WAYNE, NJ – The Wayne Board of Education meeting on Thursday night celebrated this year’s top educators with a presentation honoring a teacher and service professional from each of Wayne’s fourteen schools. This article features the educators from the Preakness Early Childhood Center, A.P. Terhune, James Fallon, JFK Elementary and Lafayette Elementary. Future articles will feature winners from Wayne's other schools. 

The academic year of 2020 – 2021 has been historic with virtual and hybrid learning models taking the place of traditional in-school learning. Although each year, the School district nominates its educators of the year, winners this year have risen to the top of a tumultuous and challenging time. 

“This year is one like no other and every educator was put to the test,” said Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback.  “Congratulations to all of our Educators of the Year for excelling, even under very difficult circumstances.” 

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The Governor’s Educator of the Year program recognizes both outstanding teachers and outstanding educational services professionals such as guidance counselors, nurses, speech language specialists and more.

“After school level nominations were received, each of the Wayne Township Public Schools convened a committee to select one teacher and one educational services professional under the program guidelines,” read a statement from the district.  “In the coming months, each of the educators selected locally may move on for recognition at the county, and potentially as candidates for state educator of the year.”

In 2019, Wayne Valley High School technology teacher, Patrick Slater won the Passaic County teacher of the year award. Perhaps one of these educators can follow suit.

The following are excerpts from the bios of each winner found on the Wayne Schools website.

Preakness Early Childhood Center

Andrea Gilman, Preschool Teacher

Mrs. Gilman's love of teaching stems from a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. Her ability to positively impact not only an individual student, but also support families has been her driving force in creating unique learning experiences that support child development and engage families. What she loves most about being a preschool teacher is the ability to instill a love a learning and a sense of wonder in students that they carry with them for a lifetime. While most of her students will never remember her name, the skills she helped nurture will never be forgotten.

Cynthia Carey, Speech and Language Specialist

Mrs. Cynthia Carey loves being a speech and language specialist because she can provide help to the children who need to develop their receptive and expressive language skills. For example, If a student is having trouble understanding something, such as, how to respond to a question, she can help them understand what the question means and then how to answer it. If a student is not talking very much, Mrs. Carey can work with the student to begin to use words and sentences so that the student can communicate with their friends and family. Helping the students learn the skills they need to communicate effectively is what Mrs. Carey loves most about being a speech and language specialist.

A.P. Terhune Elementary

Samara Bonar, Second Grade Teacher

Mrs. Bonar loves her students like they are her own. She calls her class the "Bonar Bunch" and treats every child like the treasures, unique, and beautiful people that they are. She begins every day with a song and loves to see them smile, even behind their masks!  Mrs. Bonar loves being a part of the Wayne community, but she especially adores the sense of family that she felt and embraced during her time at Ryerson School and now even more at APT. She feels so fortunate to be a part of the APT family and is supremely proud to tell people that she works in the Wayne school district.

Margarita Carruthers, Library Media Specialist

When Mrs. Carruthers first became an educator she was a classroom teacher. As much as she loved teaching in the classroom, she knew she wanted more. She wanted more flexibility to incorporate technology, STEM and makerspace into her lessons. She wanted to encourage all students to be problem solvers. She found her true passion as an educational media specialist. What Mrs. Carruthers loves most about being an educational media specialist is that she interacts with every student in the school and watches them grow from year to year. As the hub of the school, the library media center allows Mrs. Carruthers to collaborate with educators in every grade level and share her love of reading with her students. This year has been especially exciting as she continues to assist teachers with virtual learning.

James Fallon Elementary

Michele Thomas, First Grade Teacher

Michele Thomas feels lucky and very fortunate to be a first grade teacher. Every day she gets to work with a group of kids that share how they are feeling, what they are up to, and their dreams. She loves hearing their stories and is thankful that they feel comfortable sharing them with her. She loves guiding them and watching them develop stories in writing, sharpen their math skills, and learn about history through stories and biographies. She is passionate about books. She loves being able to introduce her first graders to various topics, and to characters and series they can connect with and spark a love for reading and learning. She hopes she can make a difference by helping her students smile every day, grow as learners, and feel they are capable of making a difference in this world.

Joseph Hicswa, Library Media Specialist

The thing Joe Hicswa loves most about being an education specialist is being able to interact with students, and helping them understand how technology can be a powerful tool for learning. What he loves most about being employed with the Wayne Township Public School District is being able to work and collaborate with an incredible group of dedicated educators. He is also grateful for all the opportunities made available which contribute to the continual improvement of his craft.

JFK Elementary

Jennifer Shea, Third Grade Teacher

There are so many things Jennifer Shea loves about being a teacher, especially the relationships she is able to build with her students each year. She enjoys watching them grow and gain independence as the year progresses. After teaching kindergarten and first grade in the beginning of her career, she loves teaching third grade because students gain so much confidence in this pivotal year while showing such enthusiasm about learning. She loves seeing the smiles she gets from students when they are enjoying a lesson or activity and those ‘aha’ moments when she can see students actually learn the concept she is trying to teach them right in front of her eyes. It has been one of her greatest joys being able to see her young students grow up and go on to be successful in all areas of life after they leave JFK. Most importantly, she loves that even after all of these years teaching and all of the challenges that teaching through this pandemic has brought, she still wakes up every day excited to go to work because she loves what she does. She is grateful to be able to have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child each day.

Maureen Kelly, Speech Language Specialist

As a Speech Language Specialist, Maureen Kelly loves teaching her students to communicate in a variety of meaningful ways each and every day. She enjoys starting every session by encouraging her students to share something new and exciting with the group. They connect on a personal level, so that challenging tasks are not as daunting. Maureen wants her students to feel empowered while expressing themselves and learning from one another. She encourages her students to always use their best speech and language throughout the school day and not only in the speech room. Maureen guides her students in making both personal and academic connections that lead them to their “lightbulb moment” when learning something new. She loves celebrating each and every milestone with her students. This includes successfully producing a challenging speech sound, learning new vocabulary, making associations and eventually graduating from speech. Her students are constantly developing communication skills to foster independence that they will use throughout their life. Maureen wants her students to be successful, happy and kind in everything they do. At the end of the day, a student’s smile can communicate louder than any vocabulary words they learn.

Lafayette Elementary School

Rani Patel, Fourth Grade Teacher

Upon stepping into her classroom, it is obvious that Mrs. Patel loves teaching. Her strength as a teacher is grounded in her ability to connect with her students. It is the formation of these connections that makes her love her job as much as she does. Taking the time to understand what makes students laugh, what makes them comfortable, and what makes them learn allows her to form those relationships. These relationships make it possible for her to push students to set high standards for themselves and to achieve their goals. Watching students take accountability for their own learning is the aspect she loves most about her job.

Elizabeth Venezia, Basic Skills Teacher

Liz Venezia loves being a teacher because she has always enjoyed being around children. For Liz, teaching has never been just a job, but a true calling in her life. Her fascination with kids and her desire to make a difference drew her to a career in teaching. According to her, kids are caring, smart, fun and honest. She always says working with them brings about something new and exciting every day. Her favorite part of teaching is hearing that 'aha' moment when she’s helped a child understand something new and having the kids feel good about themselves. She loves teaching and making strong connections with her students.


The next article will feature winners from the other Wayne elementary schools and the last article in the series will feature the winners from the three middle schools and high schools.