"A Shining Light"
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
JUNE 10, 2021 – When Randy Wood drove his bus into the bus lot at Lewisville Elementary on Friday June 4, he was greeted by students holding posters and banners they had made to wish him well in retirement.
Wood’s primary job is serving as a mechanic for the school system. For the past few years, he has also been driving a bus in the afternoon.
He had no idea such a celebration was coming.
“I was extremely shocked,” Wood said when he stepped out of the bus.
“Ms. Fitzgerald really went above and beyond with that celebration.”
Ms. Fitzgerald is Samantha Fitzgerald, the assistant principal at Lewisville Elementary.
With the assistance of teacher Niki Francis, Fitzgerald organized the celebration because she wanted Wood to know how much he means to Lewisville Elementary.
“He is truly one of a kind,” Fitzgerald said.
“When the district struggled with the driver shortage, he came to the rescue. He is a mechanic and works in the bus garage but voluntarily stepped up in the time of need. He has driven our students for the last two years.”
“He has become a consistent face for our students and families.”
“He truly exemplifies our Core Values of student-centered and collaboration. In a time of uncertainty, he truly has been a shining light! We are grateful for his service to our district and school. We will miss him greatly but wish him nothing but happiness and relaxation.”
Wood’s wife, Michelle Wood, as there for the celebration.
Michelle Wood, who graduated from West Forsyth High, has been driving a bus for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools since 1988.
They met at work.
“He’s a mechanic and I drive a bus,” she said. “We hit it off right away.”
They have now been married for 20 years.
Fitzgerald knows and appreciates Michelle Wood.
“I first met her my first year as AP at Lewisville and immediately loved her,” Fitzgerald said.
“She was fantastic with our kids! She has volunteered each year to come participate at our Kinder Camp.”
One group of poster-holding students included the students in Jeanna Martin’s first grade class and Jennifer Matthews and Cristin Russell’s second grade classes.
Martin said she appreciates what Wood and other bus drivers do for students.
The bus driver may be the first school person a student sees in the morning and the last school person they see in the afternoon, Martin said.
“It’s a hard profession,” Martin said.
“They are mentors to kids. Having that positive relationship with the bus driver is very important.”
Wood said he likes developing those connections with students.
“As we take care of them, they will take care of us in the future,” he said.
Dwayne Hedgecock, the Southwest Corridor Transportation Supervisor for the school system, was also at the celebration. Hedgecock spoke highly of Wood.
“He demonstrates his commitment and compassion for children by doing both extremely well,” Hedgecock said.
“He is a very calm, compassionate and patient individual – all of the things that make a great bus driver!”
Nikki Francis works at both Lewisville and Morgan elementary schools. At Morgan, she is the teacher for the fifth-grade AIG (Academically Intellectually Gifted) class, and, at Lewisville, she is the AIG Coordinator.
On Thursday and Fridays, she had bus duty and her station was just outside of Wood's bus.
“I talked with Mr. Wood every Thursday and Friday about the count down and what he planned to do when he retired,” Francis said.
“It made me sad to think of him and his long service to WS/FCS and the kids who would have benefited from knowing him. During one of our afternoon chats, he told me this was what he loved doing and can't imagine not doing it anymore.”
Francis hopes that he will return to driving a bus part-time at some point.
Wood grew up here. After attending Old Richmond Elementary, he went on to Northwest Middle and Mount Tabor High before graduating in North Forsyth in 1981. While he was at North, he also took classes in industrial electronics at the Career Center.
His father, who retired from WS/FCS as the supervisor of the Paint Department, always urged his son to explore different trades to find the one that he would find most satisfying.
After graduating from high school, Wood headed to Forsyth Technical Community College to study electronics.
In the years that followed, his jobs included working for Kmart and Bowen Town and Country Furniture and delivering bread to stores. He routinely worked more than 60 hours a week.
Looking at the long-term, he saw that he needed a job with fewer and more regular hours and with benefits. That’s when he came to work for the school system. That was more than 33 years ago.
In the beginning, he drove a fuel truck. He already has the skills as a mechanic and switched over to serving as a mechanic.
Over the years, he has seldom worked in the bus garage. He was more likely to be out at one of the schools in the western part of the country working on yellow buses or the blue-and-white activity buses.
It’s work that enjoys.
“I like the responsibility of it and the freedom of it,” Wood said.
He also enjoys working with younger people in the department and passing along what he has learned.
When his father was teaching him how to do something when he was growing up, his father would show him different ways to approach it. He would never pick one and say, “This is the only way to do this.” He would say, “Learn ‘em all and pick the one that works best for you.”
He appreciated that gift from his father, and he does the same with those he teaches.
Although he may say, “This is the best way for me,” he won’t tell them that would be the best approach for them as well.
“I can’t make that call,” he says.
When a shortage of bus drivers became a problem for the school system, he took on the additional responsibility of driving a bus in the afternoon.
Talking later, Wood said that his bus is the first one in line each day, so Fitzgerald didn’t have to do anything to make sure he was the first in line. That simplified the surprise.
When he first drove up and saw all the students outside, he said, he thought the school might be having a fire drill or something. Once he saw the signs and posters, he was taken aback.
He really appreciated what Fitzgerald and everyone at Lewisville did for him, he said.
“I haven’t had a fuss over me since I was a kid playing Little League.”
He hoped the students at Lewisville had fun.
“I enjoyed driving for them,” he said.
In retirement, he is looking forward to having more time to spend with his wife and their grandchildren.
Other than that, he will take a few weeks to do more-or-less nothing. But he is definitely not a do-nothing kind of guy for the long term.
He will find something that he enjoys that is satisfying but not all-consuming.
“I will be working smarter, not harder,” Wood said.
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