselves like members of a relay unit anchored by teachers, and rightfully so. Whatever role you play working for a school district means you’re in the business of children, the original growth industry.

There’s an old sight gag where you scrunch your cheeks together and whine, “Bus driver, bus driver, open the door!”

Well, school bus driving is no joke, but it doesn’t hurt to have a sense of humor, among other qualifications.


Photos on the Road with Driver Danny Johnson
Bus Driver Danny Johnson

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