LIVINGSTON, NJ — At its annual recognition ceremony on Monday, Livingston Public Schools honored its ten “Teachers of the Year,” including: Jean Peslak (Burnet Hill); Christopher Purdue (Collins); Karen Zavaglia (Harrison); Sarah Pacheco (Hillside); Nicole Lynn (Mt. Pleasant Elementary); Nicole Carangelo (Riker Hill); Susie Ferguson (Mt. Pleasant Middle); Nina Vescio (Heritage Middle School); Dawn Feeley (Livingston High School); and Jennifer Alvich (Educational Services Professional).

About Jean Peslak - Burnet Hill:

Peslak, a fourth-grade teacher at Burnet Hill Elementary School, earned an undergraduate degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She holds a master’s degree from Caldwell College in English Language Arts (K-12), Reading Specialist; and a master’s degree in Social Studies, K-12.

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Peslak began teaching in Livingston first as a substitute, and then began teaching kindergarten in 2007. Peslak spent several years teaching third grade in the district, and is presently teaching fourth grade at Burnet Hill.

I love to empower my students to question and explore the world around them,” she said. “I also love to inspire my students to expand their thinking in order to learn new concepts.

“I have high expectations for all my students to learn and work hard. I help them to climb the ladder of understanding and master new ideas. This is not an easy process because many students learn at different levels.

“While it is difficult for me to observe some students struggle, it is my role to encourage them. If they do not understand it ‘yet,’ I am here to help and teach them how to reach their goals. But through this struggle, the most rewarding feeling is seeing smiles on my students’ faces and telling them, ‘I knew you could do it.’”

About Christopher Purdue – Collins:

“What makes teaching Physical Education so rewarding is that the students genuinely love coming to P.E. class. Movement, exercise, sports and fitness skills are what children were built to do, they need to move and love to learn in this manner,” said Christopher Purdue, a physical education teacher at Collins School. “This makes my job very easy from the student motivation standpoint.

“It’s very special for me when I can have an effect on a student in a positive manner because movement skills and fitness are life-long skills. Students can be turned off to Physical Education at an early age and this can reverberate for the remainder of their lives. In addition, promoting physical/overall health and movement in the gym translates to positive performance in the classroom. I really enjoy being an active part of that process.”

Purdue earned an undergraduate degree in Physical Education Teacher Certification, along with minor degrees in both Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Science from William Paterson University. He holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science and a Supervisor’s Certificate from Montclair State University, as well as a Principal’s Certification/License from NJEXCEL. 

Purdue has been teaching in Livingston for 15 years, and over those years has worked as a leave replacement teacher, full-time teacher, and travelling teacher before becoming the full-time physical education teacher at Collins Elementary School in 2010. He also coached track at field at Livingston High School for one season.

About Karen Zavaglia – Harrison:

Harrison School second-grade teacher Karen Zavaglia earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Lock Haven University.

She served as a student teacher in Vienna, Austria for fourth grade at the American International School. At St. Ann School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey she worked as a second grade teacher for three years.  She has been teaching in Livingston for 25 years.

“I love that no two days are ever the same,” she said of her love for teaching. “I am given the opportunity to touch the lives of my students in more ways than one. I get to encourage my students through a challenge and inspire them to be a kind person to themselves and others. I am able to share in their excitement of learning new things, while they are making the connections to real life.” 

About Sarah Pacheco – Hillside:

“My favorite thing about teaching kindergarten is having the pleasure of welcoming new families as their children begin their educational journey,” said Pacheco, a kindergarten teacher. “I love building a solid academic and social foundation for students to build upon as they grow up.”

This is Pacheco’s ninth year in Livingston and her tenth year teaching, overall. Her favorite subject to teach is word study.

“Seeing students get excited as they start to understand how words work is fun and rewarding,” she said. “Teaching kindergarten is fun because every day is truly an adventure.”

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Pacheco earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Before moving to New Jersey, she taught kindergarten in Chapel Hill for one year.

About Nicole Lynn – MPE:

Nicole Lynn has been teaching in her hometown of Livingston for 21 years total, and has spent the last eight years teaching first grade.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hartford, and began teaching sixth grade in Jersey City at Sacred Heart School in 1993, where she taught for two years. She also taught sixth grade in Irvington before joining the staff of LPS in 1997. 

“There are so many reasons why I love my job,” she said. “The first of many is that I love kids! I love the challenge I face every day to pique their curiosity, inspire them, engage them and make them hungry to learn. I love giving and receiving hugs, validating my students’ feelings when they need someone to listen, and celebrating the ‘aha!’ moments and victories they achieve. Every day, I look forward to embarking on a new and exciting adventure."

