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Congratulations to the Following Teachers!

JEN O’MALLEY-DORR
School Nurse
Wharton Borough Public School
Nominated By: Frank Garcia

Mrs. O’Malley-Dorr, is an essential part of the Wharton Borough Schools with over eight hundred students. In addition to performing her responsibilities at an exemplary level, Mrs. O’Malley-Dorr demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to the students as well as their families and teachers. She takes it upon herself to provide exceptional support and service to students and staff. Her dedication has been more apparent this past year due to pandemic conditions. During times when students and teachers were conducting virtual education, Mrs. O’Malley-Dorr was in her office fielding questions from concerned parents and teachers. She is continually monitoring health department and CDC requirements and reporting the same to the school administration. In addition, she receives phone calls from concerned administrators and teachers while at home and off the clock. Her diligent concern for her coworkers and students never falters.

Aside from the current pandemic conditions, schools nurses are often overlooked as instrumental faculty members. They are the one students count on to help when they have a tummy ache, headache, scratch or when they need someone to listen during the tribulation of adolescence. Mrs. O’Malley-Dorr’s expertise does not end with the children as coworkers often seek the opinion of the only medical professional within their work environment, for professional and personal health matters. She has dealt with the gamut of medical issues during her years as a school nurse. From putting a Band-Aid on an ouchy to assisting administration with COVID restrictions to comforting a child who just broke their arm while awaiting the ambulance to assisting a staff member who is experiencing chest pains to saving a child’s life during anaphylactic shock it is all in a day’s work for the school nurse. Mrs. O’Malley-Dorr takes on these tasks and many more without hesitation or expectance of praise. For all that she does to keep her schools healthy, we honor Mrs. O’Malley-Dorr as a Teacher Who Rocks!


ELENA MELEKOS
School Counselor
Sandshore School in Budd Lake
Nominated by: Tracy Church, Teacher

Elena Melekos is an important part of Sandshore School and the Mt. Olive Community. She goes above and beyond her job duties to ensure that the entire Sandshore community is taken care of in and outside of the school setting.  She meets with students on a one to one basis, hosts lunch bunches for small groups, and organizes a variety of school functions which include Thanksgiving food drive, holiday gift collections for those in need, Halloween candy collection for Troops, recycling initiatives, and valentine’s for Troops.  In addition to this, she has monthly character trait awards for students and includes numerous materials for teachers to utilize to ensure students understand each monthly trait, all of which are important to students social and emotional development.  These include kindness, creativity, acceptance and gratitude. The monthly winners are celebrated with a ceremony, certificate and a few fun prizes.

Ms. Melekos ensures that students have an excellent academic experience by providing essential social and emotional support in addition to academic support.  She collaborates with students, teachers, parents and administrators to identify and nurture specific strengths, needs, and interests and develops plans for achieving goals. This is an important role, but now more than ever this role has proved to be of the utmost importance during the pandemic when students are really struggling with their emotions and virtual learning.  Ms. Melekos has reached out to students that need additional support whether it be meeting with her or giving the parents a variety of supports to try at home.  During the pandemic, she has continued to support the community as a whole while having to change the way she does her job to ensure the safety of herself, students and their families She stresses the importance of kindness every day in her morning messages, daily quotes, school wide decorations and activities and in all that she does with the students, staff and community of Sandshore School.  It is so important for elementary students to not only understand but see the true meaning of kindness in their every-day life at school.  For all of these reasons and so many more, we honor Ms. Melekos as an ESP who ROCKS!


ESP OF THE YEAR 

DOUGLAS KATZ
Operations Manager
8 Bergen County Schools
Nominated by: Jack Petrunyak, Director of Food Services

Mr. Katz is responsible for leading the team of Directors and employees through this entirely new environment of providing nutritious lunches for students during a health crisis in 8 districts in Bergen County, including Mahwah Township Public Schools. Keeping track of everything as schools bounce around from all virtual, hybrid, and in-person learning, Mr. Katz hasn’t missed a beat. The record keeping and accounting are difficult due to these circumstances and things can change daily at a moment’s notice, but he keeps the staff informed with all the changes happening. He steps up and supports his staff and makes sure that meals are provided to the students each and every day.

