Teacher of the Year 2022-2023

2023 Teacher of the Year Nominees
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

Dave Gott

David Gott has taught Instrumental Music for 25 years and is retiring (June of 2022). Dave was the Director of Bands in Haslett for 19 years and his first six years of teaching were in the Crawford-AuSable School District (Grayling).  David was raised in Rochester, Michigan. Early on in his music experience, David began to study clarinet privately with Don Platter.  Later, he was to study clarinet with professors Linda Bartley, Margaret Donahue, and Kennen White at Central Michigan University.  David earned his Bachelors of Music Education and did some graduate work at Central Michigan University.

During his tenure in Haslett and Grayling, Dave's bands have received consistent First-Division Ratings at both District and State level MSBOA Band and Orchestra Festivals. His bands have also had several individual band members, as well as ensembles, nominated for All-State as well as the Michigan Youth Arts Festival. Dave has also been active as a clinician and adjudicator for MSBOA.  Dave has served in many positions in MSBOA such as Honors Band Chair, Treasurer, Secretary, VP of Education, VP of Adjudication, VP of Solo and Ensemble, Education Committee Representative and MSBOA Chairperson of the Middle School/Elementary Music Workshop. 

During the 2006-07 school year, Mr. Gott was nominated for "Who's Who Among American Teachers", nominated for Michigan Teacher of the Year, given the Hats Off to Teaching Award and was awarded membership in the American School Band Directors Association where he served as Secretary. Dave also served as the Haslett Union's President and Chief Negotiator for many years as well as Chairperson of the Ingham Clinton Education Association.

Dave has considered it an honor and privilege to work with amazing colleagues and fellow educators throughout the State for the betterment of students' education, musical development and growth as young people.  Dave is looking forward to having more flexibility to advocate on educational issues, working with his clientele in Real Estate and spending time with his family.


Rebecca Kilgore

Rebecca Kilgore is in her 25th year of teaching band, with the past 19 years at East Rockford Middle School.  Bands under her direction have consistently received superior ratings at both the MSBOA District and State Band Festivals. Every year since its inception, students from the East Rockford MS band have been selected for the Michigan All State Band, with numerous students sitting in the principal chair.  Prior to East Rockford Middle School, she taught in the Kelloggsville and Kalamazoo Public Schools.  While at Kelloggsville Public Schools, Ms. Kilgore developed the music program from 19 students in the high school band to over 65 students in just five years.

Ms. Kilgore is an innovative educator, and has helped to provide many opportunities for her students, as well as professional development for her colleagues.  At East Rockford MS, she started the 6th Grade Solo Festival, a 7th grade band “live” Broadway theater trip and an annual 8th grade band trip to Chicago. The East Rockford MS Symphonic Band was selected to perform at the Michigan Music Conference in 2013 and 2016.  She co-presented a session on Beginning Band at the 2018 MMC with Nichole Bier titled, “Beginners: Better, Faster, Stronger.” In 2020, Ms. Kilgore was on a panel discussion at MMC led by Andrea Mack titled, “Self Care and Flow.” In 2023, Ms. Kilgore and the East Rockford Symphonic Band will present a demonstration clinic titled “After the Notes and Rhythms, NOW WHAT? Concert/Festival Preparation Tips.”

She received her Bachelors of Music from Western Michigan University and her Masters in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music.

Ms. Kilgore was selected as MSBOA District X Band Teacher of the Year for 2022 and 2015. She is an MSBOA adjudicator for Solo and Ensemble and Band and Orchestra Festivals at both the District and State levels.  She is also in demand as a clinician throughout Michigan.  She was nominated for the Who’s Who Among American Teachers award two times and was nominated for the Strathmore’s Who’s Who Award. In 2022, Rebecca became a member of American School Band Directors Association. She currently serves as MSBOA District X President and has served on the executive board since 2005 as Adjudicator Chair, Secretary, and Medals/Plaques Chairperson.

Rebecca Kilgore serves on the faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, conducting the Bernstein Band the past nine summers. She has also conducted the Middle School Band at the Knollcrest Music Camp at Calvin University the past eight summers. Rebecca has also conducted the MSBOA District 11 Honors Band in November 2018, the  MSBOA District 4 Middle School Honors Band in April 2017 and the District X 7th  Grade Honors Band in 2016.

