BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Last week, the Board of Education honored its Educators of the Year at a special meeting held in Governor Livingston High School auditorium. Each of the teachers had already received balloons and a bouquet earlier in the spring during a surprise visit to each teacher's classroom to announce they had been named their building's Educator of the Year.

Thursday night, May 9, each honoree received a small dish garden with multiple plants, a plaque and a red apple. Interim Superintendent of Schools Scott McKinney, reading from prepared remarks, gave a brief history of each teacher along with comments from their school’s principal, when introducing the teachers. These remarks can be read on the school district website, here

McKinney interspersed his remarks with a few personal comments, then turned the podium over to a representative of each school’s PTO, who spoke about the teacher. Each teacher then spoke about their experience as a teacher in the district.  Video of the event has not yet been posted on the district website, but there were camera crews there, so they should be available at some time in the future.

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The teachers being honored include:

 Brenda Marley a Reading Specialist at Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center began working in the district in September 2002. 

McKinney said her principal, Anne Corley-Hand said, “Brenda Marley characterizes the most essential qualities of an exemplary teacher: passion, motivation, leadership, and just the right amount of bossy …  She actively seeks innovation, is passionate in her quest to improve student learning, and possesses an unabashed willingness to take risks to find and adopt new approaches to enhance teaching effectiveness.”

Marley earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology with a Concentration in Special Education from Douglass College of Rutgers, The State University; and she received her Master of Education Degree in Reading from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

Marley said as a reading specialist, “I had the opportunity to work with almost all the students in the Berkeley Heights community.” But working mostly one-on-one, rather than as a classroom teacher has its drawbacks, she said. That was brought home to her when a student with whom she had been working for almost the whole year looked up and said, “’What’s your name, again?’” she said.

Matthew Madura, a Grade 4 Teacher at Thomas P. Hughes School began working in the district in September 2000.

McKinney said Madura has “an infectious enthusiasm for teaching while always advocating for the students in his classes.”

His principal went on to say, “I was not surprised that we were inundated with letters of nomination for Mr. Madura this year!” said Jessica Nardi, Principal of Thomas P. Hughes School.  “His unique teaching style is engaging and straightforward, and the students immediately feel connected to him.”

A graduate of Governor Livingston High School and the Berkeley Heights Public Schools, Matt earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Old Dominion University and he completed his teacher certification coursework through Kean University. 

Madura said, “I have 19 kids in my class this year who bring me challenges and joy each and every day. We learn together, we laugh together, at times we struggle together, and eventually we grow together.”

He said, “I applaud every parent of my students, because this job is never easy and, being a parent has put things in perspective for me.”  

Marilyn Merrill, a Media Specialist/ Librarian at Mountain Park School, began working in the school system at Mountain Park School in 1997 and, since 2011, she is the media specialist at Mountain Park and William Woodruff schools.   

McKinney reported, “Mrs. Merrill brings superhuman energy to all activities and instruction that take place in the Instructional Media Center of our school,” explained Jon Morisseau, Principal of Mountain Park School.  “Her creativity and enthusiasm are contagious.”

Merrill earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Teacher Librarian/Elementary Level as well as her Master of Arts Degree in Language Arts/Social Studies Education from Kean University.

Merrill said “I am humbled when I, upon finishing a reading with my class participating in a discussion with my students, the insights they bring totally amaze me. I am just so humbled by their articulation.”

She ended by quoting “Olivia. ‘Reading never wears we out.’”

Joseph Reel, Teacher of Special Education at William Woodruff School began working at William Woodruff School as a paraprofessional and as assistant boys basketball coach at Governor Livingston High School.

The next year he became a teacher of special education Resource Room/inclusion position at Woodruff and has continued in that role and teaches several classes at Mountain Park School.

McKinney reported, “Mr. Reel is an outstanding teacher who possesses a deep desire to teach, an understanding of children, a high level of energy, and an inner determination that ensures that each of his students learn the lessons of school and life,” explained Patricia Gasparini, Principal of William Woodruff School.  “He instinctively knows that the first and most important step in teaching is to build a rapport with the students based on respect, support, and building a community environment to take risks.”

