By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor
Independence Township — Heidi Kroll couldn’t contain her excitement last Thursday after being named the Clarkston Foundation’s Teacher of the Year for the 2022-23 school year.
The award celebrates teachers in pre-K through fifth grade classrooms.
Kroll, a fifth grade teacher at Springfield Plains Elementary, soaked in the applause from the standing room-only audience at the Clarkston Community School Administration Building, showing off her certificate and also getting her choice of a new vehicle and two-year lease from the LaFontaine Automotive Group.
“My parents (Edwin and Laurie Krajniak) couldn’t make it tonight, but they would be so proud of me,” said Kroll. “I grew up in a very small town up north (Pesen, near Alpena) and I graduated with 30 kids in a K-12 building. My mom and dad, when I told them I was nominated once again for this award, they said, ‘You know what, Heidi? If you win, we’re taking a picture of you with that car and it’s going in the local newspaper.’ I am so happy to be able to call them and tell them because this is more for my parents than for me. My parents will be on Cloud 9 and it’s bragging rights for them, so I’m very grateful.”
Kroll was one of 10 finalists for the award, joining Melissa Chamberlain (kindergarten, Springfield Plains), McKenzie Chilcote (kindergarten, Pine Knob), Mary DiVito (second grade, Andersonville), Anne Duffy (first grade, Independence), Jodi Gabbard (first grade, Clarkston), Lynn Mitchell (kindergarten, Bailey Lake), Jessica Sorensen (third through fifth grade, Clarkston Virtual), Angela Surre (third grade, Clarkston), and Anne Marie Wilson (second grade, North Sashabaw).
Kroll has been a teacher with Clarkston Community Schools for 17 years. She spent her first three years at Pine Knob Elementary and taught second grade. She then moved to Springfield Plains in 2008 and has been there ever since, teaching second grade, second-third grade split, fourth grade and the last five years as a fifth grade teacher.
“The first person that really inspired me was (former principal at Independence Elementary) Mr. (Chris) Turner, when I student-taught at Independence,” Kroll said. “He told me something that has always stuck with me. He said, ‘Heidi, when you become a teacher, there is one thing that matters most, and it’s that kid that walks in your room. That’s the best gift that parent has to offer. And never forget at parent-teacher conferences when you need to have a difficult conversation, that that is your very shining best.’ I always try to think of that every time I have to have a difficult conversation with a parent about their child, or any time I get to tell them great things about their children. Mr. Turner was a really amazing person.”
Kroll also singled out her husband Bill for all his support over the years. Together, the couple has sons Bryton (10th grade), Grant (ninth grade), and Chase (sixth grade), all current students in Clarkston Community Schools.
“He really pushed me and supported me through my college years,” Kroll said. “He always believed in me and helped me out with math and different things that were difficult for me.”
Kroll’s philosophy of teaching states that “every child should be recognized as an individual learner.”
“Each child should be encouraged to take risks with their learning to discover their passion in the world around them,” she said. “The classroom is a place that provides opportunities for students to discover and an invitation to share all thinking and ideas. It should be a place that instills a natural love of learning and curiosity.”
Over the years, Kroll has been involved in many different leadership roles. Most recently, those roles include being a cooperating teacher for Oakland University, presenter of Thinking Classrooms for teachers and administrators, Springfield Plains School Building Design Team, Dr. Devereaux Scholarship Committee lead/presenter, MSUFCU coordinator, and an academic service learning contributor. Kroll also took courses during the summer to support her love of math through the Fraction Recovery Council and the understanding course of Math Quests and Concepts.
“I knew I wanted to become a teacher when I was four years old because of my kindergarten teacher Mrs. (Audrey) Heath,” Kroll said. “I was very young for my age when I went to school. My birthday is in October, so I was still four. She taught me everything that it meant to have a passion and a love for learning. She introduced me to books, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ and she told me about a public library that my parents didn’t take me to as a young kid. From that day on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. She’s 90 years old and still living up north, and she will see my picture in the paper.”
As for the car, Kroll said she has decided on a black Cadillac XT5.
PHOTO: Heidi Kroll, middle, is surrounded by current students, from left, Matthew McCormick, front, Isla Temelko, back, Sawyer Fuller, and Jeffery Aisthorpe at the awards ceremony on May 18. Photos: Matt Mackinder