Teacher of the Year 2020-2021

2021 Teachers of the Year results can be found under MSBOA News.
Each year MSBOA recognizes a Teacher of the Year for Band and a Teacher of the Year for Orchestra. The
process begins in the Spring with each of the MSBOA Districts nominating a candidate in each classification.
The Executive Board reviews all of the candidates and selects up to three in each area to submit to the entire
active membership. In this posting you will find statements about each candidate.

MSBOA congratulates each of these fine instrumental music educators for their nomination to this honor. 

Band Nominees

Jo Ann Gross

Jo Ann has a reputation for building quality ensembles at Shepherd Public Schools. Her concert and jazz bands have garnered many awards and special recognition at MSBOA District and State Band Festival, the Alma College Jazz Festival, and the Central Michigan University Jazz Weekend Festival.

Jo Ann has served on the Festival Improvements Committee as a district representative and as the state chairperson, District Secretary for four years, and as District President for four years. In addition, she was the Secretary and Treasurer, and President for the State Executive Board. She is currently serving as the Second Past President on the State Executive Board.

Jo Ann is in demand as an adjudicator for Solo & Ensemble and Band & Orchestra Festivals where she has been able to provide meaningful comments to directors and students both young and old. Her professional approach and positive demeanor are comforting to students and directors alike.

It was at the very beginning of this current education interruption that we saw what a truly exceptional teacher she is. In her classroom, it is a tradition that she established many years ago, that she would play “Happy Birthday” for a student in class on their birthday. Even setting up special days when those birthdays happen during the summer or on breaks. It really bothered her that the education hiatus had put that one tradition aside for her students. So, like great teachers who are all around us, but unlike many others....Jo Ann rounded up her family to assist, making a trifold Happy Birthday poster, called the families and spent two days driving around to each student that was missed...and played them “Happy Birthday” from the end of their driveways! What a wonderful way for those students to feel connected to school, music and their band family.

Jo Ann Gross would be the last person to expect, or lobby for this award. Her humility and devotion to MSBOA have defined her leadership roles within the organization. I can think of no other teacher more deserving of this award.

There are teachers that come up with great ideas, and then there are teachers that act upon great ideas. Jo Ann is one of those great teachers.

Elizabeth Hering

Elizabeth Hering has been the Director of Bands at Livonia Churchill High School since 2000. She is also the LPS K-12 Music Coordinator, the CHS Department Chair for Music, and she teaches Theatre Tech. During Elizabeth’s time at Churchill, the band program has grown to three concert bands, two jazz bands, and (despite a drastically declining school population from 2300 to less than 1300 in the span of a decade) the marching band grew to a high of 177 in 2017, making it the largest Marching Band in Livonia Public Schools history

All levels of concert bands and the MB consistently receive straight 1s at District Festival and at State (in the years they attend State). The CHS Wind Ensemble was chosen along with Grand Ledge HS to perform as the 2020 featured band at the Spring Conference on Wind and Percussion Literature with composer Julie Giroux. Another highlight of 2020 was to be a May performance of “From Dawn to Dance” with the CHS Wind Ensemble and the Akropolis Reed Quintet. Sadly, both events are tentatively rescheduled for 2021.

CHS has a vibrant chamber music program, including their hallmark percussion ensemble which has been a MYAF nominee almost yearly since ~2008 and has twice been selected as the MYAF Outstanding Percussion Finalist. Elizabeth was one of 10 National Finalists for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award in 2019 and 2020. She was the D12 Band Teacher of the Year in 2013 and 2020, and Orchestra Teacher of the Year in 2005 and 2009. She has been an EMU Exceptional Educator Nominee, an MMC presenter, has mentored more than 15 student teachers, and works as a band clinician and B&O Adjudicator. Elizabeth has a MM from Northwestern University and a BM from Willamette University. Her primary instrument is trumpet, her husband, Kirk, is a reformed percussionist turned chemist and together they are the proud parents of three children: Teagan (14), Gabriel (12), and Kai (10). Elizabeth is a member of ASBDA and maintains a very active involvement with MSBOA. Since 2009, she has served in the roles of District President, VP/BO, VP/MB, Treasurer, Secretary, and as the D12 FIC chair. Elizabeth has been at the forefront of several projects, including a mentor project, as well as a push to continue to diversify our State BML. She also actively seeks grants to fund unique projects.

Sean Patton

Sean Patton currently serves as the director of bands at Duke Ellington Conservatory of Music and Art in Detroit MI. Sean is a proud alumnus of Detroit Public Schools where has taught both high school and middle school bands for 26 years. During his tenure he has also served as low brass director of the Detroit Public Schools All-City Marching Band with performance highlights including appearances in the Detroit Thanksgiving Parade and the Peach Bowl. He is a graduate of Florida A&M University with a degree in music education. He also has a masters degree from Wayne State University.

Sean has been a member of MSBOA for 20 years in district 15 where he currently serves as district president. He has also served as vice president of solo and ensemble and vice president of adjudication. Sean has participated in MSBOA festivals where his students and ensembles have received superior and excellent ratings.