Ms. Kilgore lives in Rockford with her two daughters Madison (16) and Elizabeth (12). She enjoys going to the beach, playing dominos/card games, attending Broadway Musicals, occasional tent camping and hanging with friends.


Dave Leach

David A. Leach has been Director of Bands at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School since 2002. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music Education at Eastern Michigan University. He began his teaching career at Ypsilanti High School in 1988 and spent fourteen years there before coming to Ann Arbor. He was appointed Chair of the Pioneer High School Performing Arts Department in 2006, and Fine Arts Department Chair in 2013, serving in that position until 2021.

Mr. Leach sustains the long tradition of quality performance and repertoire in the Pioneer Bands. During his 20 years at Pioneer, his Concert and Jazz Bands have received consistent top ratings at district, state, and national festivals. His Symphony, Concert, and Jazz Bands have won overall festival championships at every national event entered. Mr. Leach has had 7 ensembles selected to perform or be featured in a clinic at our state Music Conference. Additionally, Mr. Leach has had two ensembles featured at the Western Michigan University Spring Conference on Wind & Percussion Music (Ypsilanti Wind Symphony and Pioneer Symphony Band). Under his baton, the Pioneer Symphony Band has performed four times at Carnegie Hall, twice at the Mid-Europe Music Conference in Schladming, Austria and performed on tour in China. In 2014 and 2016 the Pioneer Symphony was selected a New Music National Winner in the Mark of Excellence National Wind Band Honors project.

Mr. Leach has served on the executive board of MSBOA’s District 12 as Secretary, Vice-President of Adjudication, Vice-President of Band & Orchestra, and President. During his entire tenure as educator, Mr. Leach has been the host chair of MSBOA sponsored festivals including District 12 Marching Band Festival, Band & Orchestra Festival, Solo & Ensemble Festival, and STATE Band and Orchestra Festivals. He has been an active member of MSBOA since 1988. He has been a member of the National Association for Music Education, the National Band Association, and The American School Band Director’s Association. He has been included five times in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. The University of Michigan chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia honored him in 2000 with the Pendleton Memorial Award for outstanding achievement in music education. He has been nominated four times for Disney’s American Teacher Award, and has received honors from the United States Marine Corps for sending his students to the Marine bands, including two to the Commandant’s Own Marine Band in Washington, D.C. He was the 2006, 2010 and 2022 MSBOA District 12 Band Teacher of the Year, and in 2014, 2017, and 2022 was a GRAMMY Museum’s Music Educator of the Year quarter-finalists. In 2015, School Band & Orchestra Magazine named Mr. Leach one of the “50 Directors Who Make A Difference”. In 2016, the Michigan Chapter of the ASBDA presented Pioneer High School Bands the Award of Excellence award for its continued commitment to excellence. Mr. Leach has served as the winds and percussion coach for the Michigan Youth Symphony Orchestra for over 12 years. Mr. Leach is also the Conductor of the Festival (faculty) Winds at the Southampton Summer Music Camp, a position he has held since 2013.

Mr. Leach has won the praise of international composers such as Michael Daugherty, John Mackey, Thomas Duffy, Alfred Reed, Jan Van der Roost and others for his insightful conducting of their compositions. Mr. Leach has attended the Wind Conducting Symposium with John L. Whitwell and studied conducting with the University of Michigan Director of Bands Michael Haithcock, and Maestro Michael Adleson; former conductor with the New York Philharmonic. In 2019 Mr. Leach was named Fellow for the H. Robert Reynolds Conducting Institute at the Midwest Clinic.

Mr. Leach is a proud member of the Pioneer High School Music Department, which has earned GRAMMY Signature School honors during his tenure there. In 2004, 2005, 2010, and 2015 the department achieved GRAMMY Signature School Gold status as one of the top two public high school music programs in the nation. In 2006 and 2011 the Pioneer Music Department was named the National GRAMMY Signature School as the top public high school music program in the nation, making it the first program ever honored twice by the GRAMMY Foundation. Currently, Mr. Leach is a past member of the GRAMMY Museums Music Educator Award screening panel; tasked with selecting candidates for the GRAMMY Teacher of the Year finalists. In the spring of 2022, Mr. Leach was selected as a featured clinician (along with the Pioneer Symphony Band) in the GRAMMY Museum's new initiative GRAMMY In the Schools Fest, which is a four-day virtual festival celebrating music and music education, broadcasted online the week leading up to Music's Biggest Night - the 2022 GRAMMY awards.

