We are proud to welcome the following teachers to the WDHA Teachers Who Rock Class of 2018, presented by the New Jersey Education Association.
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ESP OF THE YEAR
MR. MARCO GARCIA
Morris Knolls High School in Rockaway
Marco is the coolest custodian you’ll ever meet! He is always happy, smiling, and positive. He greets teachers with his trademark “Hey Buddy” and a fist bump. The staff and students at Morris Knolls High School love Marco. He is always able and willing to help. If you need something, he’ll have it to you by the end of the day. He is so well liked that he has been chosen by the students to be honored in many different ways. The lit society sold Frisbees as a fundraiser and used his portrait and the quote “Hey Buddy” as the design and the TV students often use him in their videos. Marco is a humble and hared worker who is always enthusiastic and in a good mood. For the good vibes that he spreads throughout Morris Knolls High School, we honor Marco as an ESP who rocks!
ESP OF THE YEAR
MS. CHERYL SWACKHAMER
Sandshore Elementary School in Budd Lake
Ms. Swackhamer is a ABA Therapist working with special needs students in grades K-5.. She continues to take a variety of professional development courses to ensure that she stays on top of the most current ABA research, behavior plans, and data tracking systems. Ms. Swackhamer uses her knowledge of behavior and child development, yet takes into account emotional, sensory, and environmental needs of each student. She does all of this with the goal that each student has all the tools they need to be behaviorally, educationally, and socially successful in the school setting.
Ms. Swackhamer assists in developing interventions, functional behavior assessments, and behavior plans to ensure that all students are provided a safe and inclusive educational environment. She facilitates each student’s behavioral plan and any necessary information to a variety of staff that comes in contact with her students including Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Teachers, Aides, Social Workers, and Case Managers. She is a true team player that assists students in a variety of settings. She will use her experience and skill set to ensure student success and progress. She also works closely with parents so that each student’s individual behavior plan can be continued while the student is outside of school. She will make any necessary materials to ensure that it is easy for parents to follow at home.
Ms. Swackhamer continually evaluates the data from each individual intervention to certify that the methods are continuing to work for her students. If not, she will immediately make a change and get the information out to the necessary staff. Her approaches are always tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Ms. Swackhamer has a positive attitude along with a calm, assertive voice, even in the most difficult situations. Her attitude is contagious. She works hard to build rapport with each student and spends the time necessary to foster positive relationships with her students and they in turn respond to her well and strive to do their best for her. For going above and beyond for each and every one of her students, we honor Ms. Swackhamer as an ESP who rocks.
MS CHRISTINE LECCESE
Columbus School in Lyndhurst
Ms. Christina Leccese is an outstanding and dedicated educator at Lyndhurst Public Schools. She teaches first grade at Columbus School. She has been a member of the district for the past 21 years and has shown her dedication to language arts throughout her years in Lyndhurst. Ms. Leccese is able to differentiate instruction to each student in order for them to begin their lifelong journey of reading. She makes reading a fun learning experience daily and it is obvious that her students are enthusiastic the moment you enter her classroom. Her students all have smiles on their faces as they diligently work on their assignments.
Ms. Leccese is a very dependable member of the staff at Columbus School and as a veteran teacher, she has developed positive relationships with both the parents and the students that she serves in her classroom. She infuses technology into her classroom and into each lesson that she teaches. For her dedication to her school and to reading, we honor Ms. Leccese as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MR. MATT PATERNO
Wayne Hills High School in Wayne
Mr. Paterno has been leading the band at Wayne Hills High School since 1990. His true love and dedication as a teacher and director make him an excellent educator at the school. He works hard to keep the community aware of the many student programs, such as concerts and the annual festival that features other area bands competing against one another. The students admire Mr. Paterno and he continues to be a mentor for many graduates who will often come back and be a part of his concerts. He collaborates with others in the school and has made the music program at Wayne Hills stand out.
