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2017-2018 MTLAC Cohort
The MTLAC is a group of teacher leaders from each of the ten prosperity regions across the state who have been selected to assist the Michigan Department of Education with the implementation of the Top 10 Strategic Education Plan and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan.
During their year of service, members will provide feedback to the MDE through monthly virtual meetings, while working to develop the Michigan Teacher Leader Network, promoting the #proudMIeducator campaign, and sharing information about new and proposed educational policies with their fellow teachers.
2017-2018 MTLAC Members
Grand Blanc Community Schools
Aimee Torok is starting her 14th year with the Grand Blanc Community Schools, and sixteenth year in education overall. She has taught Kindergarten, first, second & fourth grades, with some of those classes being multi-age. Other roles include a K-5 Literacy Coach, Reading Recovery Teacher, and her current role of K-3 Early Literacy Specialist. Being a teacher allows Torok to share her love of learning with others. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to be a voice for Michigan's educators and students. When she is not teaching, she and her husband love traveling and supporting the Michigan State Spartans!
Holland Public Schools
Amber Kasic is entering her fifteenth year of teaching and sixth year at Holland High School as a Spanish teacher. She has taught K-12 students throughout her career and simply loves to watch young people discovering who they are and inspiring them to think about the ways they may contribute to our world, now and in the future.
Kasic applied to be a member of the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council because she believes in our kids and our teachers, and is excited to play a role in transforming education. Outside of teaching, Kasic travels often. Most recently, she went with a group of students to a remote area of Peru and lived and worked alongside the people of the community of Huilloc after conversing with them throughout the year via Skype as part of a study of agriculture and food security. Kasic finds that travel always enriches her classroom, as our students are quite curious about the world around them and exploring that together makes learning so meaningful!
Dr. Andrew J. Neumann has taught Building Trades to high school seniors at the BAISD Career Center for 20 years and has taught at Delta Community College for over 15 years.
Neumann applied to the Council as a way to have a voice for Career and Technical Education, having been a student in the high school vocational class and the college classes he now teaches. He completed a carpentry apprenticeship and was in the construction industry for more than 8 years before beginning his teaching career at BAISD. He has seen firsthand how valuable these programs are, providing a lifelong high paying skill which is in high demand. This passion for teaching while building a new home annually has inspired many of his students to continue in construction and has created a hiring frenzy for those students by both union and non-union construction companies across the state.
Neumann truly enjoys convincing students and parents that through hard work and perseverance, pursuing a skilled trades career and a college degree is still attainable, having not had a professor or fellow student beyond his Master’s degree that had attended or taught CTE.
Holly Area Schools
Becky Godin has been teaching with Holly Area Schools since 2010. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with certifications in Early Childhood Education and Autism Spectrum Disorders. She also holds Master’s degrees in both Early Childhood Education and Special Education.
Godin is the teacher and service coordinator for Early Intervention and Child Find. She works with families who have children between the ages of birth and three years and have been identified as having delays in one or more areas of development.
Godin finds early childhood education to be the most rewarding area of teaching. Children are born learning and these critical first years impact the success they experience later in school. A big focus of her educational philosophy is the importance of helping her tiny students grow into strong individuals as social, empathetic and capable learners. Godin also loves working with families on how they can best support and promote their child’s development.
She chose to apply to the MTLAC with hopes that she could be a voice for our youngest learners, caregivers and early childhood professionals. Unfortunately, high quality early childhood programs continue to remain out of reach for many families. Outside of school, Godin enjoy spending time with her family on a small farm, where they raise mini horses to visit children with special needs.
Beth Gonzales works with teachers, students and families to create innovative learning experiences that help support and maximize efforts to grow learning communities. Her goal is to design and implement creative curriculum and programs that meet the needs of both students and their families, providing learners of all ages with opportunities to build a firm academic foundation while advancing critical thinking skills.
Over the past 10 years, Gonzales has worked as a lower elementary educator (K-2) in high-needs districts serving academically struggling students and their families. She currently works as a high school ELL teacher for Wayne RESA, as well as freelance in the educational blogging and creative design worlds. Whether designing curriculum, crafting an educational family activity or updating a website, Gonzales loves creating workable solutions for all types of learners.
