Sparta Board of Education Recognizes Governor's Teachers and Educational Service Professionals of the Year

Sparta Board of Education Recognizes Governor's Teachers and Educational Service Professionals of the Year Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Sparta High School Principal Janet Ferraro and Dr. Jane Esposito Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Sparta High School Principal Janet Ferraro and English teacher Brent Rivers Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Sparta Middle School Assistant Principal Brad Davis and Laura Sofen Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Helen Morgan School Principal Doug Layman and Dana Smulewicz Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Sparta Mohawk Avenue School Principal Laura Trent and Susan Smith Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Alpine Elementary School Assistant Principal Peter Miller and Virginia Krieg Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Alpine Elementary Assistant Principal Peter Miller and Lisa Marie Pugliese Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Alpine Principal Joe Leone, Virginia Krieg, Lisa Marie Pugliese and Assistant Principal Peter Miller Credits: Jennifer Dericks

SPARTA, NJ – Teachers and educational services professionals were recognized as Governor’s Teacher of the Year and Educational Service of the Year at the Sparta Board of Education meeting on Monday night.

Each school honored a recipient that had been nominated by the school community; parents, administrators and other staff.

Sparta High School had selected English teacher Brent Rivers and school Psychologist Dr. Jane Esposito.

Sign Up for E-News

High School Principal Janet Ferraro introduced Esposito explaining she has been at Sparta High School for 16 years, as a member of the Child Study Team.  She has helped to craft the district’s Protocol for Student Risk Assessment and a Child Study Team Guide for the Assessment of Dyslexia.  Esposito is currently a member of the school’s Climate Committee and SHS Safety Committee where she is tackling the issue of teen depression and anxiety which have been reported to be a larger issue for this age group than even for adults. 

“I’ve relied on her expertise, advice and professionalism many times,” Ferraro said. “At all times the needs of her students come shining through.”

Esposito has also been in private practice in Ogdensburg since 2008.  At the MJC Institute her specialty is “cognitive-behavior therapy with children, adolescents and adults in the areas of mood disorders, learning disabilities, executive functioning skill and ADHD.

Andrienne Castorina who works with Esposito said, “Dr. Esposito is a valued and well respected member of our  team.  Her calm and caring demeanor helps the students and parents feel at ease, even during the most difficult times.   Dr. Esposito shares a wealth of knowledge with the Special Services Department.”  

Rivers, according to his website, “LOVES English” though he “detested the subject” when he was in high school.  He is also passionate about “theater, travel food, Netflix, the Boston Red Sox the New York Times and going to concerts.” Rivers is the advisor for Poetry Out Loud, a forensic competition where students are judged as they perform poetry.

Ferraro quoted Rivers’ colleague, “He serves his students like no other.”

Commenting on his recognition Rivers said, “I can't help but think of Mr. Bilbo Baggins when he, at his 111th birthday, says that it's ‘far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits.’ I know that you aren't hobbits, but you're all so excellent and admirable.” 

"In Mr. Rivers's classroom, students can be found creating podcasts, organizing presentations, sharing analyses, or developing a class proposal,” English Supervisor Mary Hassenplug said. “Each day is a new adventure. Students are currently drafting proposals for research projects designed to be read by a college professor in a specific discipline. Students will analyze through the lens of a psychologist, historian, or anthropologist, a scientist, engineer, or linguist--the audience determined by the future goals of the students. The relevance of the work students do in Mr. Rivers's class will prepare them for anything the 21st century has to throw at them."

Laura Sofen is the Language Arts Teacher for the Pearl team as Sparta Middle School.  She is also the advisor for the school Yearbook and is an active member of the Faculty Advisory Committee, Eighth Grade representative to the English Articulation team and according to Principal Michael Gregory “actively seeks growth opportunities for herself attending workshops on using the Harkness Method to enhance classroom discussions.”

Gregory shared some comments from Sofen’s nomination forms.  “Laura Sofen's classroom is a hub of activity, noise, and learning. Through her innovative lesson plans, Ms. Sofen challenges her students to think and process ideas, celebrating debate and contrary interpretations. Students know that they are in a safe environment and can challenge the traditional thinking without consequence. They are encouraged to think for themselves, form their own opinions, and learn to support their ideas with evidence. Rather than emotionally reacting, students are thoughtful and intellectual in their responses to complex literary themes or social issues.”

