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LIVINGSTON, NJ — The principals of Livingston’s nine public schools attended Monday night’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting to introduce the 2019 Teachers of the Year and stuck around as the district honored Educational Services Professional of the Year Susan Gould, who has served at several of the schools.
Prior to the ceremony, LBOE President Buddy August and Superintendent James O’Neill each stressed the importance of recognizing teachers for the work that they do throughout the year, with August calling them “the most important people in this district." Gould, the current school nurse at Collins Elementary School, and the nine Teachers of the Year for 2019 were presented as follows:
Burnet Hill Elementary School: Erin Espino
After teaching first grade for many years, Espino recently moved to kindergarten and has also served on several committee within the school during her 13 years of teaching. With two Masters Degrees, Espino was described by her principal as “a natural teacher” with a strong knowledge and work ethic.
“None of these things would capture the heart of Erin,” said Principal Sara Bright. "Yes, they demonstrate her dedication to Burnet Hill and her professionalism, but Erin is so much more than that—she is truly dedicated to children and developing the profession of teaching.”
Bright added that Espino advocates for her students in many ways and “truly cares about them as learners, leaders and individuals.” When Bright asked Espino’s students how they would describe their teacher, the students said she is kind, smart and “reads the best books.”
Collins Elementary School: Tracey Dunleavy
After teaching at Riker Hill, Dunleavy moved to Collins, teaching third grade and now fifth grade.
Principal Robert Accardi said that although he has only been at Collins for three weeks, it is “abundantly clear that [Dunleavy’s] connection to children is both in the classroom and outside the classroom,” and that Dunleavy truly makes a difference in her students’ lives. Only having known Dunleavy for a few weeks, Accardi also read a statement from a colleague, who commented that Dunleavy, a mother of three, often describes herself as a “human highlighter.”
“Tracey loves her students and fully appreciates the diversity of their personalities, their tendencies and their learning styles,” she said. “Tracey could not possibly give any more of herself.”
Whether it’s after school or during lunch, Dunleavy’s students “know she will drop everything to help them,” she added. Dunleavy’s colleagues also described her as an “energetic, passionate, sensitive and humorous individual who has a remarkable impact on others.”
Harrison Elementary School: Lisa Fischer
Principal Cynthia Healy said that Fischer is known at Harrison for always being willing to extend extra help to her students, whether it’s before school, during lunch or after hours. She also “constantly shows them the power of hard work and learning,” according to Healy.
“One of the things that makes Lisa a wonderful teacher—and she’s been in every grade level from 2 through 5—is the fact that Lisa believes in learning and work," said Healy. "She believes that every child can make it, every child can move forward every day…and that hard work gets you where you need to be.”
Healy also said Fischer is an “energizer bunny” and is willing to pitch in whenever the school needs something done. She stated that it is a “wonderful thing to have someone who truly believes that hard work makes you a better person.”
Hillside Elementary School: Bridget Marshall
Principal Carlos Gramata explained that although teaching was not Marshall’s first career, as she initially worked in advertising after graduating college with a marketing degree, Marshall moved over to teaching because she wanted to do something more fulfilling and that would ultimately make a difference. She has now been teaching for 14 years, including 10 years at Hillside, where she taught fourth grade for many years and now teaches fifth.
“She has worked so hard with students to make sure they achieve academically, socially, emotionally and has shown just great care of them and their whole lives,” said Gramata. “She really is a true professional and valued colleague.”
Colleagues described Marshall as being kind, dedicated, honest and a team player.
Riker Hill Elementary School: Geralyn Lacourtna
Principal Debra Ostrowsky said that Lacourtna has been a reading specialist for 15 years and that she loves teaching because “each day is as different as the needs of her children.”
“She is constantly taking the pulse of her students as well as the teachers to see how she can support them,” said Ostrowsky. “She always gives it her all. She will comb the surface of the earth to find just the right resource for a teacher or a child.”
Ostrowsky, who said she is honored to have Lacourtna as part of the staff, added that Lacourtna is committed to helping struggling young readers and is constantly aware of the fact that “every student is the same but different.”
Mt. Pleasant Elementary School: Samantha Bannon
Principal Dr. Emily Sortino said Bannon is known as the teacher to jump at the chance to spearhead or at least have a large part in “anything fun” at the school, including Read Across America, Health Fair, Student Council and more. A large crowd of not only staff members but also local parents attended Monday’s meeting to support her.