Gonzales believes that school climates are changing as our students face numerous challenges such as poverty, transience, ELL factors, and, by serving as a member of MTLAC, she has an opportunity to actively participate in the process of how to prepare communities to best support these differing student populations. She is ready to help facilitate some positive change in Michigan’s educational system!
Other fun facts: Gonzales teaches aerial silks (think Cirque du Soleil) at Planet Rock. She is also just getting back into climbing, so if anyone needs a belay buddy…
Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium, and Keweenaw
Chris Woods has been a high school math teacher at Calumet High School since 1999. He applied to be part of the MTLAC because he wants to be a connection between the classroom and the policymakers, and to be a voice for the kids in classrooms.
Woods loves finding creative ways to inspire his students, especially by adding STEM to his everyday classroom. He believes that inspiration is more important than instruction, and that teaching kids is not just a job, it’s the most important job. In addition to his work in the classroom, Woods also is the host of a weekly podcast called “The STEM Everyday podcast” which includes ideas and interviews about adding STEM to any classroom.
Detroit Public Schools Community District
Ciera Searcy has served as an Elementary School Teacher at Gardner Elementary School for three years. Gardner is an extremely diverse school within the Detroit Public Schools Community District. She has been in the field of Education for eight years and has taught Kindergarten, 3rd and 4th Grade all subjects. Her favorite subjects are Math and Social Studies because she enjoys teaching history and its’ impact on the future.
Ciera applied for the MTLAC because she is interested in educational policy, specifically equity, and how it affects the students that she teaches. She also desires to be a bridge between the state’s expectations and expressing her peers and students’ concerns. She loves being a teacher because it gives her the opportunity to impact so many lives and in some cases, change the course of a student's life and educational career for the better. In her spare time, Ciera LOVES to spend time with her wonderful dog Roxy, write creatively, and she also loves to travel. Her dream destinations are India and Italy.
Escanaba Area Public Schools
Gina M. Pepin, Ed.D. is a K-3 Reading Specialist/Intervention Coordinator for Escanaba Area Public Schools in the Upper Peninsula. She has over 20 years of experience at the K-12 level – and 4 years in higher education. She has taught in a variety of public and private settings. Pepin earned her MS in Elementary Reading and Literacy in 2007 and Doctorate in Teacher Leadership in 2013 from Walden University.
She is an online adjunct instructor for graduate courses at Grand Canyon University and a contingent adjunct instructor for Northern Michigan University. She serves as a literacy Content Expert on three doctoral committees and is an active member of several organizations, including the Michigan Department of Education’s Early Literacy Assessment Task Team. She has recent publications on Teacher Leadership and Adjunct-Online Instruction.
Pepin chose education as her field of expertise so that she has the opportunity to encourage other learners to become exemplar educators and leaders. She is honored to be a part of this advisory council and is advocating for distributed leadership and positive change. She is confident that the collaborative efforts of this team will empower other teacher leaders throughout the state.
Early College Alliance @ Eastern Michigan University
Gina Wilson is a Lead Teacher, Mathematics Department Chair, and CORE Advisor at the Early College Alliance @ Eastern Michigan University (ECA); ECA is one of three programs in the public, countywide Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium. Wilson has taught high school mathematics at the ECA for 9 years. Prior to that she taught 6th grade math for three years.
Before her teaching career, Wilson earned a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. Wilson is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) in Adolescent and Young Adult Mathematics and the President of the Michigan NBCT Network. She is also a Teacher Champion through the Collaborative for Student Success, a finalist for the 2017 - 2018 Michigan Teacher of the Year award, and a student in the Educational Leadership doctoral program at Eastern Michigan University.
Wilson applied for the TLAC because of her passion for ensuring that all students have access to accomplished teachers and all teachers have access to relevant and meaningful professional learning opportunities. She loves being a teacher because she is able to show students how their current knowledge relates to what they are learning and the goals they set for themselves.
Grand Rapids Public Schools
Heather Gauck is a Special Education Resource teacher for grades Kindergarten through 3rd in Grand Rapids Public Schools. She has been in education for 23 years.