About Nicole Carangelo - Riker Hill:

Nicole Carangelo, a fourth-grade teacher at Riker Hill Elementary School, earned a dual degree in Elementary Education and Psychology from Rider University. In addition, she holds a master’s degree in Reading from Montclair State University, where she became a certified Reading Specialist.

This is her tenth year teaching in Livingston. Previously, she taught for one year in Hanover Township. In Livingston, she has taught mostly fourth grade, with one year of fifth grade, and one year as a Math Interventionist in grades three to five.

What she loves most about teaching is her students.

“I love having the opportunity to teach students not just the academic side of things, but the social/emotional,” she said. “The look on a child’s face when they accomplish something they have never done before is priceless. I love to be able to foster learning through goal setting, student based inquiry, and a growth mindset.

“As a teacher, I have the amazing opportunity to show kids that they can do anything they set their mind to. I thrive on my ability to create a classroom full of respectful, inquisitive students who feel comfortable and confident when they learn. We begin each day by discussing a quote of the day that reflects this growth mindset and I feel it is the heart of my teaching."

About Susie Ferguson – MPMS:

Mt. Pleasant Middle School math teacher Susie Ferguson earned a bachelor’s degree in Child Development from California State University, Los Angeles and a master’s degree in Educational Technology from National University.

She taught fourth and fifth grade for five years in the Alhambra School District in California. This is her 17th year teaching in Livingston.

Among the things she enjoys most about teaching is when a student who is trying and working hard finally gets that “aha” moment when everything “clicks.”

“The big smile on their face and look of relief and joy is so rewarding,” she said. “We all strive to make a difference, to improve the lives of children. So when a student – or better yet, a parent – tells you how much they appreciated everything you did for them, it means the world to me.”

About Nina Vescio – HMS:

Pasqualina Nina Vescio immigrated to the United States from Italy at the age of 15. Having no prior knowledge of the English language, she entered high school at a time in which ESL (English as a Second Language) classes were not available.  As the need to communicate was essential in helping herself and her family integrate into American society, she persevered and became fluent in English. 

At Montclair State University, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in World Languages, specializing in Italian and French. She worked as a teaching assistant at Rutgers University and then at Columbia High School in the Maplewood/South Orange school district, where she went on to become a full-time Italian teacher.

During her career, she implemented a middle school after-school program sponsored by IACE (Italian American Committee of Education) in Maplewood/South Orange.  She went on to become an Italian teacher at St. Vincent’s Martyr School in Madison, New Jersey, where she taught for five years.

In 2000, in Livingston Public Schools, she implemented the fifth-grade, district-wide Italian program. The program grew to sixth grade, and then to seventh/eighth grade, creating the bridge to the high school. 

Over her 17 years as a Livingston teacher, she has enjoyed teaching, being in the classroom and being able to share her love and her passion for her language and culture with her students.  She says her students have inspired her to always explore new topics and methods of teaching to generate excitement and an emotional connection to the Italian language.

About Dawn Feeley – LHS:

LHS social studies teacher Dawn Feeley has put in 22 years of teaching – all at Livingston High School – a place that she praises.

“You can’t be bored at LHS,” she said. “Students and colleagues are passionate about what they are learning, teaching, and seeing going on in the world and they want to share those ideas. Even when I teach the same lesson more than once, it is different every time.

“The students in each class bring their interests and interpretations to our class, and I get to experience the same content in a new way.  The ever-changing nature of what we do, how we do it, and whom we are working with keeps teaching exciting and engaging.”

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Muhlenberg College, and holds a master’s degree in Education Administration from Kean University.

About Jennifer Alvich – LPS:

Behaviorist Jennifer Alvich has been named LPS Educational Services Professional of the Year.

Alvich, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University at Albany and a master’s degree in Counseling from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, completed her post-masters studies in Behavioral Analysis at St. Joseph's University. She is currently working toward a certification in Special Education at Rutgers University. 

She taught US History and Psychology in Palisades Park before joining the staff of Livingston Public Schools 14 years ago to teach the same courses. She switched to her current position as a behaviorist three years ago, following her heart into a new career path. 

“I loved teaching with all my heart, but I also knew my passion was to work with our most important and special population in Livingston,” she said. “I love the uniqueness of each day and the challenges set before me and watching those challenges turn into successes for each of the student I work with on an individual basis. I also love working closely with staff and using my years as a teacher to really problem solve.”

Pictured above are:

Back: Nicole Lynn (MPE), Nina Vescio (HMS), Jennifer Alvich (LPS Educational Services Professional of the Year), Dawn Feeley (LHS), Karen Zavaglia (Harrison) and Susie Ferguson (MPMS) 

Front: Sarah Pacheco (Hillside), Nicole Carangelo (Riker Hill), Christopher Purdue (Collins) and Jean Peslak (Burnet Hill)