Additionally, “Ms. Sofen is a leader on her grade-level team, sharing ideas and designing creative activities. Along with a colleague, Ms. Sofen arranged a Vocabu-Bee, challenging students in other classes to a vocabulary competition culminating in the crowning-literally-of classroom champions. The competition will continue each marking period, with additional teachers asking to be involved after seeing the enthusiasm with which students engaged in the study of new words.”

At the meeting Brad Davis, assistant principal of Sparta Middle School, introduced Sofen. Davis added comments from Sofen’s students.  “It is a great work environment,” and “We always feel like we fit in.”

Hassenplug said, "Mrs. Sofen is innovative and not afraid to try something new, even though the outcome might be unsure. Because of this, her students are willing to jump in and take risks, to not fear failure because of the learning that will outweigh it, to take ownership of the activities in the classroom. For example, on Talking Tuesdays, students decide the focus of the conversation and direct the analysis; they embrace the opportunity to show their maturity and their ability to explore complex issues.”

"I am thrilled to have the English Department represented by the Teachers of the Year at both Sparta Middle School and Sparta High School,” Hassenplug said. “Mrs. Sofen and Mr. Rivers embody the creative spirit that we are trying to foster. They challenge students to think critically, they enable student-centered learning that empowers students to take charge of their own education, and they model the value of education by being voracious learners and readers themselves. I am so proud of the honor they have received and the recognition of their efforts by their colleagues."

Helen Morgan Governor’s Teacher of the Year recipient was fourth grade teacher Dana Smulewicz. “While she has many qualities that render her deserving of this award, perhaps her greatest attribute is her ability to establish a connection with each and every student,” Principal Doug Layman said. “She understands that to get the best from our students, that they must feel welcomed and supported in the classroom.  Dana demonstrates this compassion and commitment to students on a daily basis.”

“I am so grateful to be named this year's Teacher of the Year for the Helen Morgan School,” Dana Smulewicz.  “It is truly an honor.  This is my fourteenth year in Sparta and I am proud to come to work each day.  For the past ten years I have taught fourth grade.  Prior to that I taught both second and third grades.  I take my job most seriously and do what I can to help my students have a successful year in school.  I'm thankful for my colleagues and students who make coming to work each day a pleasure.”

Helen Morgan Helen Morgan Doug Layman at the meeting said a testament to Smulewicz’s standing as an educator is that some of her students were at the board meeting.  He noted the award is “an acknowledgment of what you’ve done over the past years,”  pointing to the many new “challenges it takes to be a public school teachers in the last four years.”

Layman said you know she loves her students and believes “if I don’t have a relationship I don’t see growth.”

Sparta’s third grade teacher Suzanne Smith received recognition representing Mohawk Avenue School. Principal Laura Trent shared some comments from Smith’s nomination forms. “It is clear that my daughter did, in fact, win the ‘teacher lottery’." "We are thrilled that our daughter has had the opportunity to learn from such a passionate and motivating educator."

“I couldn’t say it better myself,” Trent said.

“It's an honor,” Smith said. “I have been lucky enough to work with amazing teachers through my years here in Sparta. We all collaborate together and create what we hope is the best learning experience for all students.  I couldn't do it without the amazing people I work with everyday.” 

Alpine Elementary School Educational Services Professional of the Year recipient is Virginia “Ginny” Krieg.  "It is truly an honor to be awarded the Governor's Educational Services Professional of the Year award for Alpine School,” Krieg said. “I work among amazing professionals who are all deserving of recognition.  After working in a variety of settings over my 32 years as a speech and language specialist, I am proud to call Sparta my "professional home".

Vice Principal Peter Miller shared some of the comments from Krieg’s nomination forms.  These include: “dedicated to her students,” “Always goes above and beyond,” “Organized, professional, intelligent and in what she does,” “Makes herself available to all students, parents, and teachers.”

"It is truly an honor to be awarded the Governor's Educational Services Professional of the Year award for Alpine School,” Krieg said. “I work among amazing professionals who are all deserving of recognition.  After working in a variety of settings over my 32 years as a speech and language specialist, I am proud to call Sparta my ‘professional home’.”

