TRAVERSE CITY — Educators from around northern Michigan rubbed elbows high above West Bay during the 44th annual Outstanding Persons In Education awards.

Thirteen people, ranging from teachers and bus drivers to food service personnel, faculty administrators and others, were honored for their efforts this past school year during the celebration at Visions at CenterPointe on Thursday night. Allyson McBride-Culver, president of the Traverse City Education Association, emceed the event and said recognizing educators is an important function of promoting healthy school systems.

"These are the people who are growing the future," McBride-Culver said. "We know a huge part of being in public education and working with our kids is advocacy. These are individuals who are not only recognized for their excellence in the classroom, but for their advocacy outside of the classroom."

OPIE winners included teachers Susan Flores, of Elk Rapids; Tim Reznich, of Frankfort-Elberta; Heather Reust, of Kalkaska; Jennifer Stairs and Scott Schuh, of the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District; Amanda White, of Traverse City East Middle School; and Sean Palmer, of Traverse City West Middle School; transportation personnel Barry Mazurek, of Glen Lake, and Freddie Cook, of Traverse City Area Public Schools; secretary Mary Priest, of Leland; faculty member Jerry Dobek, of Northwestern Michigan College; paraprofessional Dawn Gordon, of the TBAISD; and administrative assistant Amy McDonald, of TCAPS.

"I'm very flattered and appreciative of my co-workers," Reznich said. "We have a lot of great teachers over at Frankfort, and for them to single me out feels pretty special. I'm really grateful for the staff I work with and our administration. I'm a pretty lucky guy to be where I'm at."

Pam Forton, TCAPS Board of Education trustee and retired TCAPS teacher, knows firsthand how important every person within a school district is to making sure the organization runs smoothly from the top down.

"These are the people on the frontlines. These are the people that work with our kids day in and day out," Forton said. "They don't get the respect they deserve, so something like this to celebrate what they do is the least we could do — because they don't get enough respect."