With more students returning to in school learning in the upcoming weeks, Mr. Katz makes sure to give the staff guidance to complete their daily tasks. For making sure that our students are fed and for keeping track of the ever changing world, we honor Mr. Katz as an ESP who rocks.


CHIEF MASTER SERGEANT ROBERT BEDELL
Aero Space Instructor
Mount Olive High School
Nominated by: Hannah Jones, Aero Space Instructor

Chief Master Sergeant Bedell has been the Air Force Junior ROTC teacher for the past four years at Mount Olive High School.  Since day one he has been ingrained in the lives of his cadets.  He is their teacher, confident, mentor, and father figure. CMS Bedell has taught his cadets the meaning of self-discipline, leadership and responsibility.  Although the goal is not necessarily to have students go into the military or do ROTC in college, many of his students have done just that.

For the first two years, CMS Bedell was a one man show and had to serve all four grades and run all the extra-curricular programs by himself.  He was able to get the parents of the cadets to form a Booster Club that helps run fund raisers to offset the costs of some of the JROTC programs.  Chief, as he is known by his cadets, has been a positive influence on not just his cadets but all of the students at Mount Olive High School.  He started a Raider Team who compete in physical fitness competitions, started a Drill Team who won third place at their first competition, and started a rocketry club who qualified for nationals last season.  The cadets have taken field trips McGuire Air Force Base as well as Dover Air Force Base to learn from members in the military and see what their jobs are on a day to day basis.  Some of the cadets were allowed to fly in a KC-135 as part of an incentive program.  The cadets have successfully put on a Military Ball each year and, now that the program has grown to almost 100 cadets, they have to have their awards night separate from the ball.  The cadets have learned the importance of giving back to their community with many community service projects.  They have completed many projects that give back to our veterans as well as other groups in the community.  
As the Cadet Major and second in command of the JROTC detachment, I, Hannah Jones, whole heartily nominate Chief Master Sergeant Robert Bedell as a teacher who rocks and is more than deserving of this great honor.

 


CHRISTIAN DIAZ
LLD Teacher
William Annin Middle School
Nominated by: Marissa Fuelhart, Teacher

Ms. Diaz treats her students as if they are her own kids and will go out of her way to do anything for them. During virtual school this past year, Ms. Diaz still physcially gave her students the work they needed. She went out and delivered fun lesson bags to her students’ mailboxes as little surprises each morning. Pre-pandemic, you could find her setting up weekend group outings for her students to practice socialization at places like the mall or a restaurant. She designs themed lessons each week to keep her students engaged in their curriculum. One may see a tent set up in her classroom for “the great outdoors” week or all the staff in her room wearing costumes depending on the focus of the class for that week. For being a creative asset to her classroom of students at William Annin Middle School, we honor Ms. Diaz as a Teacher Who Rocks.


DINA MICHAUD
1st Grade Teacher
Byram Lakes Elementary School
Nominated by: Alicia Henry

Mrs. Michaud has, hands down, CRUSHED the virtual learning/in person learning models with her FIRST grade class. Her methods have kept her students engaged in the curriculum, which for 6 and 7 year olds is quite challenging. Despite the pandemic, her students have excelled as much as anyone else in the school. Ms. Michaud has done of this all while dealing with her own uphill battle of helping loved ones dealing with serious illness. Her perseverance and positive attitude is exemplary for everyone she meets, not just her students! She is an example for her students as well as their parents and her co-workers. Because of her ability to overcome life’s obstacles all with a positive attitude, we honor Ms. Michaud as a Teacher Who Rocks.


