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In the Spotlight- Doug Moeckel

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Right on schedule.

Each day at 6:55 a.m. Monday through Friday a Grass Lake Community School bus stops at the entrance of the Apple Creek Campground on Orban Road.  Blowing on my coffee I hear the shush of the bus’s airbrake that signals the start of another school day.

At the helm at GL schools headquarters is Doug Moeckle, director of Transportation and Community Services for the district.  Moeckle, 60, is the wizard behind the curtain, the behind the scenes man pressing the buttons and pulling the levers that makes safe passage from home to homeroom and back again.

Moeckle has served as the district transportation manager since 2003.  At times he takes the wheel when a driver is absent or to transport students pre-K through 12 to field trips.

Driving a school bus isn’t like riding a bicycle.  Once I got let go from a job at a private high school in Vermont because I failed to earn a CDL to drive the kids in the short bus to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream shop in downtown Burlington to celebrate a birthday party.

“It’s not difficult,” Moeckle said.  “I’ve been driving large single axle trucks since I was 16 on the farm.”

You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.  In good weather Moeckle begins his 13-hour day at 4:30 a.m.  When snowstorms incapacitate local roads in the district he is up at three a.m. to check travel conditions.  “Weather patterns move west to east whether it’s fog or snow or rain.  I contact the TV and radio stations about delays or closings and contact the superintendent Rile Kiser.”

A Grass Lake native, Moeckle earned a Bachelor degree in Business Management from Grand Valley University and a Master degree in Educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University but held off from a career in education.  From 1981 to 2000 he worked as a production manager at the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Moeckle served two years on the Grass Lake School Board.  Former Superintendent Larry Ostrander recognized Moeckle’s leadership skills and potential and wanted him to be the principal of Grass Lake Middle School.  “It took a lot of convincing on his part,” Moeckle recalled, “but it was a fortuitous move on my part.”  He served as principal from 2000-2007, he said, and though he holds a higher degree in education he never pursued teacher certification, never taught a class.              

What does he like about his behind-the-scenes roll in the district?  “Number one,” he said, “potential growth for the kids, watching them develop from pre-K to high school graduation, how kids advance and prepare for the future.”

The district put together a 19-page handbook of the dos and don’ts of the bus—no eating, drinking, chewing, or screaming.  It is universally understood that arms or hands must not be put out of the windows and such behavior must be codified.    

Dozens of children aboard a bus can be stressful for the driver who has a camera trained on students to gauge the level of chaos even in a controlled environment.

As a child I attended a parochial school that utilized the city’s Bluebird Buses.  “Joe,” a regular driver who doubled as a high school football coach, outfitted his bus with amplifiers front to back of the cabin and blared REO Speedwagon to tune out unpermitted bedlam.  I got caught in his crosshairs; somebody threw a spitball or a paper airplane.  The driver called me on it but I denied the allegation, wasn’t that type of student who sat at the back of the bus.  Joe wasn’t buying it.  He turned down the volume to address me:  “Cordani, do you think I’m as dumb as you look?”

Now Moeckle serves as chairman of the Grass Lake Community Wellness Initiative, part of a coalition sponsored by the Five Healthy Towns Foundation.  “We’re trying to spread the word about our work and the foundation,” he said.

The initiative provides additional fitness activities each week for second through fifth graders.  “This is in addition to their regularly scheduled recesses and their regularly scheduled physical education classes,” Moeckle said.

“Doug is an incredible asset not only to Grass Lake Community schools but to the entire community,” Superintendent Kiser said.  “His commitment to the staff and students is constantly demonstrated by the way he is always prepared to do whatever needs to be done to get the outcome that is best for the students.  Grass Lake is very fortunate to have a person who has the dedication that Doug demonstrates on a daily basis.”

A deadline is a deadline.  At 3:35 p.m., just as I’m putting the finishing touches on this profile, the airbrake shush signals the safe delivery of Grass Lake students.  Moeckle’s impact is widely recognized in the schools and in the area at large.    He is focused on providing safe and efficient transportation to our precious cargo.

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