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Oak Park teacher, Owen Bondono, named Michigan’s top teacher

Owen Bondono, a teacher in the Oak Park School District, is the new Michigan Teacher of the Year.
Michigan Department of Education

Michigan’s newest teacher of the year — Oak Park teacher Owen Bondono — says he’ll spend the next 12 months advocating for an equitable learning experience for students who are being educated during the pandemic.

Bondono, who was named Michigan Teacher of the Year during a virtual press conference Friday morning that included the 10 finalists, said he also wants to uplift the voices of marginalized students and teachers.

“I know firsthand the harm that can come to marginalized students in schools,” said Bondono, who teaches English language arts at the Oak Park Freshman Institute, a school that serves the ninth-graders in the Oak Park School District. The district educates a number of Detroit students.

The Michigan Teacher of the Year program honors outstanding teachers. As part of the program, 10 regional finalists are chosen. The program is run by the Michigan Department of Education.

Bondono was described by others as a dynamic instructor who adapts his lessons — and his classroom — to meet the needs of his students.

A large part of Bondono’s role will be to attend monthly meetings of the state board of education and present on issues that are important to Michigan teachers. He will also be the state’s finalist for the National Teacher of the Year.

Usually, the teacher of the year is named in May during a surprise visit to the teacher’s school. That didn’t happen this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

State Superintendent Michael Rice, in a message to the 10 finalists during the press conference, said the state needs teachers who can inspire students, particularly now as many schools look toward a school year that likely will begin with a mixture of online and in-person classes.

“It is teacher leaders like yourselves … who help us navigate this challenging terrain this year.”

Michelle Fecteau, a member of the state board of education, told Bondono that her own daughter is beginning a teaching career this year.

“I see in you everything I would hope she can do and be,” Fecteau said.

Bondono takes over from Cara Lougheed, a Rochester Community Schools teacher who served during the 2019-20 school year.

Here are the finalists for the annual honor:

  • Janine Scott, a math teacher at Davis Aerospace Technical School, Detroit Public Schools Community District. (Scott is also a member of Chalkbeat’s Reader Advisory Board.)
  • Tan-A Hoffman, a second-grade teacher at JKL Bahweting Anishnabe School in Sault Ste. Marie.
  • David Bunn, a high school teacher at Houghton Lake Jr/Sr High, Houghton Lake Community School District.
  • Shantel VanderGalien, an eighth-grade teacher at Wyoming Jr High, Wyoming Public Schools.
  • Barbara Huston, a third-grade teacher at Arrowwood Elementary, Saginaw Township Community Schools.
  • Erin Carlson, a middle and high school teacher at Sandusky Jr/Sr High, Sandusky Community Schools.
  • Chelsee Schram, a second-grade teacher at Morrice Elementary, Morrice Area Schools.
  • Elizabeth Honeysett, a high school teacher at Portage Central High School, Portage Public Schools.
  • Sarah Soper, a high school teacher at Northwest High School, Northwest Community Schools.

A full list of past winners of the Michigan Teacher of the Year is here.

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