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Westfield Grammy educator honored by community

WESTFIELD – Neighbors, students, former students, former teachers and good friends packed the cafeteria at Westfield Academy and Central School Friday to congratulate Kent Knappenberger, who put the small school in the national spotlight by winning the first Grammy as Music Educator of the Year.

The 25-year-veteran music teacher clutched the shiny gold award he was presented in California. It is not the traditional gramophone. 

“When I first looked at the award I thought ‘oh no, it’s not the traditional Grammy,’ ” he said. Then he was told that it is even more special – “it’s one of a kind.”

The “one of a kind” phrase was thrown around often when it came to descriptions about Mr. “K,” as his students call him.

Craig and Kelly DeLand of Westfield thought about him immediately when they watched the 2013 Grammy Awards show and decided to nominate the teacher. Their daughter, MacKenzie, a 2013 graduate, couldn’t say enough good things about her former teacher, and Jessi Rickerson, 11, a sixth-grade student, was thrilled with the attention.

“Finally our school is getting the attention we deserve because of Mr. K,” Jessi said.

The DeLands said that everyone has been thrilled with the way Knappenberger presents music.

“He even gets members of the football program to participate in chorus,” said Craig DeLand. “That wasn’t cool in my day.” Ivana Height, secondary school principal, said she has worked with Knappenberger for 25 years. “He is always coming to me with a new idea,” she said. “I don’t know how he does it.”

Donald P. Lang, a retired professor of music at Fredonia State College, said Knappenberger has set the standard very high for future winners of this award.

“It’s unheard of the way he could pick up an instrument,” Lang continued. “He has music coming out of every pore.”

Knappenberger started as a dual major in dairy science and music composition at Fredonia State. He said he made special mention of Tom Riegalski, his education professor at the college, as a teacher who made a profound difference in him.

Knappenberger had a hard time holding back his emotions in front of the home crowd. “These are the people who are closest to my heart,” he said.

Students from culinary classes honored him with elaborately decorated cakes, and others were helping to serve refreshments.

His wife, Nannett, said the surprises just keep happening. The couple was stunned by an email from an assistant to actor Dustin Hoffman. “We didn’t think it was real,” she said. After checking with Grammy coordinators, they found out that the information was true.

She said when her husband called the assistant she put Hoffman on the phone. He said he has an upcoming part as a music teacher and wanted to get some pointers, she said.