Award-winning Centerville teacher gets young students thinking deeply

Matthew Szozda, an art teacher at W.O. Cline Elementary in Centerville City Schools, is one of 11 educators named a “2020 Teacher of the Year” by the Ohio Department of Education.

The state honors one teacher annually in each of the 11 state school board districts, which include about 1 million Ohioans each. Szozda, who has been teaching in Centerville for eight years, is the winner for District 3, which encompasses Montgomery, Miami, Preble, Butler and part of Darke County.

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“It’s always nice to get recognized for doing the work that you care about,” Szozda said. “It speaks to not just me, but the district as a whole and all of the people who have helped me get there. I’m just a sum of everybody else around me.”

Szozda, who teaches second- through fifth-graders, takes a more intellectual approach than many would expect in an elementary school art class. He said while the students do create “something cute for grandma or mom” at times, they’re working more on their creative confidence and artistic process.

“The purpose of the content I teach is to give our students the ability to comment on the culture they live in,” he said. “My job as an educator is to give them the opportunity to explore … who they are and what they’re about. Then use that awareness to figure out what they want to change in themselves or their culture, or what they want to celebrate about it.”

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When Szozda was named the teacher of the year within the Centerville school district months ago, Cline Elementary Principal Sherley Kurtz said he develops inquisitive students who find ways to make a positive impact. She called him “so much more than an art teacher,” in a school district newsletter.

The 11 winning teachers around Ohio were nominated by school administrators, fellow educators, parents, students and community members. A panel of education and community stakeholders names five finalists this summer, then picks an Ohio Teacher of the Year this fall after interviewing the candidates.

The Dayton area has not had a state teacher of the year winner since 2007, when Fairborn High School social studies teacher Eric Combs was honored. Szozda is the second straight District 3 winner from Centerville, following on the heels of Centerville High School social studies teacher Jason Whited.

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Szozda said his students were excited for him to be named Centerville teacher of the year months ago, while he tried to stay focused on the work and process.

“It’s strange for me to be the center of attention, especially because I’m so driven by what they do and say,” he said.

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