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Ann Felder

Ann Felder earned her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the University of Michigan where she studied with Nate Gordon, Yizhak Schotten, Bob Culver, and James Froseth.

Ann was the string specialist for Monroe Public Schools where she taught 6th-12th grade.  The high school orchestra under her direction has earned a first division rating at every festival they have attended, both district and state, during her tenure. Ann also led two after-school groups, the Frenchtown Fiddlers and the MHS Chamber Strings.  In addition to the 37 years, Ann has taught at various public, private, and parochial schools. She also had the pleasure of directing ensembles and teaching young string players in community organizations. During her 24 years with the Monroe Youth Orchestra and the Arts Centre Orchestra (ARCO), Ann worked with colleagues that included Michael Hopkins, Robin Bloomberg, and John Iatzko.

Ann has served on the executive board of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association at both the district and the state level for several years and is currently serving District 12 as Past-President.  In 2021, she presented at the Michigan Music Conference as part of an MSBOA panel put together by the Music Education Committee. As a member of ASTA, she regularly sent students to MASTA camp and even spent a couple years as a camp counselor once upon a time. In addition to teaching and MSBOA duties, she continues to serve as the organist for her church, a position she's held for the past 18 years.

Ann plays violin and viola in various community and musical theater ensembles and occasionally can squeeze in a concert cycle with the Adrian Symphony Orchestra. She and her husband, Mark, had the opportunity to join the South Shore Orchestra of Valparaiso, IN on the China tours of both 2016 and 2018.  She is enjoying her retirement (June 2022) and hopes that she will have the opportunity to explore the joy of playing even more.  Ann and Mark have 3 grown children and three grandchildren of whom they are immensely proud.


Dennis Kozian

Dennis Kozian, in his 25th year of teaching, currently directing the 6-8 Bands & 8th Grade Orchestra at Portage West Middle School.  He also directs an extra-curricular Jazz Band, which includes students from Portage West, Portage Central & Portage North Middle Schools.

As a 1997 graduate of Western Michigan University & a 2002 graduate of the VanderCook College of Music, Dennis began his teaching career in the St. Louis Public Schools (Michigan), serving as interim Director of Bands from January-June, 1998.  In July of 1998, Dennis was hired as the Director of Bands at Vicksburg High School & Vicksburg Middle School. 

While at Vicksburg, Dennis built a dynamic band program.  The VHS Marching Band grew to over 150 students in the ensemble.  The VHS Jazz Band saw continued growth and the band eventually split into two ensembles, meeting during zero hour five days a week!  The high school bands received many awards & honors.  The Symphonic & Concert Bands earned many first division ratings at both the District & State Band Festivals.  The VHS Marching Band performed at a Western Michigan University home football game in 2001.   That same year, the marching band also performed in the America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, held in Detroit. The Vicksburg Bands traveled extensively under Dennis’ leadership.  The concert bands performed in London, England in 2001 and Hawaii in 2004.  The jazz bands performed in the Magic Kingdom in 2005.

In 2007, Dennis became Director of Bands at Portage West Middle School.  For the past sixteen years, Dennis built the WMS band program into over 275 students.  Dennis’ responsibilities include teaching four sections of beginning band, two sections of 7th grade band, 8th grade band & 8th Grade Orchestra.  Dennis runs two clubs after school including “Band Jam,” which serves as a practice club for students, and the Portage Jazz/Rock Ensemble.  The Jazz/Rock Ensemble typically consists of over 70 students per year.    The Jazz/Rock Ensemble has performed in Chicago (2010 & 2013) and at Mackinac Island (2015 & 2017).  The Jazz/Rock Ensemble has also performed at the Michigan State Capitol, the Kalamazoo Air Zoo and for Senator John McCain in 2008.

