FAIR LAWN, NJ - Fair Lawn Public Schools is proud to announce the 2019-2020 Governor’s Educator of the Year and Educational Services Professional of the Year. 

The awards are part of the state’s Educator of the Year Program, which recognizes the hard work of outstanding teachers and educational services professionals. Schools across the state are invited by the Department of Education to participate by selecting one teacher and one educational services professional to be recognized at the school level. 

The list of recipients will attend a countywide recognition event in the spring. 

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Forrest School: 

Valerie Mazza, second grade teacher, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. Mrs. Mazza is an exceptionally skilled and dedicated educator and inspires her students to achieve from the moment they step into her classroom. She has developed extension activities and mini-projects to challenge students, as well as cater to students still developing foundational skills. Throughout her tenure, Mazza’s second-grade class- room has been utilized as a “model classroom.” Mrs. Mazza is an active member of the district wide literacy and math cadres. She is a role model for teachers, parents, and students. 

Kelly O’Shea, paraprofessional in a self-contained language learning classroom in the fourth and fifth grade, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. She is able to meet her students at their level to elevate their skills and sense of accomplishment. She provides appropriate support as her students work toward achieving academic goals. She is an educational professional that all children look toward as a classroom resource. Mrs. O’Shea was the Vice President of the Forrest School PTA for three years, served on the FLHS PTA for the past five years, one year as vice president and the last four years as president. Mrs. O’Shea is an exemplary paraprofessional and a valued member of the Forrest School staff. 

Lyncrest School: 

Debbie Kempin, fourth grade teacher, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. Mrs. Kempin, a highly dedicated teacher who goes above and beyond for her students and the school, is in her 22nd year of teaching at Lyncrest School. She is a reflective professional, always looking year after year to better herself for her students. Kempin inspires her students and gears her lessons to each individual learner’s abilities. She utilizes data in creative ways to ensure her students are always growing. She serves on many commit- tees outside of the classroom: running the Environmental Club for fourth and fifth-graders on her own time and is a contributing member of Character Education committee. She has brought many worthwhile projects into the school such as using recyclable bags, colorful garbage cans, and recyclable art projects. Mrs. Kempin has applied for and won environmental grants that have funded her initiatives. 

Laura Gere, paraprofessional in the district for three years, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. Ms. Gere has demonstrated her ability to work with students with special needs. She is kind, compassionate, and gets to know each child she works with. She develops creative ways to teach content to students who are in need of an alternative style. In addition, Ms. Gere is aware of each child's emotional well-being and there to support them throughout their day. 

Milnes School: 

Jason Becker, physical education teacher, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. In 2003, he graduated from William Paterson University with a B.S. in Exercise and Movement Sciences with a concentration in teaching physical education and health. Mr. Becker continued his education at Marygrove College and earned an M.A. in the Art of Teaching with a concentration in Elementary Reading and Literacy in 2009. In 2003, he started teaching in New Milford, N.J. and a year later, came to Milnes where he has been demonstrating his skill set with all of the students. Each year, Mr. Becker coordinates the Milnes Walk-a-Thon, which helps raise money towards scholarships for Fair Lawn High School students. He organizes and prepares the school’s Field Day, where students can showcase all they have learned throughout the school year. He has served on the I&RS, HIB, Character Education Committees, and was a member of the ISCI Grant team. In addition to his teaching duties, since 2008 he has been the director of Camp Flair, a camp though the Fair Lawn Community School. 

Jackie Patterson, paraprofessional, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. Mrs. Patterson began working at H.B Milnes Elementary School in 2004 as a lunch aide and the next year she was hired as a paraprofessional in the LLD Classroom, a position she has held for 12 years. During the 2016-2017 school year, she was reassigned to Radburn School to assist with a fourth grade class. Upon returning to Milnes the following year, she has been working in the upper grade classes, as well as the Resource Room. 

Radburn School: 

Jessica Wilson, resource special education teacher and educator for eight years in a variety of roles, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. Mrs. Wilson received her bachelor’s and master’s degree from Felician University and began her career as a Resource Room teacher in Jersey City before taking over as a paraprofessional in a fourth-grade classroom at Radburn School. The following year, she assumed a fourth grade classroom of her own before moving to the Resource Room. Her work with special need students has proven to be where she truly shines. As a result of her continued support and advocacy, many students have overcome hardships and learning blocks under her tutelage. 