After becoming an America Achieves Fellow in 2014, she started becoming more involved with educational advocacy. Gauck watched a webinar of a teacher testifying and realized that if positive change is to happen, teachers need to have a place at the table and she wanted to be there. Gauck is thrilled to have this opportunity to work with such an incredible group of teacher leaders, the MDE and Policy Makers.
Gauck’s passion is to give a voice to her students who daily are met with frustration and struggles. If she can give them hope and success no matter how small, she believes she has done her job well. She founded innovationclassroom.com after receiving a $40,000 grant from the ChanZuckerberg Initiative to support teachers worldwide to integrate technology in the classroom.
Traverse City Area Public Schools
Jane Porath is an 8th grade mathematics teacher at Traverse City East Middle School (EMS), with 21 years of experience teaching secondary mathematics, 18 of which are at EMS. She applied to become a member of the MTLAC in order to play an active role in the implementation of ESSA in Michigan.
Porath views it as an opportunity to impact policies and programs that have a significant effect on the success of our students and teachers as work continues to grow Michigan's leadership in education. Her experience includes serving on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics. These volunteer leadership roles and upcoming work with MTLAC have allowed Porath to impact the teaching profession. As a teacher, she will bring experiences and understanding that will shed light on how efforts with MTLAC may impact the classroom.
Van Buren Public Schools
Jasmine Bates currently works at McBride Middle School in the Van Buren Public School District. She has been teaching at McBride Middle School for three years and has been in education for four years. Jasmine started her education career as a first grade teacher. She then moved into a position where she provided mathematical intervention to 7th and 8th graders to assist in areas students struggled with most in the classroom and on standardized testing. In the fall of 2016, Jasmine transitioned into a 7th grade math teacher.
She sees the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council as a great opportunity to express how different policies in education have had an effect on teachers and students. Jasmine loves being a teacher because she is passionate about helping each of her students reach their full potential, even when they feel like they are not capable of getting there. Being a teacher allows Jasmine the opportunity to be creative and teach students in ways that are relatable to their own lives. Jasmine has also discovered that to be a successful teacher, you need to be yourself around your students without being judgmental. A fun fact about Jasmine is that she created a rap to Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” song to teach two step equations to her 7th grade math students.
Dewitt Public Schools
Jeff Croley has taught at Dewitt High School for 24 years. In that time, he has taught Creative Leadership, Acting I and II, Stage Movement, Technical Theater, Improvisation, Video Production, Film as Literature, Creative Writing, Communications and Debate, Communications/Yearbook, and Public Speaking courses.
He applied for the council to help Michigan grow the talent pipeline, remain educationally and economically competitive, and provide unique opportunities for students and teachers to work together to remain actively engaged and passionate about learning and discovery. In order to do this, Croley believes it is vital to transform our current education system and rethink the role of educator as well as the function of our educational institutions. He also believes Michigan needs to do a better job of supporting and promoting a culture of innovation in K-12 education and he wants to help. It is time to provide students and teachers with the time, training, and resources necessary to adequately prepare them to move forward in the 21st Century.
He enjoys teaching because he enjoys developing talent and creating opportunities where students can unleash their creativity while remaining inclusive, empathetic, and fearless in their pursuit of making a positive difference. Croley plans to amplify the "student voice" while introducing them to creative industries and initiatives along the way. He wants to provide students with the "soft skills” that standardized tests don’t measure, but are demanded in the workforce. Croley is also passionate about keeping the artistry in the teaching profession.
He is actively involved with Creative and “Educational” Placemaking and the co-founder of the DeWitt Creativity Group and Michigan Creativity Group. Other interests of Croley’s include Filmmaking, Applied Improvisation, Theater, and Golf.
Saginaw Public Schools
John Barnes has been with Saginaw Public Schools for 15 years, including his time as a student teacher, and has taught students in grades from 7 to 12. Prior to being a teacher, he worked in the electronics industry for 12 years.
Barnes went into teaching because the person who most impacted his life growing up (aside from his parents) was his drama teacher, James Brooks. Barnes found the idea of teaching was at once thrilling and terrifying. Barnes didn't understand children, and never met a teacher like himself. Barnes thought the students deserved to know what they were facing in the real world, and said he draws from his experiences in the private sector every day in lots of ways.
