CORTLAND — Students at Lakeview Elementary filled the auditorium and cheered Tuesday as third-grade English teacher Melissa Kmetz made her way through the crowd to accept the teacher’s award from the year 2023 of Ohio.
The presentation was part of a special morning ceremony at the school, where Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Stephanie Siddens made the surprise announcement.
Before introducing Kmetz, Siddens read a message from Governor Mike DeWine: “You have demonstrated excellence in the classroom and demonstrated an exceptional commitment to students. Your tireless efforts and hard work inside and outside the classroom have resulted in this achievement.
Siddens also praised Kmetz: “She gives students the building blocks to become lifelong learners and shows how they can make a positive difference for their classmates, neighbors and individuals around the world.”
Kmetz is a Campbell native and graduated from Campbell Memorial High School in 1999. In 2003, she received a Bachelor of Science in Education (Early Childhood P-3) with honors summa cum laude from Youngstown State University, where she continued his studies. master’s degree in specialized reading in 2007. She continued her studies in professional development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Boston.
Kmetz stepped into her first teaching interview 20 years ago and noticed a quote on the Salem City School District wall by Martin Luther King Jr.
The quote from the famous King’s “dream” the speech states: “They will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Inspired, Kmetz said she wants her interviewers to know that seeing kids for who they are is most important to her.
All these years and a hundred students later brought Kmetz to this moment when she said during her speech that she was honored and humbled.
“Being teacher of the year is not an award for being the best teacher,” she says. “It’s a reconnaissance post. It’s about using your voice to honor and inspire others; it’s about shining a light on the incredible work that goes on every day in schools and, more importantly, it’s about making sure our students get the best education possible.
Lakeview manager Scott Taylor described Kmetz as a “one of a kind” educator, one that most districts don’t encounter every day. Taylor also said he was honored to have the teacher of the year come from such a small school district — about 1,500 students — in northeast Ohio.
“It’s gratifying. I am so thrilled that Melissa is receiving this honor. It is a representation of the best qualities possessed by the great teachers of this state,” Taylor said. “She is an educator who pushes academics but focuses on overall student balance.”
Kmetz was one of 11 finalists for the award.
The annual Ohio Teacher of the Year Award identifies outstanding teachers, celebrates effective work with students inside and outside the classroom by providing opportunities for professional development, as well as leadership and advocacy. The award has been given to educators since 1964.
As a child, Kmetz said she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do as an adult, but when an illness put her in the intensive care unit, the kindness and generosity of the professionals of health gave Kmetz its first indication.
“I wanted to find something where I could help children. I wasn’t sure what but, during my high school days, I had amazing teachers who made sure the kids didn’t fall through the cracks. I was on the continuous improvement committee where we made decisions for the district – so from there I thought I could have the biggest impact as a teacher,” Kmetz said.
From her work on the committee, she saw the impact that a caring group of people could have. Her dedication to helping others helped her start the “Change the world” project in 2010, an annual project where her students brainstorm ways to help someone in their community. These projects have included supporting people living in hunger-stricken countries, helping people affected by natural disasters, creating comfort kits for adoptive children, sending good wishes to terminally ill children and support for local animal shelters.
Several educators have inspired Kmetz. She cited her fourth-grade teacher, who used to do a class festival — something Kmetz says she always does with her class.
She also recognized her former basketball coach, who picked up kids at practice and bought equipment for students who 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 the classroom, Kmetz said it’s the life lessons she received from these educators that she carries to this day.