Michelle Nappi, paraprofessional for the past eight years, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. She has held numerous roles throughout the district while her two sons attended Fair Lawn Public Schools. Mrs. Nappi was the PTA President at Forrest, PTO President at Memorial, and currently the PTA Vice President at Fair Lawn High School. Over the past few years, she served as the PTA Council President and this is her last year in that position. In addition to these many roles, she is also the Association Representative for the Fair Lawn Education Association for Radburn School. Mrs. Nappi is a true professional advocating and supporting students in a variety of ways in the many positions she serves. 

Warren Point: 

Traci Thiele, fourth grade teacher, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. Mrs. Thiele, who started teaching in Fair Lawn 18 years ago as a REACH teacher, is an unequivocal advocate for her students and their families. She not only works to service her students in her classroom, but looks for opportunities for her students to gain real-world experiences through hands-on approaches to all subject areas and creates situations where students can actively participate in the learning process. 

During the 2019-2020 school year, Thiele has been instrumental in helping Warren Point school strive for a bronze certification through Future Ready Schools as the Lead Teacher. She has also served as a clinical faculty member at Montclair State University, mentoring and supporting aspiring teachers. In addition, Thiele serves as a mentor to first-year teachers. 

Lori Wootton, paraprofessional, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. Mrs. Wootton is representative of the integrity, dedication, and enthusiasm needed for student achievement in the 21st century classroom. A jack of all trades, she juggles the fast-pace and high demands of the fifth-grade environment with ease and efficiency. This enables both the students and the teacher to successfully engage in a learning environment where the needs of each child are individually met for optimal learning. She initiates hands-on learning in both small and whole group lessons. She targets learning preferences to help all students achieve successful outcomes. Additionally, Mrs. Wootton dedicates her time reinforcing daily routines that are beneficial to students as this helps to build community and foster an overall feeling of security. She is truly a lifelong learner and keeps her mind open to new and challenging experiences. 


Christine McKenna-Alfano was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. Mrs. McKenna-Alfano joined the Westmoreland team in 2016. She has served the students of Westmoreland School as an ancillary teacher who provides added levels of support and remediation for our K-5 students in the areas of literacy and mathematics. Mrs. McKenna-Alfano provides a safe, hands-on, and extremely nurturing learning environment which maximizes learning and helps students to build strong foundational skills to ensure their academic success. She has worked to master all grade level curricula, and works collaboratively alongside all grade level teachers to locate even the smallest area of a student’s misunderstanding or struggle. She then addresses this and works to reintroduce a concept, provide additional practice and build that child’s confidence with the concept. Mrs. McKenna-Alfano’s support of her students does not stop there, as she often willingly jumps in to host family math nights and serves on many school-based committees which continue to support her students in and outside of the school day. Mrs. McKenna-Alfano is a skilled and compassionate educator who makes learning fun. Her dedication and enthusiasm for our school and students is apparent each and every day. 

Amanda Genchi was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Specialist of the Year. Mrs. Genchi joined the Westmoreland team in 2018 as a skilled behaviorist who works alongside many teachers and students to provide a comprehensive approach to behavior management that includes consults, data collection, and interventions. Mrs. Genchi dedicates time to personally learning each student. She spends countless hours observing students and utilizes this information to make informed, collaborative decisions regarding students’ programs and behavior plans. Mrs. Genchi works closely with Child Study Teams and instructional staff across the district to provide meaningful insight and support, maximizing learning and creating suc- cessful and adaptive environments for each individual student. We can always count on Mrs. Genchi to travel across the district at a moment’s notice when a student requires her support. 

Edison School: 

Jonathan Hadyka, a teacher in Fair Lawn for two years, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. His dedication to his students is impressive. Mr. Hadyka has been able to work with students with all types of educational needs and grade levels. He is a teacher liaison to FLASE, our district special education PTO/ advocacy group. 

Lauren Molnar, a Behavioral Specialist for the past three years, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Specialist of the Year. She travels from school to school assisting with the social and behavioral needs of students. She collaborates with teaching staff on the updating and integration of our ABA discrete trial teaching to our students. Mrs. Molnar also assists with professional development for all of our staff. 

