Q&A With Wendi Kallins, Marin County SRTS: The Secret to SRTS Sustainability

Since its Safe Routes to School program began in 2000 – five years before the national SRTS program was established – Marin County, Calif., has been a leader in Safe Routes to School. In the past decade, Marin County’s SRTS program has expanded from nine schools to 52, and it reaches more than 23,500 students. The program serves all elementary schools, except those that bus their full population and some small rural schools, and about half the county’s middle schools. Its presence at high schools is also increasing.

Wendy Kallins founded the Marin County SRTS program, and she’s helped it grow in the dozen years since it began. Here she shares her insights about what it takes to sustain a program.

Q. What do you think is the key to sustaining a SRTS program?

  • Active support from the city and school district, from both staff and elected officials.
  • Policies that support the continuation of the program through education during PE classes.
  • Encouragement events.
  • Evaluation.
  • Participation in a task force to create a travel plan, and once that is done, implementing that plan and continue the dialogue on ongoing issues as they come up.

Q. What are some of the strategies you’ve used in Marin County to build sustainable programs?

We have had two districts adopt comprehensive policies, with another one planning on adopting those same policies. We have created 35 travel plans, mostly for the elementary schools, and have ongoing task force meetings. Our school and city staff and elected officials have come to rely on us to provide the services needed to sustain the program. In 2004, the voters of Marin passed a sales tax that includes funding for the SRTS program, for crossing guards and for infrastructure.

We do student tally surveys every fall and spring. We do parent surveys every two to three years. We use this information to make modifications and improvements to the program. We continually introduce new materials to keep the program fresh.

Q. How do you recruit and retain a strong volunteer base?

Our existing volunteers assist in finding their replacements. We’ve also had a number of PTAs establish a standing SRTS position and/or committee. We have three lunches every year to bring our team leaders together to present new materials and programs and to let them share with one another. We provide ongoing support to our volunteers and help train and get new volunteers up and running. We also give a reward at the end of the year as a thank you to our volunteers.

Q. Other areas of the country may not initially have as much support for SRTS as Marin County. What do you recommend as good first steps to building a strong SRTS program with staying power?

Create partnerships. Find out what people need, and cater your program to those needs. If the school has traffic problems, focus there. If there are health issues, then that is the focus. Find your champions in the community – parents who might want to volunteer, elected officials who are sympathetic, police who have enforcement issues with school traffic. Be a resource for them. Form your task forces right away and make sure you engage people and determine their issues before you present your program. Let their needs lead the process.

Q. What other advice do you have for SRTS program coordinators?

Start small, then build on your successes.