For all of his hard work, Mr. Paterno has received numerous awards including the Eastern Marching Band Association’s “Director of the year” award, the 2017-2018 Governor’s Educator of the Year award, and also made it to the Grammy 2018 Music Educator Award Quarterfinals. For being such a decorated teacher, we honor Mr. Paterno as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. HEATHER MECKA
Hackensack Middle School
Ms. Heather Mecka (English Language Arts Teacher) is a dynamic and consummate professional who holds nothing but high expectations for all of her students. She challenges all of her students to find the writer within by getting them involved in deeper conversations that many would believe are impossible to have with youth in an urban setting. Her students know she believes in them because her no-nonsense approach leaves little room for one to doubt her sincerity of purpose. Ms. Mecka believes that children need to develop connections to the world in which they live and to the people with whom they share it. Each year, her students complete a rigorous unit of study following the theme of “Man’s inhumanity to man.” During this unit, students read novels and write reflections which pertain to this topic. They delve into historical accounts of The Holocaust and the Armenian genocide, and study first person narratives of what it was like to live through atrocities such as these. Ms. Mecka takes her students on multiple field trips to support the material they are learning, but the most impactful thing she arranges for them to experience is a chance to hear the story of, and speak with, a Holocaust survivor in person. Recently, Ms. Mecka was the recipient of the Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Education Award, which is given annually by the SOMA Interfaith Holocaust Committee.
In addition to her teaching duties, Ms. Mecka frequently finds extra-curricular writing opportunities for her pupils. Her active encouragement has led to quite a few students being recognized over the years including one of her students receiving the “Award of Excellence in Literature” for the Middle School Division in the 2017-2018 NJ PTA Reflections Program. In the past her students have won awards in writing contests on Women’s History, Patriotism, and Diversity. For her dedication to challenge her students to connect with the world and people around her, we honor Ms. Mecka as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. SUZANNE IAPOCE
Lincoln Park Elementary School
Ms. Iapoce has been rocking Lincoln Park Elementary School for the past 26 years. While she has taught many grade levels, she has focused her attention on teaching computers to K through 4th grade students in recent years. Ms. Iapoce prides herself on knowing each child’s name and families well. She brings a passion to her work each day and exposes her students to 21st century skills. She is positive and fun, energetic and kind, and her students love coming to her classes.
During the Week Of Code you could hear her students excitement through the classroom door. In 2014, she was nominated as the elementary school Teacher Of The Year. Ms. Iapoce is always around and helps out with things like bus duty even when she is not scheduled. Additionally, she has played an important role during the Read Across America Week by reading a Dr. Seuss story over the loudspeaker each day that week. She never fails to go above and beyond and is a cheerleader for her students, colleagues, and the school. She greets her students with a smile and works tirelessly to give them an A+ education. For her wealth of knowledge and being an asset to her school, we honor Ms. Iapoce as a Teacher Who Rocks
MR. JEFF MROZAK
4th Grade Teacher At Unity Charter School in Morris Township
Mr. Mrozak has helped kids from all backgrounds feel more confident in his classroom. He isn’t a “by the book” teacher. He instead prefers to teach in a hands on and practical way. Mr. Mrozak spends time outside of school researching current events, experiments, field trips, and the like to engage his students at all levels. He doesn’t want the students to memorize things. He wants them to learn how to assess situations and think critically, being aware of their biases and figuring out the facts to come up with alternative solutions.
Mr. Mrozak does not impose his own personal beliefs on his students and will encourage them to research, question, challenge, and formulate their own opinions not based on emotions but on fact-based intelligence. Mr. Mrozak also has a soft spot for animal rescue, donating time and money to shelters and taking in two dogs himself. He is the teacher that every parent wants his or her child to have. He’s asked frequently to tutor other students outside of class and truly has a gift for teaching. For being a “kid whisperer” at Unity Charter School, we honor Mr. Mrozak as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MR. MICHAEL COLASURDO
8th Grade Social Studies Teacher at East Hanover Middle School
Mr. Colasurdo breathes life into his lessons with his infectious spirit. His passion for Social Studies is only matched by his devotion to his students. He is nothing short of a selfless humanitarian. He organizes annual student-driven variety shows and car washes to raise money for local cancer patients and, more recently, for the victims devastated by the hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. The students who have participated in these philanthropic efforts have learned so much about the spirit of giving.