Memorial Middle School: 

Daniela Nizza, special education teacher, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. She is a skilled educator and an exceptionally caring, insightful, and dedicated professional. Her engaging personality and intuitive nature allow her to connect to and help others feel heard and understood. Her energy, empathy, and compassion drive guide her in her daily work with all students and is especially true of her interactions with special needs students. Ms. Nizza is committed to providing students with opportunities to grow and improve, and be their best selves. 

Kathy Kocharian, paraprofessional, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. She is an extraordinary and respected member of the MMS school community, a kind and generous human being devoted to students and their academic success, and emotional and physical well-being. Her enthusiasm is unparalleled as she works with middle school aged, cognitively impaired students, assisting these students with their everyday classroom work and responsibilities. She works with these students in groups and individually as they learn and practice their reading, writing, math, cooking, and daily living skills. Ms. Kocharian is dedicated to her work and passionately committed to helping these students learn, grow, and become self-sufficient. 

TJ Middle School: 

Kirsten Stensrud, math teacher, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. Ms. Stensrud began her teaching career in Fair Lawn 21 years ago. She accepted a position where she taught one class at the high school, two classes at TJMS, and two classes at Memorial. At the end of that first year, she was thrilled to be offered a position to take over as one of the seventh-grade math teachers at TJ. As the senior member of the math department, Ms. Stensrud had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for one of our new teachers last year and feels she can not only offer advice to her colleagues from her years of experience, but she is also not afraid to ask for their assistance on the latest advances in technology or for ideas on trying new, innovative lessons. Ms. Stensrud has worked closely with our special education population, working to develop lesson plans to specifically meet their needs and also enjoys sharing her love of mathematics with her enriched, pre-algebra students. Ms. Stensrud has worked to create a positive environment for her students with bright, visual displays in her classroom and by greeting them as they enter and exit the classroom each day. She often has a busy classroom after school. It is not unusual for Ms. Stensrud’s car to be the last one in the parking lot, as she often stays into the evening hours grading papers or working on lesson plans. Ms. Stensrud loves calling TJMS her home, feels extremely fortunate to have worked with her TJ family all these years, and is honored to be recognized as TJ’s Governor’s Teacher of the Year! 

Marisa Heluk, guidance counselor, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. Ms. Marisa Heluk began her career as a school counselor at TJMS in the 2011-2012 school year. Her eagerness to collaborate and build relationships with students, parents, faculty, and administration was evident from the start of her career in Fair Lawn. Ms. Heluk demonstrates through her work daily that the role of an effective school counselor should never be a static position that just takes place in an office. Ms. Heluk actively provides outreach services in a variety of areas such as awareness programs, guidance lessons that aide in student’s growth and development. She understands the importance of being aware of current issues both in the student body and the community at large in order to best serve her students and families. 


Kathryn Meneghin, science teacher of biology, environmental science and horticulture, was named the 2019-2020 Educator of the Year. A teacher for 29 years, Ms. Meneghin has spent 20 of those years at FLHS, where she has served on many committees outside the classroom. She is an advisor of the Environmental Club, Biology League, and Chess Club; she was the creator of the FLHS horticulture program from scratch. She collaborates with the Fair Lawn Green Team and other community partners to advance various environmental initiatives such as recycling and anti-idling. She spearheaded the development of the court- yard area at FLHS where students can relax and expand their Biology knowledge. Ms. Meneghin promoted the installation of the water filtration drinking fountain at FLHS and oversaw the three Boy Scout Eagle Award projects that resulted in the creation of rain gardens, a solar-powered fountain, and a two-level fish pond that features a waterfall and habitat for real fish. 

Dena DeSantis, guidance/school counselor, was named the 2019-2020 Educational Services Professional of the Year. Ms. DeSantis has been a counselor for 20 years, spending 16 of those years at FLHS. Beyond her professional duties, her indefatigable work serving on current and past committees at FLHS has benefited both the school and community. She is the co-advisor of Interact Club, engaging in many community service endeavors such as Relay for Life; a member of the School Climate Team, where she collaborated to develop a school climate survey and positively recognize students; a member of the Military Tribute Monument Committee, where she is spearheading the effort to install outdoor and indoor remembrances for FLHS alumni who have served or plan to serve in our armed forces; and a member of the School Improvement Panel. She is a former advisor of the Animal Rights Club and past award recipient for the Com- munity Champion Award from the Bergen County Office of Disabilities Services. Ms. DeSantis is also an anti-bullying specialist.