Reel said he was going to “flip the script,” and talked about the people who influenced and helped him. When he was hired by Gasparini, he had no teaching experience, outside of a couple of months teaching social studies at a rural school in Ohio, where the kids would get up and farm for two hours before coming to school. My job was just to keep them awake … She took a chance on me … She has made me a better teacher through these years … I really appreciate it. Thank you.”

Donna Bokach, a teacher of Grade 6/Social Studies at Columbia Middle School first came to CMS in 1994. Donna Bokach has taught Sixth Grade Social Studies and Language Arts classes at Columbia Middle School since September 1994.  She arrived in Berkeley Heights after having taught Grade 6 for one year in the School District of Philadelphia; in the years since Mrs. Bokach has established herself as a dynamic classroom teacher and respected voice on the middle school staff.

 “The entire Sixth Grade team of teachers considers Donna Bokach as a mentor that they feel lucky to work with,” said Frank Geiger, Principal of Columbia Middle School. “She is a master teacher who is a tireless advocate for her students and she works hard to integrate a variety of student-centered instructional techniques into her practice.”

Bokach earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Lehigh University and she received her Master of Education Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Pennsylvania. 

Bokach said she overheard her “Kindergarten teacher tell my mom that I was so patient with the other kids, I should be a teacher.” Looking back, she said she realizes there are two things she loves, “I love learning, no matter the age or school … I get excited about it … I also love learners,” she said.

Daniel Guyton, a teacher of Technology Education at Governor Livingston High School, began his career in the fall of 2002 when he was hired as an Assistant Football Coach at GL. At the time he was finishing his student teaching at Bernards High School. The next September, he was appointed Teacher of Technology Education/Industrial Arts at GL, and he has taught a wide variety of diverse courses at his Alma Mater in the 16 years since joining the faculty.

 McKinney reported, “Guyton is a talented educator who demonstrates his passion for his students and his content on a daily basis,” said Robert Nixon, Principal of Governor Livingston High School.  “As a teacher of elective courses who also happens to be the head coach of three varsity sports teams, there may not be a staff member at GL who has the opportunity to positively influence more young adults than he does.”

Guyton earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Technology Education and received his Master of Education Degree in Instruction from The College of New Jersey. 

 McKinney said Guyton was once a student and player of his and they also coached together for a while. “We also have an agreement to not share any stories about each other from the old days,” McKinney said.  

 Guyton said “I drive up the hill each morning nothing less than pumped up to tackle the day … I take pride in the fact that my classroom is a place for all learners … I believe measuring, sketching out new ideas and making things by hand are as important as the three Rs.”

Retirees Honored

Following the presentations to the Educators of the Year, the board also honored the following personnel who had announced their retirement as of June 30, 2019, or had already retired. None of them were present because of conflicts.

Mara Berkey, Columbia Middle School Grade 6 Teacher/Mathematics, after 22 years of service to the district;   

Maureen Brewster, Mary Kay McMillin ECC/Mountain Park School, Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant, after 28 years of service to the district;   

Regina Colligan, Governor Livingston High School Paraprofessional, with 11.5 years of service to the district;   

Maryann Confroy, Mountain Park School Grade 3 Teacher, with 28 years of service to the district;

Peter Festante, Columbia Middle School Teacher of Technology Education with 30.5 years of service to the district;

Jill Fischer, Mountain Park School School Nurse with 22 years of service to the district;  

Virginia Guida, Thomas P. Hughes School, Lunchroom/Playground Aide with 25 years of service to the district;

Patricia Haber, Governor Livingston High School Paraprofessional with 20 years of service to the district;   

Mary Jane Koczot, Governor Livingston High Cafeteria Staff with 15 years of service to the district; 

Laurie Liming, Mountain Park School of Special Education with 22 years of service to the district;

Nancy Lo Presti, Columbia Middle School Cafeteria Staff with 18.5 years of service to the district;

Frances Milano, Mountain Park School Lunchroom/Playground Aide with 21.5 years of service to the district;        

Judith Rattner, Superintendent of Schools with 18.5 years of service to the district;

Michael Sharkey, Thomas P. Hughes School custodian with 10 years of service to the district will retire as of Aug. 1, 2019.

Joanne Stanek, Mountain Park School Grade 5 Teacher with 17 years of service to the district;

Holly Urenovich, Columbia Middle School Teacher of Family and Consumer Science with 31 years of service to the district.