School bus driver 'un-retires' to take troubled Woodmore route
In the aftermath of the Woodmore Elementary bus crash in 2016, which resulted in the deaths of six children, Hamilton County school officials were left with many tasks. None were more important than finding a driver to take over that route. They needed a driver with the experience and maturity to regain the community’s confidence, and ensure the safety of grief-stricken students. Thankfully, they found their man.
The kids and their parents call him Mr. Shack. Sixty-nine-year-old John Shackleford owns his bus, which is spotless inside and out. Shackleford retired from the daily grind several years ago but says the Lord has put him back in the driver’s seat. He said he watching TV when news broke of the Woodmore bus tragedy, and he felt called to apply for the job.
For many years, the Woodmore route had a revolving door of drivers, none of whom seemed to last long. It was considered a troubled route even before the accident, with reports of frequent discipline problems. Shackleford believed he could handle it. Now in his second year on the route, he said he works with parents and grandparents when disciplinary problems arise.
"They handle it at home, so we don't have to at school," he said.
He takes pride in knowing every child by name and said it was important to establish a relationship with each one. "I speak to them every morning and every afternoon. I tell 'em I look forward to seeing them in the morning," he said.
The parents and grandparents along the Woodmore route are grateful that "Mr. Shack" is there for them, watching over the children as if they were his own. He’s on time, morning and afternoon each day. He had never been in the neighborhood until he took the route, having driven in Ooltewah and East Brainerd before his retirement. Now, he’s a popular, familiar face.
Linda Black, who has three great-grandchildren on the bus said, "He's a good man who loves children. You can feel his spirit. The kids get off the bus happy."
It was John Shackleford’s goal to bring stability and peace of mind to a community once shattered by tragedy. Each day is a new challenge, with unpredictability around every corner, but the children of Woodmore can rest assured. There’s a steady hand behind the wheel.
READ MORE | Continuing coverage of the Woodmore bus crash
He said his post-retirement comeback will last as long as his health permits, and as long as the Woodmore community will put their children in his care.