Rocky River High School students don’t want to see Mr. Kolczynski’s writing wiped away.
Now more than ever, they appreciate the math problems on the windows near their teacher’s stairwell morning post at the school, where he began to fill their minds with knowledge even before the bell rang.
Michael Robert Kolczynski, 37, an upper level math teacher at the school, died Thursday, Nov. 1, in a traffic wreck in his hometown of Concord. It was his second year teaching at Rocky River, this year covering Advanced Functions and Modeling, AP Calculus and AP Statistics classes at the Mint Hill school. He also started the school’s Astronomy Club and was in charge of the Math Honor Society.
Rocky River Principal Brandi Nelson described Kolczynski as committed, witty and relentless, adding he was always thinking outside the box. And as one of the smartest teachers she’s had, Nelson said his impact on his students was to inspire them to never give up, frequently telling them “The limit does not exist,” one of his favorite calculus phrases that he also applied to students’ future.
“I will say that he was one of the smartest teachers I know and I think his students recognized how incredibly brilliant he was,” Nelson said. “He would always push, push, push the students to make sure they would learn above and beyond what was needed – I think I’ll miss that.”
Nicknamed “Chef” because of his cooking talents, Kolczynski was known for his uniqueness as an individual, often wearing Hawaiian shirts or muddy cowboy boots to class.
“He was unique,” Nelson said. “He wasn’t your typical archetype of what a math teacher was like – I think that’s why the kids respected him so much and why they will miss him so much.”
Kathleen Kroh, a math teacher at the school, worked side-by-side with Kolczynski last year. The two shared a doorway, and now Kroh has stepped in to help teach Kolczynski’s classes. She describes Kolczynski as intellectual, witty and caring, adding that the math department teachers and students could always count on Kolczynski to have answers and explanations.
“We always knew he would make our math department look great,” she said. “And he was just so comical – always had something to make us laugh. He never went by your normal standards. He was always different and he was always himself and it was good.”
In the classroom, Kroh said Kolczynski always treated his students as individuals, not as a class, constantly encouraging them to continuously make improvements. Kroh said over the past week, it’s been very evident how much the students care about Kolczynski, plastering notes, letters, poems and pictures on his classroom door, planning a candlelight vigil and balloon release at the school, which was held Tuesday, and pleading with teachers to hold on to reminders of him.
“The students will miss his willingness to work with them. His writing is still on the board and they don’t want to erase it,” Kroh said.
“I think the students are happy right now that it’s other teachers from the math department coming in and working with them and not a stranger,” Kroh said, adding that they want students to have a balance of grieving and learning. “We’re finding they have to move on, too. I think they’re past the point of disbelief and moving on to being angry.”
Teachers and staff are doing their best to preserve memories of Kolczynski, taking photos of his board and math problems in the windows and also collecting students’ thoughts for a scrapbook for his family.
Amy Regan, another math teacher at the school, said Kolczynski will be greatly missed by the entire Rocky River family; they have to continue the learning process, but this time with him in mind.
“The entire senior class at Rocky River has said they are working to graduate for him – in honor of him,” Regan said. “So I think the students are focused on doing things to honor him, which I think he would have wanted.
“I have never met anyone in my life like Mr. Kolczynski. He had so much integrity,” Regan said. “He accepts you where you are, but calls you higher than that. He always challenged me, and while that can be frustrating at first, it allows you to analyze your own beliefs. I think overall, students and teachers at Rocky River will miss his unique personality. That classroom cannot be duplicated – he cannot be duplicated.”
A funeral service was held Monday, Nov. 5, in Concord. Kolczynski is survived by his wife, Valerie Blackwelder Kolczynski, and son, Olin Michael Kolczynski, as well as three sisters and numerous nieces and nephews. Memorial donations can be made to Kolczynski’s favorite charity, Heifer International, which helps families around the world by supplying them with farm animals to create food and income. Find more information online at www.heifer.org. Memorials can be left at the Wilkinson Funeral Home website, www.wilkinsonfuneralhome.com.