LIVINGSTON, NJ – Although the weather outside was frightful Monday night, the warmth from family, friends and educational colleagues on hand to applaud the outstanding efforts of the Teachers of the Year at the Livingston Board of Education’s (LBOE) meeting was palpable.
Teachers of the Year, selected by voting committees at each of the 10 schools in the Livingston Public Schools (LPS) district, were honored with brief speeches by their principals and awarded with plaques of recognition.
“These are the teachers who make learning fun for students,” said Superintendent of Schools, Christina Steffner, in her opening remarks. “They lead by example. They’re life-long learners. And we want to thank each and every one of you for the work that you do every day.”
This year’s honorees included: Melissa De Angelus; Kathryn D’Anna; Laura Kirkpatrick; Maureen Kane Tavis; Maureen Biss; Deborah Craig; Colleen Donnelly; Phyllis Fiore and Mary Walmsley. Educational Services Professional of the Year went to LHS Student Assistance Counselor Christie Giacobbe.
Burnet Hill Elementary School Principal, Erika Gomez, discussed the emphasis the school puts on teaching its students to be “Burnet Hill Heros”—a quality she also attributed to her Teacher of the Year, eight-year veteran of special education in the district Melissa De Angelus.
“This year’s Teacher of the Year is a perfect example of what a hero should be,” said Gomez. “She’s committed to the students, the staff and the school and it shows every day through her dedication, selflessness and love for teaching. She is motivating and inspirational.”
The theme of selfless dedication to special education students was echoed several more times throughout the awards ceremony.
In introducing Riker Hill Elementary’s special education teacher of ten years, Kathryn D’Anna, Principal Jo Tandler detailed additional qualities that make her a standout including caring, knowledge of her craft, exceptional communication skills, a willingness to learn, reflect and share and a passion to see every child succeed.
“Watching Kathryn apply her magic in the classroom is truly an uplifting experience,” said Tandler. “She enjoys a stellar reputation for being someone who can always come up with a strategy that a struggling child can use. “
Mt. Pleasant Middle School Principal Debra Ostrowski recognized the district’s special education teacher of thirteen years, Laura Kirkpatrick, by offering sentiments expressed by Kirkpatrick’s teaching peers who reported that she “has a love of teaching,” “is an exceptional teacher,” “is just as eager as when she first started,” and “is the epitome of the power of positive thinking, applying mindful awareness that promotes creativity, cooperation and intrinsic motivation.”
Lisa Capone-Steiger, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services & Instruction, had the distinction of awarding the district’s Educational Services Professional of the Year award to LHS Student Assistance Counselor, Christie Giacobbe. Giacobbe is the co-architect of the Challenge Day leadership program, unveiled for the first time this year at LHS and Heritage Middle School.
“Christie is who you want behind you on your worst day in high school,” said Capone-Steiger. “Lots of students have their worst day in high school and she is always there to pick them up with a smile, hug them and give them the resources they need to get beyond those moments and to know that there are better days ahead.”
In describing the “ABCs” of what makes Collins Elementary third, fourth and fifth-grade teacher, Maureen Kane Tavis, worthy of the recognition, Principal John Leister concentrated on the Cs, reporting that phrases like “creating confident learners,” “creativity that capitalizes on ensuring she’s reaching every student,” “collaborative,” “compassionate,” and “cultivating an environment of community in the classroom,” were among those used by other Collins teachers to describe Tavis’ teaching talents.
Another fifth-grade educator recipient was Harrison Elementary School’s Deborah Craig, introduced by Principal Cynthia Healy.
“Deborah is one of our behind-the-scenes gems,” she said. “She slowly and surely gets there with each and every child. Our colleagues love her because she’s always there in the background to support them. She quietly helps everyone just come together.”
Healy concluded with the fact that the committee unanimously voted to name Craig as Harrison’s Teacher of the Year.
Shawn Kelly, Heritage Middle School Principal, took the opportunity to roast New York/Los Angeles actress turned eighth-grade English Language Arts teacher, Maureen Biss, making reference to her being a “larger-than-life character in the classroom” and pointing to her theatrically charged and innovative teaching techniques as being largely responsible for making her the compelling force she is in the classroom.
On a serious note, he added that she is a “tireless worker, giving feedback so that her students can become more self-aware and prepared.”
Hillside Principal Carlos Gramata offered his thoughts on why the less-traditional teaching choice was also the obvious one for Hillside’s Teacher of the Year, media specialist Colleen Donnelly.
“In many schools, the media center is regarded as the academic hub where resources and opportunities for learning are plentiful,” said Gramata. “This is true of our school because of Colleen Donnelly.”
Some of her more outstanding contributions, according to Gramata, include her assistance with the implementation of assessment software, coding and the Hour of Code program, rollout of Chromebooks and Google apps and fostering a love of reading through programs such as the Battle of the Books. Additionally, Donnelly was recognized for embodying the school’s commitment to character education, which won Hillside national recognition last year.
Mark Stern, LHS Principal, offered words of praise for Mary Walmsley, nineteen-year Forensic Science and Biology teacher, founder, co-advisor and project director of the school’s National Science Honors Society and coach-in-charge of the Science League and LHS Forensics Team’s Caldwell College Competition.
“Mary’s a real teachers’ teacher,” said Stern. “She ignites passion and the interest in the sciences. Her annual crime-scene-investigation assessment is one of the favorites of our academic calendar. It bridges our school with our community, as she invites the Livingston Police Department and other town agencies into the building so we can learn from their expertise.”
Mt. Pleasant Elementary Principal, Emily Sortino, turned the floor over to the former students (ranging from first graders to high school students) of honoree and kindergarten teacher of sixteen-years, Phyllis Fiore. The common thread that connected the student speeches was the theme that Fiore’s hugs alone were award-worthy for their life-changing quality.
The moments that the students recounted, including the many ways that Fiore had made their individual educational challenges seem more manageable, proved that Fiore “makes every single child a part of her extended family, according to Sortino.
“She loves them now and she loves them forever,” she said.
The above photo was provided by Marilyn Lehren, Manager of Communications/Community Outreach, Livingston Poublic Schools.