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Beloved bus driver retires after 18 years of service

If he could, David Daniels would clone Sharon Navarro several times over.

Daniels, transportation supervisor for Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD), announced last week that Navarro will retire the end of the year and called her “the most wonderful, perfect employee.” After 18 years of service to the district, Navarro has a squeaky clean driving record.

“She has a spotless record and she has driven hundreds of thousands of miles,” said Daniels. “It’s so rare for someone not to have any type of incident, even a very minor one. People like her are very uncommon, very rare to come by.”

Bus dispatcher Darlene Whalen said Navarro’s reputation is built on more than just a spotless record. It is enriched by her way with children and their parents.

“She has a real concern for her kids,” said Whalen. “She’s a positive role model, mentor, and even helps them with their homework.”

“I can’t describe how much the kids love her,” added Daniels. “I’ve ridden along with her and the kids all know her and love her.”

Daniels and Whalen both said the students find it easy to talk with Navarro.

“She’s had an influence on their lives because she has a real personal relationship with them and their parents,” said Daniels. “I have never received a negative call about her. Working with the kids has been her passion and she’s fantastic at it.”

“I hear about everyone’s family, friends and what’s going on in their lives,” admitted Navarro.

A multi-generation Fallbrook native, Navarro was born Sharon Davis. She and her four siblings grew up on ranch off Olive Hill Road. Married to Butch Navarro in 1965, the couple has one daughter, Dannielle.

Before trying her hand at driving a school bus, Navarro worked in a dental office, retail apparel shop and escrow office.

“I was 44 years old when I saw an ad that [FUESD] was hiring,” explained Navarro. “A day or two later, I saw one of the buses go by my house and I thought ‘I can do that [job]; be outside; and wear jeans and a tee-shirt.”

Navarro said she picked up the phone and called a friend, Donna Rutan, who trained bus drivers for the district. Rutan was delighted to hear from Navarro, but couldn’t resist chiding her about her petite height of 5’1”.

“Donna said, ‘Wait a minute. First, you need to come down here and see if your feet can reach the pedals!”

Fortunately, Navarro met the challenge and began training in late 1990.

“I had to learn to double clutch and that was really hard,” she said.

Whalen said during the training process Navarro kept telling her, “I can’t do this; I’m not going to do this.” But, Navarro persevered and emerged victorious.

“I’m so glad she didn’t stop trying,” said Whalen.

Navarro completed her training, was licensed and on the job in early 1991. Then she began the split schedule of driving a school bus.

“My alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. and I get to the bus barn by 6,” explained Navarro. “My morning route is done by 8:15. I’m back again at 1:40 p.m. and done with the afternoon route by 4:15.”

Navarro has driven the same routes during her years with FUESD. Her first morning route is to pick up students that live on the south end of Fallbrook for transport to Potter Junior High. After she completes that run, she picks up students on Alturas Road and Clemmens Lane that attend Live Oak Elementary.

Her afternoon routes are the same, just in the opposite direction. She picks up Potter students first for their return trip home and then arrives at Live Oak to return them to their respective drop-off points.

“My Live Oak route is at capacity, which is 84 students,” said Navarro.

Navarro attributes her success with students and their parents to her “system,” which is organization of the kids.

“All of my students have assigned seats; not because they are good or bad, it’s just that I have full buses,” she explained. Navarro said she puts the youngest students in the front of the bus and organizes them toward the back in ascending grade order.

“My third graders sit in the front and then I graduate back to fourth, fifth and sixth,” said Navarro. “They each get to pick their seat at the beginning of the school year and the new third graders learn quickly.”

In addition to assigned seats, Navarro insists that the rules be followed.

“They know they are to sit in their seat; put their backpack on their lap; and their feet on the floor,” she said. “I think they like the fact that everything is set; they can count on it.”

With an upbeat personality and an infectious laugh, Navarro maintains a lively rapport with the students, but one situation propelled her into serious action. She was the person who reported a situation involving a child molester on Clemmens Lane.

“The [victims] were girls on my bus,” said Navarro. “I called in the situation to the school district and they called law enforcement.” The day after Navarro reported the situation, the accused molester was arrested by detectives.

The opening of the new Clemmens Lane Park earlier this month was a much more enjoyable time for Navarro, who said the building of the park was a constant source of conversation on her route.

“The kids would yell and whistle out the windows at the park workers to ‘hurry and finish,’” said Navarro. “On opening day of the park, [the kids] took off at a run; they are so happy with the new park!”

On the subject of her retirement, Navarro said she is choosing to end her career now due to the tough economic times and budget constraints school districts are under.

“Everyone is always worried about losing their job; that’s why I’m retiring, to let younger people have more opportunity. I’m also old, tired, and I can. I wish I had started [driving bus] when I was younger.”

Of her relationship with the school district, Navarro said “FUESD has been a good employer to me.”

In describing how she will fill her time without running two bus routes a day, Navarro said she is a “homebody” and won’t be found too far away from home.

“I intend to enjoy my retirement right here in Fallbrook. I’m going to pull weeds, work in the garden and enjoy exploring my town more.” said Navarro, who plans on taking plenty of day trips and enjoy the simple pleasures of life with her husband.

“Just doing things like taking a walk out on the Oceanside Pier with Butch,” said Navarro. “I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve done something like that.”

As Navarro embarks on her retirement, friends and coworkers at FUESD are adamant she will be greatly missed from the day-to-day operation.

“I’m going to miss her smile every morning; she is a ray of sunshine,” said Whalen. “She’s been a great person to work with and she’s avoiding me because she knows we are going to get teary-eyed.”

For Daniels, the retirement of an exceptional staff member creates a sense of loss.

“I’m looking for the next Sharon Navarro,” he admitted.

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