Historic milestone: Voyageur Academy’s Joe Vercellino named Michigan Regional Teacher of the Year

Buddy Moorehouse
Apr 21, 2021 4:13:14 PM

The Michigan Teacher of the Year program, sponsored by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), dates all the way back to 1952. Every year, MDE names 10 Regional Teachers of the Year from around the state, and from that list, the Michigan Teacher of the Year is selected. While charter schools have been part of the public school landscape since 1994, until last year, a charter teacher had never even been named a Regional Teacher of the Year. Now, we’re two-for-two.

In 2020, Tan-A Hoffman of the JKL Bahweting Anishnabe School in Sault Ste. Marie was named the Regional Teacher of the Year for Region 1, which includes the entire Upper Peninsula. And then last month, Joe Vercellino, a music teacher at Voyageur Academy in Detroit, was named the 2021 Regional Teacher of the Year for Region 10, which covers the entire City of Detroit.

Vercellino is now in the running to be named the 2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year.

The Regional Teachers of the Year play key roles in their schools and communities, and also in our statewide effort to improve our schools. They offer insights about the needs of our 1.5 million school children and more than 90,000 educators. We are grateful for their leadership and dedication to the teaching profession and look forward to working with them during the next school year.”

- Dr. Michael F. Rice, State Superintendent

His students have always known what an exceptional – and fun – music teacher he is, but the larger Michigan charter school community has also gotten a chance to see Vercellino and his students in action.

Back in 2014, when he was teaching music at Northpointe Academy in Highland Park, Vercellino assembled a rap group of Northpointe students called "Beasts of the Beat." They recorded an album and performed around the city, and in late 2013, they performed in front of thousands of charter school educators at the Michigan Charter School Conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Fox2 in Detroit was so impressed that they did a feature on Vercellino and his students, which included footage of their performance at the Charter School Conference.

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When Northpointe Academy closed a couple years later, Vercellino found his way to another charter school in Detroit, Voyageur Academy. He’s been combining music and life lessons ever since.

Vercellino and some of his Voyageur students made another acclaimed appearance at the Michigan Charter School Symposium in 2019, putting on a performance called “the Lion Heart Experience” that combined music and art in extraordinary fashion.

It’s taken a while, but charter school teachers are finally getting the respect they’ve always deserved. Joe Vercellino is an extraordinarily talented, caring and innovative teacher, and he’s so deserving of this recognition. For this award, Region 10 covers the entire City of Detroit, so in essence, the state is saying the top teacher in Detroit is a charter school teacher. That says a whole lot, and we’re extremely proud of Mr. V.

- Dan Quisenberry, President of MAPSA

Vercellino reaches his students in a variety of innovative ways, including have them write and perform their own original songs. He’s also heavy into video, and frequently has his students record and edit their own music videos. When the pandemic hit, Vercellino continued to use those innovative ways to keep his students singing, dancing and engaged.

He was also inspired by the many ways in which his fellow teachers in Detroit were going above and beyond to stay engaged with their students, so he put together an original video called “My City,” which he dedicated to all the teachers of 2020.

As only the second charter school teacher ever to be named a Regional Teacher of the Year, Vercellino said he’s proud and humbled with the honor.

Charters aren’t going anywhere, so let’s celebrate great teaching in all areas of education."

- Joe Vercellino

A photo of a female African American student stands with her mouth open with joy.

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