NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – In an evening of celebration and recognition, four borough educators were named teachers of the year and received the coveted Golden Apple award at a recent Board of Education meeting.
Representing the borough’s four schools, Susan Kirkland, Mike Giordano, Ellen Thomas and Susan Drewes were introduced by their respective school principals.
Nomination for teacher of the year is made by their colleagues, and the Golden Apples were presented by Schools Superintendent Dr. David Miceli and Board President John Wolak.
Music and voice teacher Susan Kirkland was introduced by New Providence High School Principal Paul Casarico.
The principal said he marveled at Kirkland’s ability to transform individual abilities and talent into a singular voice. He noted the teacher’s ability to pinpoint chorus section deficiencies, offer a quick critique, make necessary refinements and then get back to the whole class without skipping a beat.
“Students are continually challenged and given different opportunities to showcase their individual and collective talents,” Casarico said.
One of the annual highlights of the school year is Senior Citizens Day where 50 to 60 borough seniors are treated to various events including an hour of student performances.
“This is always a highlight of the day with some of the senior citizens often coming an hour before show time,” Casarico said. Kirkland always includes some selections the seniors will enjoy and invites them to join in the sing-along with the students.
But what is most telling about Kirkland is the countless hours she logs before and after school to help students hone their musical talents, Casarico noted. Those efforts are certainly noticed by anyone who has attended any of the voice recitals, the Winter Concert and the Spring Musicals.
“She makes it all look effortless through many hours of practice, prodding and maybe a threat or two,” Casarico said.
Affectionately known as “Mr. G.” for his ability to connect with students, Mike Giordano has spent the last eight years as a seventh grade science teacher at the borough’s Middle School. He also taught science at the Allen W. Roberts School for five years.
“He exhibits all the characteristics of an outstanding educator working on improving his craft, respected by colleagues and students,” Principal Scott Hough said.
Two years ago, Giordano approached the principal to start a student centered focus group to provide students with an opportunity to discuss the many challenges they face.
Since then, the program has become a huge success providing students with a voice for the betterment of the school and help peers problem-solve daily challenges, Hough said.
Giordano also serves as a team leader facilitating weekly meetings with his colleagues to plan interdisciplinary learning opportunities, provides support for students who are at risk and ensures his team of teachers deliver a positive leaning experience.
“As a team leader, he provides guidance and assistance to new teachers and promotes a positive message throughput the building,” Hough said.
Called “a fascinating educator who brings her worldly experience into her classroom,” Ellen Thomas was introduced by Allen W. Roberts Principal Gina Hansen.
Thomas did her student teaching in Iran and remained overseas for the next 13 years teaching in seven countries. For the past 13 years she has been the sixth-grade math teacher at Roberts.
“During that time she has worked with a wide range of students with different abilities but has always found a way to give each one exactly what they needed to reach their full potential,” Hansen said.
A passion for learning not only is evident in test data but evident in the way students flock to her classroom before or after school.
Hanson said the teacher’s classroom, almost every day after school, is filled with Roberts students with some just wanting to talk and others seeking help. It’s not unusual to find middle and high school and even college students on break visiting a teacher who has obviously made an indelible impression.
However, Thomas’ sterling efforts don’t begin or end in the classroom. During the school year she spends her Saturdays and, during the summer, as part of the NJ Seeds program working with low income families transforming their educational opportunities.
In 2000, she took over the St. Jude’s Math-a-Thon program and under her leadership and the aid of Roberts students has raised more than $250,000.
Her colleagues were quick to offer sincere words of praise. “She creates an environment of freedom blended with personal responsibility,” one teacher said.
“Her genuine compassion and caring for her students and their academic success creates a fondness that is reflected in the school hallways every day,” another teacher said.
In a creative twist of introductions, Susan Drewes was introduced by Salt Brook Principal Jeannie Maier, who conspired with the teacher’s fourth grade students to write the introduction.
Congratulations from students were very much in order. “It’s really fun being in your class,” one student said. Another said the teacher made taking the NJ ASK test fun.
Students were quick to note that Drewes explained information in a nice, clear and fun way.
“She gives us a lot of examples and doesn’t get frustrated when we don’t understand something. She keeps explaining it until we get it,” another student said.
Drewes was recognized by students for initiative in organizing the school-wide paper recycling program. “She’s the ‘boss’ and we are the ‘workers’ who go around the school twice a month and collect all of the paper,” a student noted.
In addition to excellence in teaching, Drewes is also concerned about physical fitness allowing students to sit on stability balls instead of classroom chairs as well as conducting activity and fitness breaks between subjects.
“Ms. Drewes is very organized and has a lot of rules that we have to follow when we do these breaks and sit on the balls,” one student said.
Students were not only impressed by Drewes’ classroom skills but her schoolyard abilities as well paying high compliments as a pretty good kickball referee and not too bad at knockout and jump-rope.
“We think you were the best choice for their award and we hope you love your Golden Apple,” students wrote.