Teacher of the Year meets president, heads to space camp

Oakland Schools’ Technical Campus educator first of his kind to earn state honor

By: Chris Jackett | Royal Oak Review | Published July 23, 2012

 Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast teacher Paul Galbenski, left, was the 2011-12 Michigan Teacher of the Year and got the chance to meet President Barack Obama in April during a visit to Washington, D.C.

Oakland Schools Technical Campus Southeast teacher Paul Galbenski, left, was the 2011-12 Michigan Teacher of the Year and got the chance to meet President Barack Obama in April during a visit to Washington, D.C.

Photo courtesy of Paul Galbenski


ROYAL OAK — With great recognition comes great opportunity.

Resident Paul Galbenski, 45, has learned that first hand in the past year. Galbenski — a business, management, marketing and technology instructor at the Oakland Schools’ Technical Campus Southeast in Royal Oak — was recognized as the Michigan Teacher of the Year for the 2011-12 school year in May 2011 and has since had the opportunity to travel the country meeting the country’s top educators, plus a few household names such as Barack Obama and Bill Gates.

“When I first heard about the award, I didn’t even know it existed,” said Galbenski, who was nominated by a co-worker. “I had no scope of what comes with being Teacher of the Year. This goes back to the 1950s. There’s never been a career and technical educator named Michigan Teacher of the Year.”

Galbenski thinks of himself as fortunate to be able to educate those he meets on the benefits of his portion of the educational tree in comparison to standard public or private schools. There are four Oakland Schools technical campuses — located in Royal Oak, Pontiac, Clarkston and Walled Lake — that serve high school juniors and seniors.

Tamela Brown, dean at Oakland Schools’ Technical Campus Southeast, said more than 900 high school juniors and seniors are enrolled for this fall from the 12 Oakland County communities their campus serves.

“He has met so many people, including the president,” Brown said of Galbenski. “L. Brooks Patterson and the entire state Board of Education has been here and toured our campus. The exposure has put us on the map. We’re no longer ‘your father’s’ voc ed center.’”

College preparatory and vocational education have long been a debated issue in the educational community, but Brown said teachers like Galbenski help unify the concepts.

“He has a great relationship with students. He has their best interests at heart and really exemplifies what a great teacher should be,” Brown said. “He’s an excellent staff member and very, very humble. He always gives credit to the other two teachers in his cluster, Mike Waters and Mike Mayville.”

Although Galbenski may be a solid educator who gets the message across to his students and those in the educational community, his extra effort is what earned him the statewide award. He is involved with the Global Trade Mission at his school, as well as the Knights Basketball Coaching Academy and America’s Marketing High School, and serves as an assistant basketball coach at Detroit Country Day School, after having been head coach at both Royal Oak Kimball and Bloomfield Hills Lahser in the past. The AMHS studies Super Bowl commercials and the KBCA raises funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association to send kids to the basketball camp.

“At my campus, I’m very involved with various committees,” Galbenski said. “I think I embody some of the things that are indicative of an exemplary system.”

His efforts are what took him to Washington, D.C., in April to meet President Obama at the White House during National Teacher of the Year Recognition Week.

“We met the president individually in the Blue Room, which is beautiful. I thanked him for having us at the White House,” Galbenski said, noting each teacher only had 30-60 seconds to speak with the president before a photo opportunity and 25-minute ceremony in the East Wing. He also dropped in a mention for career and technical educators. “He said that’s great and we need more educators like you. He said we need to do more with the career segment model.”

Jill Biden, a community college teacher and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, hosted a luncheon for the educators, who also had a chance to tour the nation’s capital with their families.

Galbenski spent July 9-12 in Atlanta for the 2012 National Forum on Education Policy, where educators were able to speak with Microsoft co-founder Gates and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Galbenski was one of eight to 10 teachers chosen from the 54 award winners to be included in a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation video.

“It makes you a richer instructor when you have all this experience from outside of the four walls of your classroom,” Galbenski said. “I share with them all the way what’s happening as I go. I do a blog.”

Next up on this educator’s journey is a July 20-27 trip to International Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

“We’ve been in suits and galas meeting with dignitaries,” Galbenski said. “I think the space camp is going to be a lot of fun. We’re looking for a fun and educational week.”

Galbenski will wrap up his Michigan Teacher of the Year duties this fall in New York and New Jersey, but will keep up the effort back in Michigan as the newest member of the Network of Michigan Educators, which is made up only of past Michigan Teachers of the Year, Milton Foundation for Education award winners, President Award winners in science and math, and nationally board-certified teachers.

“It’s been an honor and humbling experience to represent all the teachers in Michigan,” Galbenski said. “It’s important to celebrate what’s happening with teachers and students in the community.”

He added that the efforts of his peers at Oakland Schools’ Technical Campus Southeast help accomplish several educational goals.

“We’re doing what needs to be done to get students a job and into the college classroom,” Galbenski said. “It’s the best kept secret in Oakland County.”

Read more on Galbenski at www.paulgalbenski.com. For more information on the technical campuses, visit www.ostconline.com.

For more information on the Michigan Teacher of the Year program, visit www.michigan.gov/mtoy or email Barb Fardell at FardellB@michigan.gov.