ALBANY, N.Y. Sept. 12, 2023 — New York State United Teachers today congratulated Rochester Teachers Association member Zachary Arenz, a music teacher at Flower City School Number 54, on being named the 2024 New York State Teacher of the Year by the state Board of Regents.
Arenz, who has taught vocal, general and instrumental music to students from elementary to high school in Rochester since 2013, was celebrated by the Board of Regents and NYSUT during the Regents’ meeting in Albany Tuesday.
Peers and administrators say Arenz “embodies the power of the arts” and call the scope of his impact on both school and community through his emphasis on restorative practices “immeasurable.”
Arenz says he has learned that “deliberate, hard and consistent work to support social and emotional well-being is a critical foundation for a well-rounded and rigorous academic culture” and sums up his teaching philosophy as “establishing places where folks feel safe, communication is encouraged and anyone is welcome to express their truest self.”
“Zach exemplifies the life-changing work our teachers do every day, whether that’s guiding children and families through restorative practices, turning his classroom into a refuge where students feel supported or ensuring parents have the resources to engage with their kids’ learning,” said NYSUT President Melinda Person. “The mark he is leaving in Rochester is inarguable proof that emphasizing the whole child is key to healthy students, public schools and communities. We are proud to congratulate him on this honor.”
In the classroom, Arenz approaches music as a dynamic study aimed at cultural-responsiveness, complete context and collaboration. Beyond traditional courses, he has built a music enrichment program – using grant money he was awarded – for students who are experiencing grief. His classroom includes a closet full of clean clothes and toiletries his students can access if they need.
“We can look to teachers like Zach for inspiration as we explore new ways to teach and learn in our rapidly changing world,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jaime Ciffone. “His success in combining modern technology and methods with human connection and creativity is a model for how we can nurture individual students on unique pathways to success.”
He leads the school’s growth toward restorative practices, facilitates school-wide assemblies to nurture those relationships, and manages the school’s social media accounts with what his colleagues call “uncompromising commitment to our school culture and community.” Outside of his school he is also a representative for a student-exchange program, and volunteers as a section leader in the Genesee Valley Wind Ensemble.
“Zach has earned the respect of his fellow teachers and the affection of his students,” said Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski. “He represents the excellence and dedication of so many other teachers in our district and throughout our state. We are so very proud to be his colleagues.”
“I’m really proud to be representing the colleagues that stand behind me,” Arenz said. “I couldn’t do any of the work I do without their support. Knowing that I have the support and foundation of the staff, not only here at the Flower City School, but surrounding the district and the district’s community, is an overwhelming experience.”
NYSUT today also congratulated the Teacher of the Year finalists: Jonathan Clemmons at Minisink Valley Middle School in Slate Hill; Ellen Foley at Wheelock Early Childhood Center in Fredonia; and Nichole Hantsch at Chenango Forks Middle School in Binghamton.
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with nearly 700,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.