Troy teachers make the grade as best of the best

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 16, 2016

 Kemp, a science teacher, accepts the award with her students.

Kemp, a science teacher, accepts the award with her students.

Photo by Donna Dalziel


TROY — Laura Kemp, a seventh-grade science teacher at Baker Middle School, brushed up on her Chinese phrases Feb. 11 because her principal told her that teachers from China would be visiting her classroom that day. 

Instead, Troy School District officials, members of the media and parents came into her classroom to surprise her with the Troy School District Teacher of the Year Award. 

Parents, students and colleagues nominated a total of 42 Troy School District teachers for the awards. 

In her nomination, Kemp was praised for “her initiative to go above and beyond to find great new experiences to help her students grow into confident contributors ready to take on the world.”

As (overall) Teacher of the Year for the district she will receive a free vehicle lease for one year from the Suburban Collection. David Fischer Jr., of the Suburban Collection, was on hand to award the lease. 

Kemp said she first discovered she wanted to work with children when she was manager for a bakery that employed teens. She later taught tennis and realized she liked working with kids.

She earned her teaching degree and decided to focus on science. 

“My favorite part of the job is when the students understand the concept they’re trying to master,” she said. “When the kid that was struggling gets it, that’s the best part.” 

Kemp said she collaborates with teacher Terri McCormick at Smith Middle School on the science curriculum. Kemp and Baker staff members Kitty Schmidt, Courtney Oudsema, Suzy Powell and Kelly Chlebek are also involved with the Baker Buddy program, where eighth-graders mentor sixth-graders, meeting twice a month for team building activities and challenges. “Our motto is ‘finding ourselves together,’” Kemp said.

Schroeder Elementary fifth-grade teacher Jason Cichowicz was named Elementary Teacher of the Year. He received three separate nominations from six groups of parents, who praised his ability to reach the true potential of every child in his classroom in the nominations. 

One parent who nominated him called Cichowicz an “everyday hero who works constantly on behalf of his students,” and said, “I’ve never met a teacher that is more organized, proactive and tireless.”

“I was quite surprised,” Cichowicz said. “Seeing the entire group of parents that nominated me really got to me.” 

Cichowicz grew up attending schools in the Troy School District, and while he was a student at Oakland University, he volunteered his time at Martell Elementary and discovered that working with children was what he wanted to do. 

“My favorite part of the job are the ‘aha moments,’ when something is clicking and making sense, watching them learn and learning with them,” he said. 

“I wouldn’t be where I am without the love and support of the fifth-grade team and the Schroeder family,” he added. 

Adam Burns, who teaches television production and 11th-grade Advanced Placement English at Athens High School, was selected as High School Teacher of the Year. He was nominated by a former student, who credits him with encouraging and nurturing her throughout her high school years and for her decision to major in broadcasting in college. In his nomination, he was described as a “role model to everyone he comes in contact with.” 

Burns described the experience of being surprised in his classroom as “surreal.” 

“I knew something special was happening when my family walked in,” Burns said via email. “It was great to have them there as well as my mentor, Tony Lucchi, best friends and coworkers Kristy Pierce and Ron Keoleian, and of course all of the students.

 “Teaching was always what I saw myself doing. I tried to get as much experience in education as I could — working at museums, coaching, tutoring — and every experience showed me I was headed in the right direction,” Burns said. “Most importantly, I had excellent teachers who really took the time to get to know me. It meant a lot, and I wanted to have that same impact on students.

 “The best part of the job is the students, working with them and for them. My classes give students a lot of freedom, and it’s a joy to see what they can create. They’re capable of incredible things if we give them room, as we just saw during our Charity Week, when they raised over $84,000 for charity. 

“I work in a great building and district and have always felt empowered and motivated to go further. I love writing grants, creating classes, new projects, clubs, events, anything that will make us better.”

He added that having “supportive leaders”  like Athens Principal Lara Dixon and Superintendent Richard Machesky “makes it possible.”

“These three exemplary teachers are phenomenal representatives of the Troy School District,” Machesky said in a prepared statement. “It’s clear that they have a tremendous impact on our students, their colleagues and their community each and every day.”

The three winning teachers will be sent to Oakland County for inclusion in the countywide Teacher of the Year competition.