“Sam is the kind of teacher that every child dreams of having; she cares so much,” said Sortino. “She cares that the kids are learning, she cares that the kids are happy, she cares that the kids are becoming the best kids that they can possibly be…she truly is a school mom for the kids in that room.”
Mt. Pleasant Middle School: Stafford Horne
Principal Andrew Espinoza introduced Mt. Pleasant Middle School’s band and general music teacher, stating that Horne has a “multifaceted career as an instructor and a performer,” teaching at the high school and collegiate levels before finding his passion in Livingston at the middle school level since 2001.
“During his time here, he has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues, who get to see first-hand the magic that unfolds each spring in our music department,” said Espinoza. “Every year, Mr. Horne takes in a new batch of budding musicians. They come with varying levels of talent and confidence, and they display different personalities and energies, a multitude of cultural backgrounds and a wide range of academic levels. Mr. Horne welcomes each of them into his fold; he gives his time unselfishly, making the students a true member of the classroom community, and works tirelessly to see each one of them achieve.”
Espinoza added that Horne’s “patience, sincere sense of humor and gallant demeanor” are what make him so successful at what he does, in addition to the “humility with which he approaches his profession.” He also said Horne is always open to implementing new ideas and is conscientious to the needs of the individual students as well as the school as a whole.
The principal concluded that Horne is “a true gentleman” who is “guided by wisdom but driven by heart.”
Heritage Middle School: Dakashna Lang
Principal Shawn Kelly described the language arts teacher by quoting a parent, who Emailed Kelly saying that Lang is “a positive role model and influence in the lives of her students.”
“She is incredibly hard working and innovative in the way she designs and presents her lessons, leveraging the latest technologies to not only lead her students in learning, but also to allow them to demonstrate their understanding of the material being taught,” said Kelly. “She is not afraid to take risks and reach outside of her comfort zone so that each day she is giving her students what they need to be able to grow and develop as learners.”
Kelly also said that Lang has a unique ability to create a learning environment where students actually enjoy reading and writing. He also noted that although she once considered leaving to pursue her passion of becoming an educational technology coach, Lang ultimately proved herself as a valued member of the Livingston school community and decided to stay because she missed the kids. Kelly added that he believes Lang was always destined to work in this profession.
Livingston High School: Dr. Susan Rothbard
Principal Mark Stern introduced once of the district’s most beloved English teacher, noting Rothbard’s “keen focus on written word” and her ability to challenge students to "experiment, reflect and improve their own writing pieces.”
In describing why Rothbard deserves to be recognized for her commitment, Stern said that Rothbard can always be seen with stack of papers, not because she loves grading them, but because her passion is to provide constructive feedback to young writers.
“Our Teacher of the Year constantly encourages our students to share their work with their community in a variety of ways, including our own award-winning ‘Inner Voices’ literary magazine, of which she has been an advisor for several years,” he said. “Our students are regularly submitting and winning competitions at the state and national levels as well.”
Stern said the best testament of Susan’s work is not what he has to say about her, but what her students have to say about her.
In explanation, Stern reminded the audience that two of Rothbard’s former Livingston students recently returned to teach guest lessons as newly published award-winning authors, both of whom acknowledge Rothbard in the "acknowledgment" sections of their new books. Both authors were eager to tell current LHS students how much Rothbard has helped them along the way.
Educational Services Professional of the Year: Susan Gould
Lisa Capone-Steiger, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, congratulated all of this year’s honorees as she presented the award for Educational Services Professional of the Year to her longtime friend Susan Gould, the current school nurse at Collins.
Capone-Steiger said that for 25 years, Gould has always had a knack for addressing the many different levels of needs among the student body, whether the students need an ice pack, a “boo boo Band-aid” or simply a hug. She added that Gould knows every student’s name, always knows how to respond and provides students comfort with an office that has a consistently homey feel.
“Susan brings so much to this district,” said Capone-Steiger. “She’s been in Collins, in Heritage, in Livingston High School…25 years of service to our district. How lucky are we to have had a nurse like this?...We are so grateful for your service and all you do for thousands of children in this town.”
The honorees are pictured above as follows:
Back: Samantha Bannon (MPE), Dr. Susan Rothbard (LHS), Dr. Dakshna Lang (Heritage), Erin Espino (Burnet Hill), Geralyn Lacourtna (Riker Hill) and Stafford Horne (Mt. Pleasant Middle)
Front: Lisa Fischer (Harrison), Bridget Marshall (Hillside), Susan Gould (educational professional of the year- she is a nurse at Collins) and Tracey Dunleavy (Collins)