This year’s honorees are Dominic Biolchini of Kent Hills Elementary, M. Byrnes of City High Middle and Nicole Shilton of CA Frost Middle High.

Criteria for the award include:

  • knowledge and use of effective instructional methods
  • passion for teaching and students’ learning
  • leadership in and outside of the classroom
  • collaboration with colleagues, students, and families
  • advocacy for GRPS

The annual award was created thanks to donors Laurie and Mark Grand, who set it up through the Grand Rapids Public Schools Foundation, which administers and gives the $1,000 that each honoree receives. Laurie is the daughter of Jean Hamilton Cope who worked for decades at Huff Elementary School and in retirement tutored children in reading.

In addition to the cash award, each honoree also receives a special plaque and permanent recognition at GRPS’ Franklin Campus. The awardees will also be nominated for the Michigan Teacher of the Year Program.

Shilton is in her 28th year with GRPS, including 19 at Union High and the past nine at CA Frost, while Byrnes is in her ninth year of teaching and eighth year at City, and Biolchini is in his sixth year in the district, all at Kent Hills.

All three expressed similar sentiments when it comes to their passion for teaching.

“What I love is the energy that our scholars bring every day to their lives and to the things that they care about,” Biolchini said. “What gets me excited about teaching is the relationships I build with the scholars. We teach and learn from each other and grow together every week.”

Shilton agreed.

“Our scholars still make me laugh every day and their energy is contagious,” she said. “Even on the days when I am tired, they lift me up.”

Byrnes spoke of joy as she reflected on her work at City.

“I love my job because I find joy working with middle schoolers,” she said. “Their curiosity, sincerity and eagerness to learn make me a better teacher, and I don’t think it would be too much to say that it has even made me a better person.”

Each teacher also gave kudos to colleagues.

Byrnes, a middle school Spanish teacher at City, said: “In receiving this award, I can’t help but think of, and am deeply grateful to, all the wonderful people I have encountered during my time at City. I work alongside talented teachers from whom I gather invaluable wisdom and guidance. I am grateful that we work together to create a hospitable environment for students to learn, thrive, grow and belong.”

Charlote Vandervliet, City’s principal, said that Byrnes is a worthy honoree who annually ensures that her classroom is welcoming for all while also setting clear expectations of high standards for her scholars.  

“She is humble, kind and has played a pivotal role in the reshaping of our Language Department,” Vandervliet said. “Much like the late Ms. Cope, her passion for education and scholar success is seen in everything she does.  She truly is a deserving educator, although I’m sure, due to her humble personality, she would attribute the success she sees directly to her scholars and not take any credit for herself.”

Biolchini was praised by his colleagues for being a champion for inclusivity and regularly connecting with community partners to bring co-curricular learning experiences to GRPS scholars, including a partnership with John Ball Zoo that has his scholars often seen on the Kent Hills playground carrying binoculars and bird books to help identify birds in the local environment.

He said that news of the award sparked a renewed sense of gratitude in him for the scholars, staff and families at Kent Hills who empower him daily.

“I would like to add a special thank you or shout-out to the teachers who have mentored me and kept me afloat when I first started: Billijean Johnson, Christine Black and Kimberly Phillips-Humphrey,” he added.

Shilton was described as a highly effective math teacher in the classroom and a great advocate for GRPS scholars outside of the classroom, serving as senior class advisor, assessment coordinator, graduation coordinator and a field trip planner. Still, she said, she was shocked to hear she had received the award.

“There are so many amazing teachers in GRPS that I wouldn't even have thought I'd be on the radar,” she said.

Her principal, Bradley Lundvick, said that Shilton excels in building positive relationships with her classes and finding real-world connections to her content.

“She also is a mentor to staff in the building and district, someone always willing to help a fellow staff member,” he said. “The effort, dedication and responsibility she brings each day to our Frost Family and to GRPS makes her a true rock star teacher and person.”