Grand Rapids school leader, Taylor third-grade teacher named state's top charter school educators

Buddy Moorehouse
May 7, 2018 8:30:00 AM

LANSING, Michigan – A school leader from Grand Rapids and a third-grade teacher from Taylor have been named the state's top charter school educators for 2018. The announcement was made today by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), the state charter school association.

Pat Cwayna, the CEO of West Michigan Aviation Academy in Grand Rapids, was named the 2018 Michigan Charter School Administrator of the Year, while Kristina Price, a third-grade teacher at Trillium Academy in Taylor, was named the 2018 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year. The announcements were made during surprise assemblies at both schools today.

There are 295 charter schools in Michigan, with more than 10,000 teachers and 1,000 administrators. These are the top awards that a charter school educator in Michigan can receive.

"Michigan's charter schools are home to some of the most innovative, inspirational and successful teachers and administrators in the country, and Pat Cwayna and Kristina Price are extraordinary educators in every way," said MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry. "They're both exceptional choices for these awards."

Cwayna is well-known in West Michigan, where he served as the principal of East Grand Rapids High School for more than 20 years. He took on a new challenge in 2010 as the founding principal of West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school located on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids. It's the only school in Michigan that's located at an airport, and one of the only ones in the country that is.

Cwayna built the school from the ground up, and it's become one of the most innovative and successful schools in the state. As a STEM-focused school, West Michigan Aviation Academy's graduates gain acceptance to some of the top engineering schools in the country, and the school has seen more than 60 students each their private pilot's licenses (the school owns two airplanes). Academically, it's also become of the best schools in the state, earning a Silver Medal in the U.S. News & World Report's prestigious "Best High Schools in America" rankings.

"What Pat Cwayna has done at West Michigan Aviation Academy is nothing short of remarkable," Quisenberry said. "He came from the world of traditional education and discovered that because his new school was a charter school, he was able to be innovative and creative, designing a school that was entirely focused on the student. He hired every teacher and administrator, cultivating the educational model and curriculum from the ground up. And just look at what they've accomplished. There's no other school in America that's quite like West Michigan Aviation Academy."

West Michigan Aviation Academy is authorized by Bay Mills Community College. Cwayna and the four other finalists for the 2018 Michigan Charter School Administrator of the Year award were honored on April 25 at the State Capitol in Lansing. The four other finalists:

  • Aquan Grant, principal of Arbor Preparatory High School in Ypsilanti
  • Bill Kraly, co-director of the Chatfield School in Lapeer
  • Jim Levering, principal of Black River Public School Montessori Elementary in Holland
  • Shawn Robson, principal of Global Heights Academy in Dearborn Heights

Kristina Price has taught third grade for the past 10 years at Trillium Academy, a K-12 charter school in Taylor that is managed by the Romine Group and authorized by Central Michigan University.

Trillium Academy features an individualized program that reaches every student individually, and Price has become masterful at weaving music into her classroom lessons. She's created original songs and dances that help her students learn and remember everything from grammar rules to science lessons.

The results are highly impressive. Trillium Academy serves a highly diverse student body with high rates of poverty, but on the most recent M-STEP test, Price's students scored ten points higher than the state average in both English and math. One other incredible fact: In ten years of teaching, Price has never taken a sick or personal day.

"We all know how important third grade is, and Kristina Price is exactly the kind of teacher that students need at that critical time of their life," Quisenberry said. "Because she works in a charter school like Trillium Academy, where teachers are empowered to do what's best for their students, her creativity has flourished. There's no group of students anywhere in America who have more fun learning than the students in Kristina Price's class."

Price and the other four finalists for the 2018 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year award were also honored at the State Capitol on April 25. The four other finalists:

  • Kayla Campbell, third-grade teacher at Creative Technologies Academy in Cedar Spring
  • Joe Griffith, middle-school social studies teacher at Honey Creek Community School in Ann Arbor
  • Dave Sarkipato, math teacher at Wellspring Preparatory High School in Grand Rapids
  • Jennifer Villwock, third-grade teacher at Woodland Park Academy in Grand Blanc
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