Rochester music teacher Zachary Arenz named NY state teacher of year
The state Education Department has named Zachary Arenz, a Rochester City School District music teacher as the 2024 New York State Teacher of the Year.
Arenz teaches at Flower City School 54 in the Lyell-Otis neighborhood. It’s an area with high crime and poverty rates that affect students.
“We do have to grapple with the fact that there are schools and communities that have been left behind due to systemic inequities that are directly affecting the students that we’re charged with teaching and caring for every single day,” Arenz said. “If we’re to close this achievement gap in any meaningful way, we have to be looking at the way that ... our social-emotional world is impacting the students that we teach.”
The Board of Regents recognized Arenz for his work to uplift students, like keeping his classroom closet stocked with clean clothes and toiletries for them and learning Spanish to speak some students’ first language.
“A kid can't learn when they're worried about where their next meal is going to come from, OK,” District Chief of Staff LaShara Evans said. “They can't learn when a day before their house was hit with stray bullets. A kid can’t learn when they saw a loved one being arrested the day before. So those check ins with kids to see how they're doing before they even start the school day is important, and he did that.”
Arenz also recently designated his school a grief-sensitive school through a New York Life Foundation initiative.
“As a part of this project, Mr. Arenz provided teachers with education and resources to support students and families and their grieving process,” Regent Adrian Hale said. “I know firsthand the power of a good teacher. And I look forward to seeing all the work you do moving forward.”
Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski said Arenz’s commitment to students represents the same care and passion shared by thousands of teachers in the city school district.
The New York State Teacher of the Year award means Arenz is now a nominee for the national Teacher of the Year award.