Barnes said he has stuck with teaching for a few reasons. Some of it is his own children, while part of it is getting to tell the truth every day, and seeing former students reaching their goals is deeply satisfying to him. Most of it, he says, is the puzzle solving aspect. He sees every class is a novel set of students with strengths and weaknesses. As a teacher mediates content, they diagnose, devise a strategy, succeed and move on or fail and make a new one. Over the course of each year, the process gets dialed in and then that classroom is a machine to behold. Or not. Every year is another opportunity to make that machine better than ever.
Barnes joined the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council because he is always in search of new challenges. And if you ever want Barnes’ undivided attention, play frisbee with him, as he is much like a dog in that regard.
Sturgis Public Schools
Jonathan Starkey has taught at Sturgis High School for the last two years, part of a six-year career as a teacher. He teaches K-12 physical education, and joined the MTLAC because he wanted to ensure that his content area (physical education and health) was represented with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Starkey believes that, like the rest of the education field, physical education has struggled with a lack of resources and support in order for every student to become physically literate in the 21st century. He is a firm supporter of using assessments to drive and improve instruction and wants to see and prove that students are learning the physical skills necessary to lead healthy and active lives after they leave our classrooms.
Starkey loves being a teacher because of the opportunity to connect with his students and have an impact on their emotional, cognitive, and physical development. He has always focused on building relationships with students before seeking to instruct them. He has sought to live by the phrase: "they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
Starkey is the father to two wonderful children, Alice and Henry. He coaches strength and conditioning to all of the Sturgis HS students, as well track and field. Starkey is an avid traveler, having traveled to over 32 countries with his wife, Lesley.
Alpena Public Schools
Katie Lee is beginning her second year at Thunder Bay Junior High in Alpena. She taught Science 7, Earth Science, Intro to Chemistry, and Intro to Physics for nine years at Hillman Jr./Sr. High before moving to Alpena to teach Seventh Grade Science.
Her educational experiences over the past 11 years and desire to improve student success inspired her to apply for the Council. She loves teaching because every day is an opportunity to inspire and help students achieve their goals. Katie has recently been appointed to Dean of Students at Thunder Bay Junior High is the leader for the Multi-Tiered System of Supports Team. She also serves as the Co-Content Area Leader for Secondary Science at Alpena Public Schools. She has twin three years old daughters and a husband who is also an educator.
Haslett Public Schools
Kevin Tobe is entering his 20th year teaching high school math, all in Haslett Public Schools. In the 2017-18 school year, he will be teaching Geometry, AP Calculus, and Calculus II.
For years he has heard teachers call for more open communication between state government and educators. Tobe sees the advisory council as a tremendous opportunity to collaborate and formulate solutions to the complex problems facing the education system in Michigan. Another big draw is being able to connect with, and learn from, passionate teachers representing a diverse cross-section of communities.
Each day of teaching comes with a new set of challenges and an immense amount of opportunity. Teaching requires him to constantly engage his problem-solving skills, creativity, and empathy. Sometimes the evidence of success is immediately apparent, but in most instances gratification is delayed for years down the road. The times Tobe most loves being a teacher are those moments when a student gains a newfound confidence, recognizing in themselves an attribute that others have long known to be true.
This year, in addition to teaching, Tobe also is going to be serving on the Alumni Advisory Board for the Michigan State College of Education, coaching varsity girls track and field, and taxiing his two daughters to their various events.
Onaway Public Schools
Kymberli Wregglesworth is beginning her 20th year as a teacher, all of them at Onaway High School in Onaway. Her current assignment includes teaching Civics and World History, as well as Current Events and Women’s Studies/World Cultures in alternating years.
Wregglesworth loves teaching high school because teenagers have such a unique outlook on life - they are full of ideals, but most have a cynical streak too. She can have adult conversations with them about real-life topics, and inspire them to make real change in the world.
She applied for the council because she doesn’t think small, rural schools are well-represented in decisions made by the state school board and legislature, and she hopes to change that. Additionally, Wregglesworth believes social studies education has taken a backseat to ELA and STEM in the recent past, and gaining an understanding of our world, our nation, our state, and our localities - and how government functions at each level - is of paramount importance for citizens, so she wants to advocate for that subject area as well.