Mr. Colasurdo has also earned his title of “Coach” at East Hanover Middle School. He is a three season veteran, coaching wrestling, volleyball, and softball. His scholar-athletes are extremely competitive and always make the school proud. All of his athletes know that Coach Colasurdo will hound them if their grades begin to slip or if they engage in any unsportsmanlike conduct.
Mr. Colasurdo is also among the faculty members who chaperone the 8th grade students on their annual trip to Washington, DC. He uses his encyclopedic knowledge of American history to provide the students with rich commentary throughout their three-day tour of the many museums and memorials in our nation’s capital. For his tireless passion for teaching, sports, and his students, we honor Mr. Colasurdo as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. KARI JELLIFFE
A Guidance Counselor at North Plainfield Middle School
Ms. Jelliffe has been a member of the North Plainfield Middle School community for just a year but she is already a big part of the family. She jumped in getting to know the names and faces of her 250+ 8th grade students right away. Her warmth and ability to keep their confidence high did not go unnoticed.
Ms. Jelliffe's school is rich with diversity. Many of the students come to the school after just arriving to the United States. These students and families are lucky to have the smiling face and gentle manner of Ms. Jelliffe to welcome them to the school-community.
Ms Jelliffe provides a safe space for her students. One student said that her in-class presentations on cyber-safety and anti-bullying have "changed things a lot" for them. Another student commented that she "really helped me with problems at home. She saw that things were bad and she called me down and helped me feel better." Her office is one where students feel comfortable sharing, taking risks, and asking for help. She becomes involved with her students, and their families, and seeks outside resources to help when necessary. Her positive personality and knack for connecting with her co-workers and students truly make Ms. Jelliffe a Teacher Who Rocks!
MS. JOANNA NACCARA
A Physical Education teacher at Frank J. Smith School in East Hanover
Ms. Naccara is a talented teacher, leader, and person. As a Phys Ed teacher, many think her job is just fun and games. For her students, that is definitely true, but Ms. Naccara diligently plans so that every student succeeds. The differentiation she provides for the students allows everyone to feel like an athlete. Her creativity makes everyone want to participate in class. One day may be a haunted house obstacle course, the next it's a driving track where students are earning driving licenses for their scooters. In addition to the fun, students learn about target heart rate and can take their pulse to see how hard their heart is working.
One year, when faced with decreased enrollment, Ms. Naccara came up with a new class called HOPSS – Helping Ourselves to Pick Smart Solutions. Made with the schools frog mascot in mind, this class is team taught with the school's guidance counselor. Students learn about healthy choices for both the body and mind. This character focused program has become a favorite of students and parents for its emphasis on anti-bullying and self advocacy. Ms. Naccara also helps outside the classroom, spearheading the #BeAPal Program where older students are partnered with younger students as mentors and buddies. She also created the School Spirit Team Program that transforms the larger school into smaller units. Each staff member leads small groups of cross grade level students with each year culminating in a schoolwide Unified Game day where learners of all ages and abilities play together.
With all of this on her plate, Ms. Naccara still finds time to run Fitness Fridays for the school staff. Each Friday, she leads classes for staff to get up and move together before the day starts. For her limitless energy and dedication to her school, we honor Ms. Naccara as a Teacher Who Rocks!
Special Education Teacher at Cliffside Park School #3
Ms. LoRocco has been a special education teacher for over 5 years at Cliffside Park Elementary School #3. Whenever someone has questions about student’s education plans, or needs ideas on effective classroom accommodations that will help a student succeed, Ms. LoRocco is the “got to” person. She takes her own personal time to rewrite classwork, homework, and tests to meet the needs and legal accommodations of the special education students so that each student can be challenged and successful. Ms. LoRocco is a true expert at collecting and presenting data in a positive, professional tone that calms parents and encourages parents to support the intervention and classification process. No parent wants to hear that their child has a cognitive or behavioral issue, and many are resistant. When Ms. LoRocco sits with a parent, she has a very personable, understanding, and comfortable manner. She expertly presents her collection of data demonstrating the challenges a child has, but also emphasizes the positive attributes the child possesses. These efforts help bring parents to the table to help their child.
