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Lakeview educator is 2023 Ohio Teacher of the Year

A Campbell native, Kmetz had her first teaching interview in Salem

Staff photo//Chris McBride Melissa Kmetz overlooks her third-grade classroom as students share some of the things they’ve learned. Kmetz has been teaching students about the ways other countries go about their schooling.

CORTLAND — Lakeview Elementary students packed the auditorium and delivered thunderous applause Tuesday as third-grade English language arts teacher Melissa Kmetz made her way through the crowd to accept the 2023 Ohio Teacher of the Year award.

The presentation was part of a special morning ceremony at the school, where interim state Superintendent of Public Instruction Stephanie Siddens made the surprise announcement.

Before introducing Kmetz, Siddens read a message from Gov. Mike DeWine: “You have demonstrated excellence in the classroom and have shown an exceptional commitment to the students. Your tireless efforts and hard work inside and outside of the classroom have resulted in this achievement.”

Siddens also praised Kmetz: “She gives students the building blocks to be lifelong learners and shows how they can make a positive difference for their classmates, neighbors and individuals across the globe.”

Kmetz is a Campbell native, graduating from Campbell Memorial High School in 1999. In 2003, she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science in education (early childhood P-3) from Youngstown State University, where she continued her education later earning her masters as a reading specialist in 2007. She furthered her studies in professional development at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Boston.

Kmetz stepped into her first teaching interview 20 years ago and noticed a quote on the wall of Salem City School District by Martin Luther King Jr.

The quote from King’s famous “dream” speech states: “They will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

Inspired, Kmetz said she wanted her interviewers to know that seeing kids for who they are is most important to her.

All those years and some hundred students later brought Kmetz to this moment where she said during her speech she is honored and humbled.

“Being teacher of the year isn’t an award for being the best teacher,” she said. “It’s a position of recognition, it’s about using your voice to honor and inspire others, it’s about shining a light on the incredible working being done in schools each day and more importantly it’s about ensuring our students have the best education possible.”

Lakeview Principal Scott Taylor described Kmetz as a “one of a kind” educator, one that most districts don’t come across every day. Taylor also said he is honored to have the teacher of the year come from such a small school district in northeast Ohio, of about 1,500 students.

“It’s gratifying. I’m so thrilled for Melissa to get this honor. It’s a representation of the best qualities that great teachers in this state possess,” Taylor said. “She’s an educator that pushes the academics but focuses on the overall well-roundedness of the students.”

Kmetz was one of 11 finalists for the award.

The annual award for Ohio Teacher of the Year identifies exceptional teachers, celebrates effectiveness working with students inside and outside of the classroom in providing opportunities to grow professionally, as well as leadership and advocacy. The award has been handed down to educators since 1964.

As a kid, Kmetz said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do in adulthood, but when an ailment placed her in the intensive care unit, the kindness and generosity of the medical professionals gave Kmetz her first indication.

“I wanted to find something where I could help kids. I just wasn’t sure what, but in my high school years, I had amazing teachers who made sure kids didn’t slip through the cracks. I was on the continuous improvement committee where we made decisions for the district — so from there I thought I could make the biggest impact as a teacher,” Kmetz said.

From her work on the committee she saw the influence a group of caring people could have. A dedication to helping others helped lead her to start the “Change the World” project in 2010, an annual project where her students brainstorm ways to help someone from their community. These projects have included supporting those in hunger-striken countries, helping people affected by natural disasters, creating comfort kits for foster children, sending well-wishes to terminally ill children and supporting local animal shelters.

Several educators have served as inspiration for Kmetz. She cited her fourth-grade teacher who used to do a fest for the class — something Kmetz said she still does with her class.

She also recognized her former basketball coach, who would pick kids up from practice and buy gear for the students that couldn’t afford it. Her English teacher helped her find her voice and learn the power of the pen.

Beyond the lessons they taught in class, Kmetz said it is the life lessons she was given from these educators that she carries to this day.

cmcbride@tribtoday.com

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