Roseville Community Schools Elementary School Teacher of the Year Merrill Pantaleo poses for a photo with some of her students at Patton Elementary.

Roseville Community Schools Elementary School Teacher of the Year Merrill Pantaleo poses for a photo with some of her students at Patton Elementary.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Roseville Community Schools announces Teachers of the Year

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published March 26, 2019

 The Roseville Community Schools Middle School Teacher  of the Year is Al Schweihofer, of Roseville Middle School.

The Roseville Community Schools Middle School Teacher of the Year is Al Schweihofer, of Roseville Middle School.

Photo provided by Joe Genest

 Sara Starke, of Roseville High School, smiles for a photo. Starke  is the Roseville Community Schools High School Teacher of the Year.

Sara Starke, of Roseville High School, smiles for a photo. Starke is the Roseville Community Schools High School Teacher of the Year.

Photo provided by Joe Genest

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ROSEVILLE — Roseville Community Schools honored its best and brightest after announcing the 2019 Teachers of the Year.

One teacher was chosen from the elementary, middle and high school levels. A teacher can be nominated by staff members, students, parents or principals. Nominations are collected and then reviewed by a committee consisting of district administrators and principals from all three levels. The committee then makes its recommendations to Superintendent John Kment.

Elementary school 

Merrill Pantaleo was chosen for the honor at the elementary level. She began teaching in 1994 as a substitute before coming to Roseville’s Patton Elementary School in 1997. She has remained at the school since, teaching the first, second, third and fourth grades at various times. She now teaches first grade.

Pantaleo said the key to teaching is forging a relationship with each student.

“Each group of children is unique,” said Pantaleo. “I focus on their needs and tailor my lessons so they can be successful. My advice for other teachers would be to look for each student’s individual talents and find a way to make each one feel special and shine. … We celebrate all successes, encourage risk-taking, try to fill each day with positive words of encouragement and make learning fun. You have to capture their heart before you can capture their mind.”

Patton Principal Jeanne Williams hailed Pantaleo as a top-tier educator, and the two share a special connection: Pantaleo’s father was principal of the first school that Williams taught at.

“Merrill is an inspiration to her students and our staff,” Williams said. “She gets to know kids when they’re kindergartners and develops relationships with them before they even reach the first grade. She gets to know them, she inspires them, she gets them excited. She mentors new staff and she is one of the chairs of our School Improvement Committee and helps build up our programs to best deliver our curriculum.”

Pantaleo said she tries to ensure that her students have a safe space at school and that she shows them that they can rely on her. 

“When the kids are this age, you’re Mom away from home,” she said. “You’re the person they look to for encouragement, support and safety. The thing I like most about this job is that since I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve seen my students grow up. I’ve run into people in a restaurant or supermarket, and they will tell you — as an adult — how important you were to them.”

Williams added that Pantaleo always goes the extra mile.

“She’s a very positive person,” said Williams. “She’s a fair, no-nonsense teacher, and kids always know where they stand with her. She has made teaching not just a career, but a commitment to the success of her students — and not just their academic success. She wants to build up the whole student. She doesn’t do anything halfway.”

Middle school

Al Schweihofer, who teaches science at Roseville Middle School, was selected as Middle School Teacher of the Year. He has taught science — and a few history classes — in his 22 years in the district.

“It’s exciting to be selected. The recognition my peers and students give me is very rewarding,” he remarked. 

Roseville Middle School Principal Jason Bettin said Schweihofer is a dedicated educator and has long been a driving force for improvement at the school.

“A number of Al’s peers nominated him, and the committee chose him,” said Bettin. “I think he’s absolutely deserving of this award. He’s a long-serving staff member and a leader in the building. He is a department head, has led school improvement efforts and has shown a tremendous amount of adaptability in his career. He has constantly tried to bring the best instructional practices to his students.”

Schweihofer said his key to being a good teacher is flexibility and taking the time to work with students.

“Look for opportunities to care and be kind. I take that whole pass-it-forward mentality. I try to identify where kids are struggling and seeing if they’re having a tough time with an assignment,” said Schweihofer. “You need to be flexible and be able to go from helping one person one way to helping another person in a different way. You want to work with them in a way that benefits them.”

High school

Sara Starke was the selectee at the high school level. She has taught the cognitively impaired class at Roseville High School for 12 years. She said teaching students with special needs requires having to take a different approach to teaching than most educators.

“I am very honored that my peers and administrators noticed what we’re doing every day. It’s very exciting,” she said. “Their learning disabilities require a smaller group setting and need the support of having someone certified in that area to help with social skills and life skills. As much as other classrooms focus on academic lessons, we fold those lessons into daily living skills.”

“All great teachers love their kids, and you can see how much it means to the kids. Sara is a great example of why that is so powerful,” Roseville High School Principal Pat Adams said. “She listens to them. She takes the time and does it with patience and understanding. There’s a lot of frustration that emerges in her classroom on a daily basis, and she has that ability to get through to kids who really need that kind of patience and perseverance.”

Starke’s class encompasses lessons both in and out of the classroom. District administrators said her extra effort was among the reasons that she was selected as Teacher of the Year.

“She teaches about 20 kids and teaches them all day,” explained Adams. “She teaches them everything, from going out in public and using a credit card or applying for a job. It’s a remarkable program and she has remarkable success with her kids.”

Starke said that although teaching the CI class requires extra effort, the rewards of helping her students are all the more powerful.

“It’s very rewarding, and sometimes the smallest ‘ah-ha moments’ — the small achievements day to day — are the most exciting. We have the same 30 kids for four years, more or less, and when you get to know the kids and become a family is really cool.”

Starke advised educators to form a bond with their students, and for those who might go into education to look at different types of classes and teaching.

“Take the time to get to know the students,” she said. “Understand their learning differences and how they learn best. You need to be able to take your subject matter and fit it all into your day. … I would advise (anyone considering going into education) to explore all different areas of teaching. I loved going into special education. That was a great fit for me.”

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.

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