BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Teachers from each school of the Berkeley Heights School District were celebrated for their excellence at the Educator of the Year ceremony at the May 11th Board of Education meeting.

The ceremony honored educators that have made a lasting impression on the lives of their students, parents and colleagues, said Grace Acosta, Assistant Vice Principal Columbia Middle School, who facilitated the program along with Tara Oliviera, Assistant Vice Principal Gov. Livingston High School. 

"This is such a wonderful opportunity for us to really celebrate all of the educators throughout the Berkeley Heights public schools," said Superintendent of Schools Judy Rattner. "These are just some of the finest examples that we have."

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The six teachers recognized were: Maureen Brewster, Learning Disabilities teacher at Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center; Marie Pellegrini, Fourth grade teacher at Mountain Park School; Kate Corcoran, Fourth grade teacher at Hughes School; Sarah Burga, Fifth grade teacher at Woodruff School; Thomas Clayton, 8th grade Science teacher at Columbia Middle School; and Staci Toporek, Project Connect English teacher and Year Book teacher/advisor at Gov. Livingston High School.

The teachers demonstrated highly effective engagements with their students and dedicated service to their school and community and demonstrated significant commitment to their own professional growth to be lifetime learners, said Acosta. 

Each award winner was selected based on letters submitted by their colleagues, class parents and students. Dr. Gerard Crisonino, Board of Education committee liaison read a statement that exemplifies the six outstanding professionals being honored. "Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, one that understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be." 

Rattner introduced each of the six educators by reading commending statements from each of the school principals and outlined the teacher's educational background, years of service and listed the extra curricular work each educator is part of. 

 Mary Kay McMillin Learning Disabilities teacher Maureen Brewster is passionate, personable and proactive. District Supervisor Michelle Gardner described Brewster as offering ideas on remedial techniques specifically tailored to the needs of students in the classroom.   

Brewster said that after 40 years of working in education, "I still find coming to work very interesting, fulfilling and challenging every day." 

Mountain Park Fourth grade teacher Marie Pellegrini was the next to be introduced. Rattner read a statement by Mountain Park Principal Jon Morisseau, "She brings a highly specialized approach to the classroom which she has perfected earlier in her career. --- [She has] set a very high standard for inclusive education. She has made a significant impact on the Mountain Park community in a relatively short period of time." 

Pellegrini mentioned that the Berkeley Heights district is a great one for its academics and extra curricular activities, however, she said, "It's the true sense of community that amazes me all of the time."

"I have wonderful parental support in my classroom and terrific encouragement from my principal, co-workers, PTO, BHEF, and Berkeley Heights administration.  Ours is a wonderful district to live in, work, and learn," she said. 

Hughes School Fourth grade teacher Kate Corcoran was described by Hughes Principal Jessica Nardi as an ideal representation of all things that are great at Hughes School. "She creates engaging and purposeful lessons for the students and is a reliable and respected colleague. She is affectionately known as the President of Fourth Grade." Corcoran is known for her high standard for academic achievement in her class room.  

"I've learned that being able to collaborate, share, vent and laugh with your colleagues is essential to your success in the classroom," said Corcoran. 

Woodruff School Fifth grade teacher Sarah Burga was described as an exceptional teacher that has shared her talents with students grades two through five. "Her talents are best seen by her class in small group discussions where she moves her students to think and reflect by posing higher level questions," said Principal Patti Gasparini. "She instills her love of learning to her students by having them reading and identifying scientific developments to be green."

Burga explained the importance of the school Owl's motto of "Give a Hoot." "It's a very important piece in developing the character among all of us that are fortunate enough to be part of the Woodruff community," said Burga. She said the memories with her students outside of the classroom have been the best gift of all. "To me this is what teaching is about. It's about being there for your students in the school and out -- it's about getting to know who your students really are, and then appreciating them for who they want to be."  

Columbia Middle School 8th grade Science teacher Thomas Clayton is known as a collaborator, said Principal Frank Geiger. "He always looks for opportunities to collaborate with other subject area teachers to help the students to see the connections between science with other disciplines such as social studies."

"If I can get kids excited to come into my class, the rest was easy -- I can teach them science," said Clayton. "We are responsible for the energy we bring to any situation," he said. 

Gov. Livingston High School English and Yearbook teacher Staci Toporek is highly involved, highly respected of the Gov. Livingston family, said Principal Rob Nixon. "What sets her apart is what she adds to the culture of our school community. She cares so much about and for the students and staff." A colleague had said that Toporek regularly spends time talking with her students beyond the 56 minute class period -- "reminding me of what is most important about teaching." 

Toporek said that she tries to incorporate fun activities in her lessons, creative lessons that make learning engaging, and brings relevance of resources from outside the class that students can connect to. "I take a sincere interest in what my students are involved in," said Toporek. 

Board of Education President Doug Reinstein said that the district is very fortunate for all of the educators we have -- emphasizing their partnerships with the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation, PTOs and other organizations and the sense of community and contribution in the classroom and beyond. 

In addition to the high praise they garnered, each PTO president of all six schools awarded the recipients with a plaque and a plant.