The most cherished accomplishment of Sean's career is being happily married for 23 years while enduring the rigorous demands of teaching and maintaining a high level of performance standards for his students. He is also the father of three children. Sean strives to teach students to achieve educationally through excellence in music and instills the core values of highest of quality of character, achievement in academics, attainment in leadership, perfection in music, dedication to service.

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Tanya Bennett

Tanya Bennett, a veteran Orchestra Teacher, has been a member of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association throughout her 27 years in education. In 1993, Ms. Bennett achieved her Bachelor of Music Education degree and in 2001, she achieved a Master of Music Education degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After beginning her music teaching career at Faith Christian Academy and then briefly in Walled Lake, Ms. Bennett founded the Winans Academy Orchestra program in 1999. She continued building the program for nearly 20 years teaching orchestra students from around the Detroit metropolitan area. Her students have consistently participated in the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association District and State Solo and Ensemble Festivals. Throughout her teaching career, Ms. Bennett earned a Music Educator Fellowship from Northwestern University in 2010 which merited her the opportunity to learn about some of the most current teaching practices of the time. In 2013, Ms. Bennett was awarded the National Artist Teacher Fellowship award which granted her the opportunity to study improvisation string techniques around the United States. As a result, she attended the Mark O’Conner Camp at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts and also studied Cello in Appleton, Wisconsin with Matt Turner.

As a private Cello Teacher, Ms. Bennett has consistently taught cello throughout the Detroit community. Some of her former students are teaching Orchestra around the metropolitan Detroit community. Her private Cello students have been accepted into college programs including Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan just to name a few.

Ms. Bennett conducted for the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for ten years and has encouraged and prepared students to attend the camp and has also prepared students to travel internationally through the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp International program.

Ms. Bennett, is within her 3rd year at Renaissance High School in Detroit and is loving it! Last school year the Renaissance students having continued successfully participating in the MSBOA District festival achieved Superior and Excellent ratings at Solo and Ensemble Festival and an Excellent rating at the District festival. One of the Renaissance Bass students was also chosen to perform in the All State High School Orchestra in Grand Rapids.

Patti Kilgore

Patti Kilgore has been lucky enough to have spent 29 years as a music educator, with a career that spans from elementary through the university level. For the past 21 years, she has taught in Livonia Public Schools, and directs orchestra and bands at Holmes Middle School and 9-12 orchestra at Churchill High School.

Participation at the Solo & Ensemble festival is embraced enthusiastically at both the middle and high school levels. Ensembles under Patti's direction have earned consistently high ratings for performance at MSBOA Band & Orchestra festival.

A chamber music program is integrated into both the orchestra and band curriculum, and facilitates a number of student-led small ensembles that provide music for a variety of school functions throughout the year.

Patti's first orchestra at Holmes in 2007 had 9 members. Thirteen years later, the number has grown to 60 student musicians. Patti credits the growth of her programs to her love of music, recruitment in the hallways during passing time, and the ensemble she started, which was comprised of the parents of orchestra and band students.

Thirteen years strong, this ensemble functions as the "house band" at concerts, providing music during set changes, and reminding students that playing music can always be a part of your life.

Outside of school, Patti directs the Livonia Youth Symphony Orchestra, and maintains an active performance schedule as a jazz and classical musician.

Amanda Thoms

This is Amanda's 8th year of teaching in Midland Public Schools. She's teaching 5th grade Orchestra at Siebert Elementary; 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Orchestra at Jefferson Middle School; and both Concert and Symphonic Orchestras at Dow High School. The Symphonic Orchestra functions as both a string and full orchestra. Since Amanda has taken the reins of this program, it has grown both in size and musicianship.

For several years, Amanda has been taking Jefferson 8th grade Orchestra, and both Dow High Concert and Symphonic Orchestras to the District Band & Orchestra Festival. Her groups consistently earn high ratings.

Amanda has very high percentages of student enrollment in Solo & Ensemble Festival, both at middle and high school levels. Her high school students go on to both State S & E, and qualify for Michigan Youth Arts Festival. Her students at both middle and high school levels qualify annually for the Michigan All-State Orchestra. Her students also participate in (and win!) other state and national solo events, and have performed at Carnegie Hall.

Amanda grew up in Bad Axe, where she participated in her school's band program on oboe, baritone, and tuba. She started her orchestra studies at the Flint Institute of Music (FIM)/School of Performing Arts at a young age. Through FIM, she has performed with her violin all over the world, making musical contacts everywhere she goes. She has also taught orchestra classes at FIM on weekends and during the summer. 

Amanda earned her BME from Grand Valley State University, and is currently working toward her MME at the University of Michigan.

Amanda currently serves as the 4th Vice-President of Orchestral Activities for MSBOA District 5. She's also a member of other string organizations, such as MASTA.

Amanda is a phenomenal colleague -- she's detail-oriented, dependable, and a fabulous collaborator. She works with many musical members of the community, bringing her students opportunities through Midland Center for the Arts, local colleges, and many more. She has brilliant educational ideas, and is more than willing to share the wealth. She's encouraging to both students and colleagues - truly wants the very best for everyone. A joy to work with!

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