Since the 2013-14 school year, the WMS 7th & 8th Grade Bands have earned straight first division ratings at the District XI Band & Orchestra Festival.  He has taken the 8th Grade Orchestra to the District Festival in 2020 & 2022, earning a first division rating & straight As both years.   Dennis had 90 events perform at Solo & Ensemble Festival in 2019 & 80+ events in 2022.  In addition, he has mentored over 50 pre-intern teachers since 2010.  Dennis had the honor of presenting three sessions at the Michigan Music Conference, in 2010, 2016 & 2021. 

Dennis has volunteered in District XI for many years.  He was President from 2001-2004, and again from 2012-2017.  Dennis was also the co-chair of the District XI Honors Band for two years.

Dennis is married to Sarah Kozian, a science teacher at Portage Northern High School.  Dennis & Sarah have two boys, Dennis Robert, age 9 and Benjamin, age 7.


Justin Valla

Justin Valla grew up in Madison, Connecticut and started playing the bass in 2nd grade.  He fell in love with music and the bass right away. He played in as many ensembles as he could; including groups at Yale University’s Neighborhood Music School.  There, he discovered symphony orchestra, jazz, blues, rock, and other alternative styles of music.  In high school, Justin regularly performed with the Southern Connecticut Regional Orchestra, the Connecticut All-State Orchestra, and he sat principal bass of the All-New England Orchestra.

Justin came to Michigan State University in the fall of 1995.  He played in the MSU Symphony Orchestra under Leon Gregorian, and studied bass with Peter Dominguez, Jack Budrow, and Rodney Whitaker.  He played in the MSU Wind Symphony under John Whitwell, and was active in the jazz studies program playing for Branford Marsalis and Benny Carter under Joe Lulloff and Andrew Speight.  After student-teaching in Okemos with Marilyn Kesler, he graduated in 2000 with bachelor’s degrees in double bass performance and music education.  

He began his teaching career in January of 2001 in the Lansing School District teaching beginning and middle school strings.  He joined MSBOA and started taking his 8th grade orchestras to Festival in 2001.  In 2005, he became the director of orchestras for the Marshall Public School District where he taught the entire program 5th-12th grade.  In Marshall, Justin started conducting symphony orchestras, and he took students to Festival, as well as District and State Solo & Ensemble.  He also conducted the Marshall Middle School Jazz Band and was invited to perform for collegiate jazz ensembles at jazz invitational nights hosted by Albion College.  He later earned his master of music education from MSU after he left Marshall and began teaching in St. Johns in 2010.  He spent eight years teaching orchestra and conducting pit orchestras for musicals in St. Johns before coming to Okemos in the summer of 2018.

Since becoming director of the Okemos High School Orchestras, Justin sends an average of 85 events to district Solo & Ensemble, and 50 events to State Solo & Ensemble.  He has students perform with the Michigan All-State Orchestra, has had students perform for the MSBOA Concerto Competition, and has earned top ratings for every ensemble at MSBOA District Festival.  At the 2019 MMC, Justin presented on how to introduce the blues, jazz, and improvisation to students with the help of a student demonstration group.  Justin is thrilled that the Okemos Philharmonic Orchestra was selected to perform next year at the 2023 MMC.

Over the course of his career, Justin has had students perform at the Lansing Capitol, Disney World, Hawaii, and multiple venues in New York City.  Throughout his teaching, he remains dedicated to teaching all students to be thoughtful and productive people as well as high-achieving musicians.  He does this by fostering what he calls an “orchestra family” where students know they are safe and cared for every day.  He makes it a point to expose his students to many styles of music.  His groups perform classic repertoire as well as pieces by new, local, and diverse composers.  This leads to his groups learning elements of improvisation, jazz, rock, and fiddle music along with orchestral classics by well-known composers.  Justin seeks to give back to music education by training multiple intern teachers, being a clinician, arranging music for ensembles, and by hosting District Band & Orchestra Festival and both District and State Solo & Ensemble for MSBOA.  He has also had students participate in MSBOA adjudicator training workshops. 

Justin has performed with the Lansing Symphony, the West Shore Symphony, various community orchestras, and in many pit orchestras for local theaters.  He also plays every Sunday for a local church in Lansing.   Currently, Justin lives in East Lansing with his wife, Samara, who is a choir teacher in Haslett. Together, they have three daughters; Myah, Julia, and Lara.  Outside of school, Justin enjoys spending time with his family, fishing, cooking, arranging music, and performing for his neighbors with his dad-band.

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