Rochester educator named Michigan Teacher of the Year

A man in a gray suit and glasses talks to a woman with a blue top and white pants and a woman with a black top.
Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice talks with Kelley Cusmano, center, and English Language Arts teacher Michaela Youngs after Cusmano was announced as Michigan Teacher of the Year. (Courtesy Bob Wheaton / Michigan Department of Education)

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Kelley Cusmano, an English language arts teacher at Rochester High School, has been named Michigan Teacher of the Year for the 2024-25 school year.

Cusmano was surprised with the announcement during a visit to her Oakland County school by state Superintendent Michael Rice and other officials. According to a news release from the Michigan Department of Education, blue confetti was released into the air. About 1,600 students, coworkers, and family cheered, the release said.

Cusmano was selected from among 700 teachers who were nominated. Ten finalists were named last month. Tuesday’s announcement marked the end of a months-long process that seeks to identify outstanding teachers who can provide a voice for educators in the state. She succeeds Candice Jackson, a math teacher in the Detroit Public Schools Community District who was named last year.

“I’m not the best teacher in Michigan. But I have a really loud voice,” Cusmano told the audience, according to the release. “I love this job. I love what I do and who I do it with.”

Cusmano will now be in the running for National Teacher of the Year.

“Kelley is passionate, nurturing, and relentless in her efforts to support our students,” Rochester High Principal Joshua Wrinkle said in a letter nominating Cusmano. “Some of the most inspiring work that I’ve witnessed in education includes Kelley’s ability to encourage and support students who may be struggling, have disabilities, or are not excited about the course work. She is always looking for ways to motivate her students to achieve more than they ever thought they could.”

As Michigan Teacher of the Year, Cusmano will have a non-voting seat at the table at State Board of Education meetings. She will be expected to present a report to the board on issues that are important to teachers. She is also expected to do outreach on behalf of teachers throughout the state.

Here are the other Michigan regional finalists for the Teacher of the Year recognition:

  • Michael Powers, a social studies teacher at Manistique Middle/High School in Manistique Area Schools
  • Molly Dunham, a third grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary School in Kingsley Area School
  • Kristen Ritter, a mathematics teacher at Greenville High School in Greenville Public Schools
  • Laura Baker, an English teacher at Shepherd High School in Shepherd Public Schools
  • Sasha Wakefield, a mathematics teacher at Clio High School in Clio Area Schools
  • Cassandra Eberhardt, a social studies teacher at Williamston Middle School in Williamston Community Schools
  • Melissa Frost, a science teacher at Buchanan High School in Buchanan Community Schools
  • Kristina Dennis, a third grade teacher at Onsted Elementary School in Onsted Community Schools
  • Calvin Nellum, a science teacher at Detroit Academy of Arts & Sciences

Lori Higgins is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at lhiggins@chalkbeat.org.

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