The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) this week paid tribute to industry leaders for their contributions during the awards and installation dinner in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
The banquet, sponsored by Thomas Built Buses, offered recognition for service and safety, driver performance, environmental action, and innovation. But it also saw a new inductee into the NSTA Hall of Fame, the association’s Contractor of the Year, and the President’s Award – a new tradition started this year by NSTA President Carina Noble.
NSTA Hall of Fame
The latest inductee to the association’s Hall of Fame is Terry Thomas of Community Bus Service in Ohio.
“Terry Thomas is overdue for this award!” wrote Barry Stock of Landmark Student Transportation. Community Bus Service operates more than 150 buses. Thomas was past president of NSTA from 1999-2001. “Terry is probably NSTA’s most passionate advocate for privatized student transportation! His advocacy efforts in both Ohio and D.C. have resulted in huge gains for privatized student transportation nationwide.”
Contractor of the Year
Michigan-based Dean Transportation, which has been twice selected as School Bus Fleet’s Contractor of the Year, found itself back in the spotlight with similar recognition from NSTA. The company, led by Kellie Dean with his sons Patrick and Christopher, is celebrating its 60th year in business. Kellie and Patrick serve as chair and vice-chair, respectively, of NSTA’s business development committee.
The first recipient of this award, created to recognize someone for their support and leadership in helping the NSTA president further the association’s mission, is Becky Weber of Prime Policy Group. Weber, an NSTA lobbyist for the past 20 years, was instrumental in helping to secure $2 billion in Coronavirus Emergency Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) funding during the pandemic to help keep contractor fleets afloat when schools went remote.
Weber told the audience: “I am deeply touched, and I want to make sure you know it’s really you all and your commitment and dedication that has inspired me to come along and be your fighter in D.C.”
Outstanding Driver Service Award
Sarah Michalak of First Student received this award for her service to students in New York, where she demonstrates a compassionate demeanor while developing a rapport with her passengers. In March, her bus filled with smoke. She pulled over to a safe location and helped evacuate all the children off the bus.
“Sarah is truly committed to caring for the students she transports, treating them with respect and compassion, making her very deserving of this special recognition,” said Ken Schnur, location manager for First Student. “Her selfless nature and unwavering dedication to her students make her an ideal nominee for this honor.”
Distinguished Service Award
Paul Osland, president and CEO of First Student, was recognized with this award for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged contractors in attendance to pull together to prepare for fleet electrification and to continue boosting the percentage of school districts that contract with private fleets.
Go Yellow Go Green Award
Durham School Services locations in Norwalk, Conn., and Fairbanks, Alaska, got this award for reducing its carbon footprint and greenhouse gases while advocating for the transition to an all-zero-emission fleet by 2035.
In Norwalk, the company operates a 100% propane autogas-powered fleet and has completed driver and mechanic training so that employees can improve air quality and reduce vehicle-operating noise levels.
The Fairbanks operation uses 100% gasoline buses with fuel-fired heaters, which minimizes the need to idle during subzero operating conditions and reduces harmful emissions.
Alex Cook, chief engineer for First Student, earned this award for his contributions to the development of electric infrastructure design.
“Alex Cook’s concurrent accomplishments in school transportation safety and environmental sustainability demonstrate why he is a deserving recipient of The Innovator Award,” said Todd Hawkins, senior vice president of maintenance for First Student. “His lifelong dedication to innovation within our industry is second only to his passion for sharing his knowledge to create a safer world for all.”
Golden Merit Awards
These awards, established in 1969 to recognize school bus operations for achievements in safety, driver training, business practices, vehicle maintenance, and superior service, went to 10 recipients this year. They included:
- Scott Allen (North America Central School Bus)
- David Armitt (National Express)
- Scott Greenstreet (First Student)
- Laurie Henner (First Student)
- Dawn McGrath (The TransGroup)
- Lisa Serra (First Student)
- Trudy Skinner (Landmark)
- Wes Tangen (Harlow’s School Bus Service)
- Jim Prang (Dean Transportation)
- David Willis (First Student)
New Board Members Installed
During the dinner, several members were installed for the 2022-25 term on NSTA's board of directors, including Region 3 Director Bob Hach of Sunrise Holdings and At-Large directors Donnie Fowler (Fowler Bus), Shane Johnson (Palmer Bus), Claire Miller (First Student), Corey Muirhead (Logan Bus), and Chloe Williams (B.R. Williams).