Lisa Marie Pugliese is a first grade teacher at Alpine Elementary School.  Earlier this year she put together a schoolwide program simulating an election.  Students registered to vote, had a ballot, signed in and cast their vote.  The election was based on characters in a book the whole school read. 

Miller also shared comments from Pugliese’s nomination forms.  These comments are: “Kind, gentle nature with every child under her supervision,” “Wants to ensure that every single child that passes through her class as a positive experience and learns to love school,” “Made a positive difference in all of her students’ lives - present and past.”

“I work with such a great staff, so it was such a pleasant surprise being the one chosen this year for this award,” Pugliese said.

Dr. Daniel Johnson, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development said, “I congratulate all of you.  What you do is not easy.  I know we have a staff that is dedicated.  I thank you and all who have come out to support you.”

Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi explained he went to the schools to hand out the awards in person.  “The best part was to see the reaction of the students.  Congratulations to you all,” Rossi said.

Adding her thanks, board president Kelly McEvoy said, “You are what makes Sparta an amazing place.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Sparta Police: Green Light Means DWI Charges

June 23, 2018

SPARTA, NJ – A Stockholm resident is facing drunk driving charges when she did not go when a traffic light turned green.  On June 16 around 1:15 a.m. Police Officers Thomas Snyder and Jonathan Poon stopped Christina Sacerdote, 52, police report.

When the officers spoke with the driver they determined she had been driving her white Mazda under the influence of alcohol.  ...

Sparta Police: Speeding Stop Ends with Lost Driver Charged with DWI

SPARTA. NJ – A Newark man who thought he was heading to Atlantic City only won a trip to the Sparta Police Department headquarters after being stopped for speeding.  On June 18 around 3 a.m. Cpl. Kurt Morris stopped Manuel Pinheiro, 48, for driving 84 MPH in a 55 MPH zone on Route 15 south, police said.

When Morris spoke with Pinheiro the officer smelled alcohol coming from the ...

Sparta Police: Byram Woman's Broken Light Ends in Drug Charges

SPARTA, NJ – A Byram woman is facing drug charges having been stopped for a broken headlight on White Lake Road.  On June 15 Abigail Carkhuff, 22, was pulled over by Police Officer Brian Porter around 10:40 p.m. police report.

When Porter spoke with Carkhuff the officer smelled marijuana in the car.  A search of the grey Ford Escape turned up a ziplock bag of marijuana and a ...

Sparta High School Time Capsule

June 20, 2018

To the editor: 

For this year’s AP project in our English class, we have put together a 2018 Sparta High School time capsule to be opened in 25 years. The capsule, likely to be buried next to the garden behind the school, will contain student testimonies, memes, and other relics of our time. Hopefully with this project we hope to preserve our unique experience of teenage ...

The Power of Positive Engagement

To the Editor:

I wanted to share this letter from Laurie Beacham, Media Director for NJ 11th for Change, about the notable increase in voter turnout and citizens deciding to run in the recent primary election:

"The 11th Congressional District has a lot to be proud of. In the June 5th primaries, voter turnout climbed from almost 33,000 in 2014 to over 86,000. Democratic ...

Upcoming Events


Mon, June 25, 5:30 PM

Mohawk Avenue School, Sparta

Sparta Board of Education Meeting UPDATED



Sat, June 30, 9:00 AM

Sparta Health and Wellness parking lot, Sparta

Sparta Farmers Market


Sat, July 7, 9:00 AM

Sparta Health and Wellness parking lot, Sparta

Sparta Farmers Market


Sun, July 8, 1:00 PM

Van Kirk Homestead Museum, Sparta

Sussex County Views: The Art of Toni Chaplin

Home & Garden


Sun, July 8, 1:00 PM

Van Kirk Homestead Museum, Sparta

Sussex County Views: The Art of Toni Chaplin

Arts & Entertainment


Sat, July 14, 9:00 AM

Sparta Health and Wellness parking lot, Sparta

Sparta Farmers Market

Tue, July 17, 6:00 PM

CASA of Morris and Sussex Counties, Morristown

CASA Information Session

Education Giving Back Law & Justice


Sat, July 21, 9:00 AM

Sparta Health and Wellness parking lot, Sparta

Sparta Farmers Market


Sun, July 22, 1:00 PM

Van Kirk Homestead Museum, Sparta

Sussex County Views: The Art of Toni Chaplin

Arts & Entertainment


Mon, July 23, 10:00 AM

Sparta Public Library, Sparta

Watercolor Workshop

Arts & Entertainment

Sussex Stags Football Team to Hold Fourth Annual Golf Outing

June 16, 2018

NEWTON, NJ—The Sussex County Stags will be holding their fourth annual gold outing on Saturday June 23.

