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Trio of teachers recognized for inspiring learning & leadership

Grand Rapids — A colleague wrote that “Sherri Kraai is like Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus, taking her students on adventures and opening their eyes to the world of science and possibilities.”

Kraai, a Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy sixth- and seventh- grade science teacher, was joined by Jill Niewiadomski and Nicole Durso as this year’s honorees for the GRPS’ Jean Hamilton Cope Teacher of the Year for their respective grade levels. 

This annual award, created in memory of the former GRPS teacher, recognizes passionate teachers who use effective instructional methods to inspire student learning and leadership.

All three honorees will receive a $1,000 cash prize and become the district’s nominees for the Michigan Teacher of the Year award.

Niewiadomski, a Buchanan Elementary second-grade teacher, was described in a colleague’s nomination as “an amazing and friendly teacher who continually goes above and beyond to make sure her class is well run and respectful to everyone.”

Several nominators also noted that Niewiadomski is currently the school’s only second-grade teacher, and prepares lessons for the other second-grade class’ substitute teacher so the students don’t fall behind. 

One of Durso’s colleagues said the Union High science teacher “is invested in our students and their futures. She cares deeply for our students and is willing to invest time in building relationships, implementing instructional strategies and tracking down necessary resources for their success.”

Dorso also serves as a teacher representative on the GRPS Equity and Inclusion Team, and has helped to grow an anti-bias and anti-racism team at her school.

GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby described this year’s honorees as “three wonderful, strong and capable women.”

“The pandemic made us all realize and remember the value of good teachers,” Roby said, “so it is truly great to be able to recognize Jill and Sherri and Nicole in this way.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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