Ms. LoRocco efforts outside of the classroom make everyone take notice. She helps create activities that all students can enjoy and participate in including the 6th grade Halloween Carnival and Santa’s workshop. She also strives to show all students that if they make good decisions and work hard, they can have a successful future. She is also the volunteer basketball coach for the school’s Co-Ed Team. For her efforts and dedication inside and outside the classroom, we honor Ms. LoRocco as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MR. FRANK NEWMAN
Science Teacher at West Orange High School
Mr. Newman brings a high energy level to his class day in and day out. He energizes every lesson and provides his classes with stimulating experiments. He challenges every student to give 110% in his class and in life. He always comes in to a school with a whistle on his lips and a smile on his face.
Mr. Newman is also a classic car aficionado and loves to talk about fixing anything from a ’63 Corvette to a lawnmower. Everyone in the building knows “Newman” who is a 28 year veteran of West Orange High School. For his charismatic personality, we honor Mr. Newman as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. JENNA WEISS
Physical Education Teacher at University Middle School
Any student who enters Ms. Weiss’ class has the benefit of being immersed in character building through health and P.E. instruction. Ms. Weiss doesn’t promote winning or losing in her classrooms, instead, she uses physical education as a means to empower her students and instill leadership and cooperative skills. Ms. Weiss creates an environment where students from differing background must work together to accomplish class goals and achieve success. She empowers her students to improve their self-image, confidence, perseverance, and future outlook due to the life lessons, caring, and respect she gives her learners.
Ms. Weiss’ effort to help her students goes beyond the classroom. She is the head boys soccer and girls softball coach, runs a before school activity program, serves as the operations manager at home basketball games, and is always present for student events involving parents. She is constantly communicating with families, administrators, and counselors regarding students in crisis, and often serves as a mentor to learners struggling to stay in school. She advocates for the needs of each student and always goes the extra mile to ensure students feel comfortable in the classroom. For her ability to include every student and make them feel special, we honor Ms. Weiss as a Teacher Who Rocks
MR. JOSEPH PIZZO
7th Grade Language Arts Teacher at Black River Middle School
Mr. Pizzo is an inspiration to all of his students and peers. He is dedicated to providing new, innovative, and exciting life lessons through his passion in the Language Arts. His classroom is a laboratory for learning through real-life projects that include technology, guest participants, music, humor, and fun!
Mr. Pizzo is active in the school, community, professional organizations, and professional development. For decades he has shared his knowledge with students, teachers, parents, and the community. His deep voice calms and excites his listeners as he takes them down a journey that always ends in success, laughter, and prize. For being an important part of the Black River Middle School for over 44 years, we honor Mr. Pizzo as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. LAURIE LIMING
3rd Grade Special Education Teacher at Mountain Park School
Ms. Liming is an inspiration to all of the staff at Mountain Park School. Ms. Liming has battled stage 4 cancer but is back to work at the school and better than ever. She has been a teacher for 20 years in Berkeley Heights. Ms. Liming teaches more than just language arts and social studies at school, she teaches her students to be great men and women, strong leaders, and humble. She teaches her students to not make excuses, but to take responsibility for their learning, to be grateful, and pay it forward.
Ms. Liming is currently the supervisor of the Giraffe Club at Mountain Park School. The students in this club “stick their necks out” to make other lives better. Her club takes students to the nursing home and supports the military throughout the year. For her courage and her spirit, we honor Ms. Liming as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. ANGELA IRENE
K-8 ESL Teacher at John H. Walker Middle School
Ms. Anglea Irene clearly understands the challenge of being an ESL Teacher at two different schools in Nutley. Students arrive at all different times throughout the year and possess different abilities, yet are placed in the same class. She positions her class so that students know the routine and go to work immediately. There is always an assignment on the board for students to complete so that no minute of the class period is ever wasted. Ms. Irene divides her students into groups so that they work on material that is appropriate for their level. She is often found doing a “dance” around her classroom so that she can answer questions, teach new material, and help each student as they all work on different assignments.
