WESTFIELD, NJ — Franklin Elementary School third-grade teacher Penny O’Donnell has been named the 2017 recipient of the Westfield Rotary Club’s Philhower Fellowship in recognition of outstanding teaching at the elementary school level, Westfield Public Schools announced Thursday.

 “I am honored to join such a distinguished and dedicated group of educators as recipient of this year’s Charles Philhower Fellowship Award,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “Working as an employee of the Westfield Board of Education has been a privilege. At Franklin Elementary School and throughout the district, I am surrounded by talented, compassionate and creative professionals who work each day to educate, inspire and challenge the students of Westfield. To be honored and recognized by my colleagues, students, parents and the community is truly special and humbling. It is a reminder of the special work we do as educators and the impact we have on our students.”

O’Donnell will receive her award on Tuesday, May 9, as the guest of honor at the Rotary Club’s luncheon that day. That evening, she will be presented with a resolution from the Westfield Board of Education at a reception at Franklin School’s auditorium, 700 Prospect Street, at 7 p.m. at the start of the Westfield Board of Education meeting.

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More than 20 years ago, teaching became a calling for Mrs. O’Donnell, who previously held marketing positions in major corporations. She was hired as a full time teacher at Franklin Elementary School in 2000, where she has taught both third and fourth grades ever since. 

A graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, O’Donnell earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business/Marketing. She holds a Master of Arts degree in English from Kean University with a certification in Elementary Education.

The district shared some of the words shared by her colleagues, students and parents:

In nominations received on her behalf, O’Donnell was described by one of her colleagues as “always seeking ways to help, enlighten and engage her students.”  

Another noted, “Mrs. O’Donnell is the person we turn to for support, inspiration and creative energy.”

One of her current students stated, “Mrs. O’Donnell teaches in a certain way that allows me to remember and learn new subjects.  When I accomplish something she acknowledges it, which makes me feel special and good about myself.”

A former student wrote, “I am an eighth grade student at Roosevelt Intermediate School. Mrs. O’Donnell prepared me for my transition to Middle School. She was tough, yet fair; fun yet challenging to her students; and was able to take time to make each student feel special.”

A parent of one of Mrs. O’Donnell’s students wrote, “Under Mrs. O’Donnell’s guidance, I watched my son grow into a more mature, prepared, educated and confident student, and he carries her teaching strategies with him to this day.”

Added another parent, “She nurtures their strengths, embraces their challenges and makes a personal commitment to working with not only the students, but with their families, too, to help provide her students with coping tools to set them up for future success.” 

A family who moved to Westfield from Europe this year observed, “We have had the opportunity to have great teachers for our daughters in the various countries we have lived around the world and Mrs. O’Donnell really stands out personally and professionally.”

As a devoted professional, according to the district, O’Donnell has served on both the Language Arts and Math Curriculum committees for the school district. At Franklin, she has organized Mock Presidential Elections and assemblies and has participated in the Character Education Committee, Professional Development Book Clubs, Math Night and the school’s annual Pumpkin Fair. 

Making a surprise announcement to Franklin’s classroom, Superintendent of Schools Margaret Dolan personally congratulated Penny O’Donnell on becoming the 25th recipient of the Philhower Fellowship and expressed appreciation to the Rotary for “its recognition of this meaningful profession.”

The Philhower Fellowship was established in 1993 by the Rotary Club to honor former Westfield Educator and Rotarian Charles Philhower and to recognize the importance of teaching in the elementary grades.