Business owner driven to succeed

When the South Kitsap School District dropped its driving training program last year, Russ Graham saw an opening and took it.

Graham, who taught at South Kitsap for 26 years, 11 of those in a driver’s education car, is going to take up some of the slack by opening Guardian School of Driving & Traffic Safety, located behind Godfather’s Pizza in the South Kitsap Mall.

“It was cost-prohibitive,” Graham said of the school district’s decision to drop traffic safety from its curriculum. “They can’t keep up with raising costs, and now they’re having to charge as much — if not more — than the driving schools.”

But kids still have to pass some kind of a driving school or wait until their 18th birthday, and with two schools downtown, Graham decided to open his own school.

“I thought with the schools closing down, there would be more demand,” Graham said. “And I’ve talked to people who have sent their kids to Gig Harbor or Bremerton because they can’t get in here.”

Guardian began its first round of classes in late-April and Graham is hoping to get more classes going the first of May.

“One of the problems we had at the high school was the one-on-one time,” Graham said. “We had 35 to 38 kids in one classroom. My max is going to be 18, and I might even have some classes of 12.”

The course will last eight weeks with two days of classroom time to cover the state required 30 hours of instruction. Graham will take out a group of three for driving time twice every three weeks.

Each group will get at least seven sessions of in-car instruction plus a one-hour final driving exam.

“(Each student will receive) a half hour of driving and a hour of observation,” Graham said. “And I think the observation can be just as valuable because they get to see other people in different situations. They may not have a pedestrian jump out in front of them but one of the other drivers does and then we can talk about it.”

Graham has one car for instruction but is hoping to purchase at least one more, depending on the demand. He is also the lone instructor but may hire some help if the classes warrant it.

Graham is hoping to teach not only the correct way to drive but to help adjust some of the attitudes that lead to more than just bad driving.

“Not only the driving but attitudes that lead to road rage and all that stuff that is much more prevalent now,” Graham said. “If someone cuts you off you’re almost afraid to honk your horn because you never know if they will come after you.

“When we taught (at the school), we thought we did a pretty good job and this was a selling point over the driving schools, driving schools just want to get kids in and out, it’s kind of a production line,” Graham said. “I’m really trying to avoid that perception. I want to spend the time with the kids and make sure they really know what they are doing. So it’s not just learning how to drive but dealing with attitudes and their rights and responsibilities as citizens of the state of Washington and take that seriously.”

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