Ms. Irene’s classroom is filled with useful material for her students. On the walls there is a list of “six things to do if you finish your work early.” One of those suggestions is to help another student in the classroom. She works very hard to create an atmosphere of love and trust in her classes while at the same time receiving excellent academic work from her students. For her many wonderful ideas and for her unique ability to teach multiple ways at the same time, we honor Ms. Irene as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. JACLYN HEFTLER
Music Teacher & School Counselor at Lincoln Park Elementary School
Ms. Heftler has been at Lincoln Park Elementary School for the past 9 years. Her passion for music and her students is clearly apparent to all who know her. Her yearly concert leaves parents wanting more. It is amazing to see Ms. Heftler organize 400+ students and make them sound fantastic. She has also made end of the year videos with all staff members to the delight of staff and students alike.
This year, Ms. Heftler has taken over as the school counselor while the regular counselor is out on maternity leave. She leads events that have a positive impact on the school climate and culture. Ms. Heftler is available for staff, students, and parents throughout the day. She can often be found in classrooms doing character education lessons, the lunch room with students, or outside at recess. During the recent week of respect, Ms. Heftler made daily videos that the teachers were able to show in their classrooms to discuss bullying, kindness, friendship, and conflict resolution. For staff members, she organized a “notes of joy” events during the holidays where each staff member had a bag for positive notes. Instead of having students fill this bag, she turned it around and had staff write notes of joy for their co-workers. Ms. Heftler is warm, caring, compassionate, energetic, kind, and proactive. She has a desire to help children and strives to do her best day in and day out. No matter what her role is, she delivers for her school and that is why she is a Teacher Who Rocks.
MRS. MARY VANDENBERG
4th Grade Teacher at School of Saint Elizabeth
Mrs. Mary Vandenberg does all she can to make learning fun day in and day out. She “rocks out,” putting her lessons to music while utilizing her musical background. She prepares her students for their educational journey through reading logs, teaching them study skills, assigning fun yet educational projects, and creating ways to express themselves.
Mrs. Vandenberg also gives 100% to the school community by co-directing the school’s musical every year. She is caring and comforting to her students when they are in a time of need and encourages the students in her class to be great friends. Parents are confident that their children are going to come out of Mrs Vandenberg’s class ready to change the world one song at a time. She takes the time to get to know each and every one of her students. Because of this dedication and caring, we honor Mrs. Vandenberg as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MS. SARAH GUZA
8th Grade Math & Algebra Teacher at Lincoln Park Middle School
Ms. Guza makes her math class fun for the students at Lincoln Park Middle School. The enthusiasm of all the students in her class is remarkable. To help motivate her students, Ms. Guza sets up challenges among her classes and have them compete for the most against each other on various math problems. Her drive for teaching math has led to her state testing scores to continue to be exceptional year after year.
Ms. Guza brings her passion for the school beyond the classroom. Even though she did not have any experience, she agreed to become a coach of the girls soccer team and worked hard to learn the game and become an effective coach. She uses her success on the field and in the classroom to motivate her students to always persevere. Ms. Guza also started the “Gryphon News broadcast.” She meets with students every afternoon to record the morning announcements that have become a staple of the school. For her ability to motivate students both inside and outside the classroom, we honor Ms. Guza as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MRS. CATHY MURPHY
1st Grade Teacher at Ironia Elementary School
Mrs. Cathy Murphy is a true role model not just for her students, but for her coworkers as well. She is a building representative for the REA and makes sure to pass along important information in a timely manner from union meetings that she attends. She also attends the school PTO meetings as the teacher / staff representative and is often in charge of staff events including the holiday party and end of year party.