Arrival time is 11:30 a.m. at the Minebrook Golf Club located at 500 Schooleys Mountain Road in Hackettstown. Golfing will begin at 1 p.m. and tickets can be purchased online at

Tickets are $125 per person and include the following: golfing, the cart, an all you ...

Update: Police Break Up Fight Involving 40-50 People at Bridgewater Commons Mall

June 15, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ — No injuries have been reported in an incident that shut down Bridgewater Commons Mall Thursday evening after a fight involving a crowd of 40-50 people.

Police are still investigating unconfirmed reports of shots being fired, according to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.

The mall is closed for the evening as the investigation continues.

Somerset County ...

5 Home-Related To-Do’s Before Leaving On Vacation

With school out and the summer sun shining down, thoughts turn to summer vacation trips.  Team Nest Builder offers these 5 home-related tips to follow to avoid everything from minor inconveniences to major headaches upon your return:

Pause Your Post & Paper

Piled up mail and newspapers act like a “rob me” sign!  Avoid tipping off strangers to your absence by ...

Why Buying a Home is Better Than Renting

People often ask if now is a good time to buy a home in New Jersey, but nobody ever asks whether or not it’s a good time to rent. Regardless, Team Nest Builder wants to make certain that everyone understands that now is NOT a good time to rent.

The Census Bureau recently released their 2018 first quarter median rent numbers. This graph from their report shows rent increases from 1988 ...

5 Fab Father's Day Happenings in Sussex & Morris Counties

Father’s Day hits this Sunday--what do YOU have planned? Team Nest Builder offers a slew of Father’s Day fun in Morris and Sussex County. Read on and surprise Dad with cool activities! (Be sure to check if registration is required prior to showing up!)

Alstede Farms' Father's Day Brunch – Chester

From 9am-noon, take a scenic hayride to a brunch buffet that offers ...

Don't Miss Sunday's OPEN HOUSE for 4BR Sparta Mountain Beauty

Perched handsomely on an acre in the beautiful SpartaMountain community, 28 Waters Edgeoffers a 4BR 2.5 Bathroom home with space and style. Come see for yourself this Sunday, June 17th, from 1-3pm at our OPEN HOUSE!

Located in the prestigious Sparta Mountain Reserve, this large, beautiful center hall colonial with open floor plan has a nice, level play yard with direct ...

Days on The Housing Market Drops to New Low

According to recently released data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the median number of days that a home spent on the market hit a new low of 26 days in April, as 57% of homes remained on the market for under a month.

NAR’s Chief Economist, Lawrence Yun, opined,

“What is available for sale is going under contract at a rapid pace. Since NAR began tracking this ...

Pass It Along Triathlon

Tri-something new this July and sign up for the Pass It Along Triathlon!

The 9th annual Pass It Along Triathlon will take place on Saturday, July 28, 2018, at the Lake Mohawk Country Club. This triathlon features two USAT-certified courses - Olympic and Sprint. This triathlon has become a Sparta tradition and everyone is welcome to attend to cheer on athletes and be a part of the ...


AtlantiCast Episode 17

On this week’s AtlantiCast, it’s National Men’s Health Month, so check out important health tips for you or the men in your life, learn about groundbreaking research into breast cancer treatment that could mean an end to chemotherapy for some patients, meet a local sports hero who’s living his baseball dreams thanks to Goryeb Children’s Hospital and much ...

June 13 Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting

NEWTON, NJ - The June 13 Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting video.


Sparta UMC Thrift Shop Half Price Sale

June 24, 2018

The Thrift Shop of the Sparta United Methodist Church, 71 Sparta Avenue, is holding a HALF-PRICE SALE from Wednesday, JULY 11TH through Saturday, JULY  14TH.  Most items in the shop will be half price.  All proceeds support local, national, and global charities.  Shop Hours:  Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m.