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May 30, 2024

Two-time alum Cusmano named Michigan Teacher of the Year

On May 7, two-time Michigan State University alum Kelley Cusmano walked into the packed auditorium at Rochester High School to what she thought was a surprise event for a fellow staff member. She felt a nudge and was directed towards the center, where a life-changing announcement was made.

State Superintendent Michael Rice announced Cusmano as the 2024-25 Michigan Teacher of the Year.  “I was so startled that I was just confused and out of my element,” said Cusmano when reflecting on the moment. “I’m so humbled and grateful that I have a hard time talking about it.”

Kelly Cusmano

She is the third Spartan in a row to receive the award and the ninth in the last 30 years. Over 700 educators from around the state were nominated for this year’s award according to the Michigan Department of Education.

A S(part)an of community

The idea to nominate Cusmano was led by members of the school’s Student Council, according to RHS Principal Josh Wrinkle.

“I think it means a little bit extra when students [took] it upon themselves to put together a nomination for Kelly,” he said. “It’s reflective of our staff in general. We have an amazing group of educators on all levels and areas.”

Several community members, parents and RHS staff wrote letters of support as well.

Cusmano began her service at RHS 16 years ago and currently teaches tenth-grade honors English. Throughout her time, she has taught over one dozen English-related courses.

She believes one of her most important duties as an educator is to help her students visualize how they can impact the world by applying the skills they learn in the classroom.

Her favorite part of the role is the relationships she’s built with students, namely through serving as the staff advisor for the RHS Student Council.

“Student government teaches my students leadership skills for life. It helps them understand how to be the kind of person that is going to impact humanity,” said Cusmano.

The Student Council is responsible for organizing all school-related events and activities and holds partnerships with many non-profit organizations in the area.

An award-winning approach

Cusmano describes her style as fair but firm with students, noting that high school students especially respond well to her honesty. “My philosophy is that [when] you’re honest with students, they give a lot of weight to what you’re saying,” she said. “I think I’m known for having a big heart, but there’s some tough love mixed in, which has allowed me to grow deeper connections.”

A Parma, Michigan native and daughter of a teacher, Cusmano has plenty to be proud of as she’s helped shape the minds of countless students throughout the years. RHS junior and Student Council President Megan Myrick is grateful for the mentorship she’s received since freshman year.

“Mrs. Cusmano is a teacher you can always go to,” said Myrick. “She can be hard on us, but it’s because she expects great things. She does it out of love and always wants the best for us.”

Cusmano’s time in East Lansing was formative to her career as an educator. Specifically, she reflected on the course “Human Diversity, Power and Opportunity in Social Institutions” (TE 250) as an eye-opening experience that she references in her classroom to this day. “The course really drilled home the impact education has on society and the importance of providing equal access to diverse populations,” she said.

“I cannot stress enough how impactful going through the education program was for my career. When I sit in on interviews, I can tell when someone went through MSU’s programs. You can tell that they had an excellent preparatory experience.”

– Michigan Teacher of the Year Kelley Cusmano

Former Michigan Teachers of the Year have already reached out to Cusmano, offering their congratulations and giving her an idea of what to expect in terms of recognition over the next year. She is in the running for the National Teacher of the Year Award and will spend the next year conducting outreach on behalf of teachers across the state among other duties.

Cusmano hopes above all else, to stay rooted in her school. “I don’t want to be far away from my kids in the class.  Staying grounded amongst them is important for me.”

This story originally appeared on the College of Education website. 

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