Mrs. Murphy has been teaching in the district for the past 14 years and has been a first grade teacher for the past 3 years. Students that are still at Ironia Elementary often stop by the room to give their favorite teacher a hug and to tell her about their day. This isn’t a once in awhile thing, students stop by on a daily basis because she has made such an impact on their life. She cares deeply about each and every one of her students. Mrs. Murphy has had students of all academic levels come through her classroom. She teaches each of them with the same love and compassion. She can always be found modifying lesson plans for students that are having difficulties and often works through her prep and even stays after school to help her students. Mrs. Murphy works with the student’s parents to make sure that their children are doing their very best. She has an outstanding ability to be patient and is not afraid to own up to any mistake that she makes. She teaches her students that “mistakes mean you’re trying.” For being such a caring, understanding, and passionate teacher, we honor Mrs. Murphy as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MISS BRIANNA ANTHONY
Kindergarten Teacher at Edith M Decker Elementary School
Miss Anthony is a passionate, caring, and dynamic teacher who is responsible for setting the tone for her students as they begin their educational journey. She assures that her students leave kindergarten with a positive outlook on school and learning. Miss Anthony is fun and animated. She gets up and moves with her students, developing creative learning activities and lessons using songs and catchy tunes. She matches her student’s high energy and enthusiasm for learning.
Miss Anthony is a dedicated, motived, and extremely patient teacher. Her genuine love of teaching and excitement shows her students that school is a wonderful place to be. For her dedication and energy for teaching, we honor Miss Anthony as a Teacher Who Rocks.
MR. FRED MALTZAN
Technology Teacher at Woodcliff Middle School
Mr. Maltzan is an incredibly positive role model who inspires the students on a daily basis. He stands at the door greeting each student as they enter the school and the one who finds the unique talent that each child has. Mr. Maltzan primarily teaches video technology and 3D printer, but he also keeps all the technology in the school top notch and incorporates the students into everything he does. He attends all events, making sure the technology runs smoothly.
Mr. Maltzan is also the school’s Renaissance man who shifts from tech to survivor instructor when taking kids on outdoor education programs. All students have mastered the art, and fun, of pine needle tea. He is a student of life, constantly learning new things and bringing his skills back to the school. He is currently learning how to be a blacksmith and building upon that skill to create sculptures.
For being a man of many skills and for sharing them with his school, we honor Mr. Maltzan as a Teacher Who Rocks.
Language Arts Teacher at Sparta High School
Ms. Talty is the epitome of a dedicated educator. She is constantly looking for new ways to engage her students in lessons. She forms incredible, genuine relationships with her students, and always works to make sure every student in her classes has academic and/or personal victories to celebrate throughout the school year. Ms. Talty works with a range of students, especially in her inclusion classes. She makes sure to tier her instruction to the needs of the levels in her class. Many of her former students come back to visit her and some even still send Christmas gifts or cards years later because she has made such an impact on their life.
On top of supporting their academic needs, Ms. Talty teaches her students about character and giving back to those who need it. She has organized fundraisers for district students and families in need and helped students band together to make hats for kids with cancer.
For her skilled approach teaching Language Arts to her students, we honor Ms. Talty as a Teacher Who Rocks.
First Grade Teacher at Hillview Elementary School
Mrs. Alice Galliano is an example of a teacher who puts her students above all else and maintains a positive environment for learning. Many parents request her for their children because of the reputation she has earned as an awesome teacher. Her loving yet stern approach works well with her students. Mrs. Galliano’s knowledge of what students need to learn is unmatched. They regularly exceed expectations in reading, writing, and math. A majority of these students excel throughout their academic career. Mrs. Galliano is dedicated to her class. She arrives early and stays late preparing her lessons. She proudly displays her children’s classwork and artwork around the classroom. Her lessons are always well prepared and thought out.
Mrs. Galliano is also an active member of school committees. She currently serves on the Hillview Sunshine committee and previously on the Consultative and Public Relations committee. As an active member of the community, she regularly supports the Hillview Home and School Association by attending HAS sponsored events.
As a dedicated teacher and member of her community inside and outside the classroom, we honor Mrs. Galliano as a Teacher Who Rocks.