DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With the first day of school just days away, the Dallas Independent School District enters a new era operating its own school buses.

It’s a big responsibility forced on the district when voters dissolved the scandal-plagued Dallas County Schools.

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DISD school bus (CBS11)

“In February when I signed on, there were four employees in our department,” says the district’s new Executive Director of Student Transportation Kayne Smith. “Now we’re over a thousand.”

One of them is Johnny Morgan. He’s spent more than a decade getting students safety to and from school– and now he works for DISD. He and all of the drivers–whether new hires or former DCS drivers– are being retrained, with a focus on making safety routine.

“Making sure no child left behind, no lost items,” explains Morgan as he walks to the rear of the bus, after driving his route. Buses are equipped so that an alarm sounds if drivers don’t walk to the back and disarm it when completing the route.

But, safety is just one of the department’s goals.

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“Our focus this year is customer service,” says Smith. “We provide that service of transporting 35,000 students every day so they can get the education that they need. And we want to make sure that people have the confidence in us that those buses will be showing up to pick up their child, and getting them to school, on time and safely and getting them home on time and safely, every single day.”

Smith says they’re expecting some “hiccups” during the first week. It’s to be expected. The difference, he says, is in how the department responds. His message to parents? The department is ramped up and ready.

“We have almost all of the drivers that we need to cover our routes… and that’s a testament to the work that our team has done.” Still, they are still hiring– and will continue to add staff to fill vacancies.

And while the new transportation chief won’t need to hop behind the wheel, let’s be clear: he can. He got his first job driving a school bus at 18 years old in his home town of Port Neches near Beaumont, after calling the district’s transportation director and asking for a job.

“He said…’if you can parallel park this school bus, you’re hired’,” recalls Smith. “I went down, got behind the wheel of a school bus, parallel parked after a couple of tries,” he admits” and I was hired. So all through college I drove a school bus.”

And now he’s driving DISD into a new era.

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“We’ve come a long way, just since November. I’m feeling very confident that August 20th, we’ll be ready.”