Outside of teaching, Wregglesworth enjoys travel, technology and gadgets, downhill skiing, biking, kayaking, and hanging out with her amazing four-year-old daughter.
Vicksburg Community Schools
Laura Chang is entering her eighteenth year of teaching in Vicksburg Community Schools where she currently teaches second grade. Previously, she has taught pre-K, a first/second grade combination, and third grade at Sunset Lake Elementary. Chang has worked as an instructional consultant at Tobey Elementary. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in the Special Educational and Literacy Studies department at Western Michigan University.
Chang applied for the council so that she could work with other teachers to meet the needs of our students. She is thrilled to be a part of MTLAC’s dynamic team of teachers who are invested in finding ways to impact the students of Michigan’s public schools in a positive way.
She loves being a teacher because of the precious little learners who walk into her classroom each day. They inspire her daily with their hard work, their perseverance, and their joy for learning. Chang’s students also encourage her with their curiosity, excitement for learning and passion for accomplishing difficult tasks. Chang says she is so blessed to have a job in which every day is different, and is so fortunate to work in the fulfilling, life-changing career of teaching.
Cesar Chavez Academy
Matthew Homrich-Knieling is a third-year English Language Arts teacher. He completed his first year of teaching in Springfield, Massachusetts and is now entering his second year at César Chávez Academy Middle School in southwest Detroit. Homrich-Knieling has taught grades 6 - 8.
He loves teaching because it gives him the opportunity to integrate many of his passions: working with young people, sharing his love for reading and writing, and building community that practices and fights for justice. Homrich-Knieling especially loves working with middle-school children because of their energy and their candor.
Recognizing that teachers (and students & families) are implicated into education policy, Homrich-Knieling wanted to be an integral part of that conversation and decision-making process. Living and teaching in a city that has historically received the brunt of discriminatory policies, he has a pressing need to advocate for the lives of his students and their families. He applied for the council so that he can help shape Michigan education policy in a way that recognizes the humanity and unique needs of all students.
Kearsley Community Schools
Michael Whalen is a high school Social Studies teacher in his fourth year of teaching for Kearsley Community Schools in Flint. He has served on the Mt. Morris Consolidated School District's Board of Education since 2009, and has a master's degree in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Whalen applied to the Michigan Teacher Leadership Council to represent education stakeholders in Michigan's policy environment. He loves being a teacher because it provides him with the opportunity to help students develop their passion for learning and understanding the world around them.
Public Schools of Petoskey
Nikky Willison is currently a 3rd grade teacher in the Public Schools of Petoskey. She is entering her 5th year with the district and has been in education for a total of 8 years. Willison has previously taught Pre-K and 6-8 science.
Willison applied to the council to have her voice heard as an advocate for the education of all students in Michigan. She loves being a teacher for two reasons. The first, is the relationships that are built. She has an amazing job where she gets to build life-long relationships with students, parents, colleagues, and staff members. The second, is that her learning is never done. Being a teacher means that she is always trying to learn new things in many different areas. She is passionate about creating a love of reading for her students. Willison also loves to use technology and gaming in the classroom and tries to use humor as much as possible with her students.
Ann Arbor Public Schools
Rez Kayto is an elementary teacher in the Ann Arbor Public School District. She has taught English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies to students in Kindergarten through 5th grade.
Kayto loves learning and sharing the passion for learning with children, and guiding students to reach their utmost potential. She has a crucial role, one that positively impacts a child’s love for learning. She applied for the Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council to collaborate with policymakers in implementing ESSA and to be a voice on behalf of her fellow educators.
Lansing School District
Robyne C. Muray teaches English/Language Arts and performing arts classes at Lansing Eastern in the Lansing Public School District. Muray has taught in Lansing Public Schools for the last four years, and is entering her 18th year as a teacher this fall. During her career, she has taught each grade from Pre-K through 12.
Muray applied for the council position because she is an advocate in the mindset that every child can succeed, noting that the students that we serve are rich in diversity and have the tenacity to overcome obstacles and challenges that give our state a competitive edge.
She loves being a teacher because she is amazed at the resilience that children possess. Muray’s mission is to unlock individual talent and facilitate academic growth through differentiated instruction, and providing opportunities for students to showcase their mastery of content through performance and project based assessments.
Other MTLAC Cohorts