RANDOLPH, NJ- Six Randolph teachers received surprise visits from their principals and Interim Superintendent Jennifer A. Fano on January 14 and 15 when the winners of the Teachers of the Year were announced.

The 2016 winners are: Center Grove: Marissa Kulahi (grade 4), Fernbrook: Maureen Frio (grade K), Ironia: Janice Freidland (grade 2), Shongum: Natalie Ernstes (general music), RMS: Rio Clemente (grade 6 social studies) and RHS: Martel Roberts (business).

Interim Superintendent Fano congratulated all of the winners last week as principals presented them with certificates and sometimes flowers and balloons. Some winners cried and one even screamed. Students cheered and clapped and one kindergartener made Ms. Frio a heart to congratulate her. It was an exciting time for everyone.

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Each winner may apply for the Morris County Teacher of the Year. The Board of Education honors each winner with $500 to spend on something to support their instructional practices. The Randolph Education Foundation also honors the teachers at its Randolph Rocks event in November.

Center Grove Principal Mario Rodas said that Ms. Kulahi "has distinguished herself through her dedication to the art to teaching and her passion to teaching students. She is a role model to her students. She is an active participant in our school community and encourages her students to do the same."

"I am absolutely delighted to receive this award," said Ms. Kulahi, a four-year teacher at Center Grove who teaches in the fourth grade inclusion classroom with Lisa Rodimer. "My students truly make me strive to be the best educator I can be."

An emotional Maureen Frio screamed when Fernbrook Principal Danielle Soldivieri, Vice Principal Kristin Mueller, and Interim Superintendent Fano walked into her classroom. Her kindergarteners cheered and student Corinne Weiner presented her teacher with a pink heart she drew to congratulate her. Ms. Frio, a resident of Morris Plains, began teaching in Randolph in 1997 and has taught first grade at Ironia, pre-school and finally kindergarten at Fernbrook.

"I am very humbled and honored to be recognized with this award," Mrs. Frio said. "I love being a teacher and feel blessed that I have a job that my main purpose is to help young minds flourish. I love the primary grades for their magical spirit and authentic desire to learn.

 "I feel very lucky that I get to help my students embrace their learning year after year. While the curriculum and teaching techniques are constantly changing, the wonder in a child's eyes when learning something new or the hug they share with me is priceless. That is why I teach."

Fernbrook Principal Danielle Soldivieri noted that Mrs. Frio is the kind of educator who puts her students first. "Her passion, energy, and patience shine through in her daily interactions with her students. Mrs. Frio finds ways to work with and motivate her young students, while allowing them to find the joy and success in each and every day.  For these reasons, we are pleased to recognize Mrs. Frio as this year's teacher of the year."

Ironia Principal David Kricheff praised second grade teacher Janice Freidland. "Mrs. Freidland's impact on Ironia reaches far beyond the walls of her own classroom as she is not only a brilliant teacher, but also serves as a resource for all of her colleagues."

Mrs. Freidland is a 16-year district employee and a 22-year resident of Randolph. She is currently working on her LATI training in order to create an active learning environment for her students. "It is such a great honor to be recognized for the work I have done in the classroom," she said. "I am overwhelmed with pride. I love teaching and plan to continue to make a difference in the lives of my students."

Shongum general music teacher Natalie J. Ernstes, a resident of Hampton Township, said she "is truly humbled and honored" by the award and has been teaching and directing at Shongum School since 2000. Shongum Principal Cliff Burns noted that Shongum had "a plethora of qualified candidates" this year. "Of all of the candidates, the selection committee found Mrs. Ernstes as a true professional who gives all of herself in every lesson. She is well-deserving of this honor."

This is the third time that RMS Teacher of the Year Rio Clemente has won this award. Mr. Clemente, who is in his 15th year of teaching social studies at RMS, also received the award in the 2004-5 and 2008-9 school years. "I am very lucky that I have the chance to work in a place with such amazing people," said Mr. Clemente, a resident of Succasunna. "Everyone is so encouraging and helpful towards one another. It's because of this environment that a teacher can reach his or her potential."

RMS Principal Dennis Copeland made the announcement during a team meeting and praised Mr. Clemente for his hard work and dedication to RMS and RMS students. "Mr. Clemente consistently performs at the highest level for a teacher," Dr. Copeland said. "He is a master of the content and understands the social and emotional needs of the adolescent/pre-teen child. His receipt of the Teacher of the Year award is another indication of the impact he has made on students, parents and colleagues."

A large group of administrators surprised RHS business teacher Mrs. Martel Roberts during a class of students who then gave her a standing ovation. High School Principal Debbie Iosso said Mrs. Roberts is very deserving of the honor. "Martel Roberts is an outstanding business educator and a consummate professional," Ms. Iosso said.

"She continually looks for new ways to enhance her teaching and volunteers for numerous academic committees as her opinions are respected by both teachers and administrators.  She advised our Future Business Leaders of America and her members consistently win state awards.  Mrs. Roberts is frequently chosen by student athletes to be honored as their most influential teacher during their four years at RHS.  I can't say enough good things about Mrs. Roberts – she is an absolute gem and we are so happy to have her as part of our staff."

Roberts, a resident of Boonton, has taught a variety of business courses at RHS including Marketing, Marketing I Honors, Accounting, International Business, Career Pathways, Computer Applications, Business Principles and Introduction to Business. "I am honored to receive this recognition and appreciate all of the support that I received from the administration, fellow educators, students and the Randolph community along with my family throughout the 19 years that I have been employed at RHS."