EMILY MOORE
Art Teacher K-4
Lincoln Park Elementary School
Nominated by: Liz McClafferty, Parent

Mrs. Moore, an art teacher at Lincoln Park Elementary School, is the kind of teacher that we all need. Mrs. Moore has a passion for art and an immense amount of knowledge that she shares with her students whether in the classroom or through the computer.  She creates projects for the students that are interesting and fun to create while also challenging them to do a little bit better each time. Mrs. Moore is one of those creative people who allows her students to flourish and create in their own ways. Individuality is celebrated, allowing highly creative students to flourish instead of feeling stifled. Students work with mediums that are unique and fun but accessible in a way that makes creating them at home possible for her students.

What is most wonderful and special about Mrs. Moore is her heart.  She is an incredibly caring person who has gone above and beyond for her students in a million little ways. Last year, students of all ages were forced to start learning in a whole new way and it was not easy.  A student that had a particularly difficult time no longer wanted to work on her favorite subject, art. Mrs. Moore heard about this from the student’s parent and did something that truly ROCKED: she went to the students house, sat outside with them in the driveway and worked on a Nature Mandala.  A project that student had refused to work on suddenly, was a source of joy. Mrs. Moore talked with her about her project, about the last few months, about silly things and the 3rd grader lit up. That one act of kindness and caring got that student through the rest of the school year, giving them the connection and confidence that she so desperately needed at that time.

For breaking through the computer screen and going the extra, in-person mile, we honor Mrs. Moore as a Teacher Who Rocks


KATHRYN VAN NATTEN
305th grade Teacher of Children with Disabilities
NJ Regional Day School
Nominated by: Vice Principal Maria Kadus

Ms. Vannatten comes in to every day at New Jersey Regional Day School with tons of positive energy and a smile on her face. She is a dedicated and loving teacher who puts in tremendous effort to go above and beyond for the students and their families. Working with special needs children, Ms. Vannatten knows it’s important to makes sure to spend extra time working and communicating with her students and their parents through one on one meetings, providing a personal touch that leads to her students success.

Ms. Vannatten is a huge music fan and incorporates high energy and song into her lessons whenever she can. She also helps out the community around her, participating in numerous outside programs including clothing drives.


VICTORIA TESTA
9th & 10th Grade English Teacher
Randolph High School
Nominated by: Leah Kacicz, Teacher

Ms. Testa engages her virtual and in- person students daily with her creativity, enthusiasm, and passion for the subject matter. She has an unwavering commitment to the students, faculty members, and staff at Randolph High School.  She approaches each day with a positive attitude, a friendly smile, and a willingness to help others. All her students have a sense of purpose and she reminds them to be a part of the change they would like to see in the world by modeling positivity and perseverance. Her classes provide her students with an escape from reality and a sense of belonging during these trying times.

Ms. Testa works tirelessly on the English Department Bookroom to ensure that all students have access to curriculum novels and textbooks.  She can often be found searching for PDF’s of books and other reading material to share with teachers and students electronically during virtual learning to provide ease of access. Ms. Testa spent last summer writing curriculum with a team of teachers which focused on supporting incoming freshmen students as they transition to the high school setting.  

On top of her English Department duties, Ms. Testa started a lunch time “movie club” in which she and another teacher created a space for students to go during lunch time and watch movies.  All students are welcome to come and “chill out” during a time when they are seeking a safe space and she consistently had a packed room before the pandemic. Lunch time is a necessary break for students; however, it can also heighten anxieties and fears due to the social aspect of trying to fit in and Ms. Testa’s open-door policy gives students a place to go where they can just be themselves. 

Students often reach out to Ms. Testa for extra help and advice on academic, social, and emotional issues. She is a great listener and her students benefit from her advice.  She has been asked to mentor several students because of her ability to forge positive relationships with others. 

Because of her kindness and positivity that has been contagious in the halls of Randolph High School, we honor Ms. Testa as a Teacher Who Rocks.


JERRY COCHRAN
Science Teacher
North Brunswick Township High School
Nominated by: Bob Goldman, Teacher

Mr. Cochran is a dedicated science teacher that cares about his students. He spend much of his free time planning lessons and helping out his students. Mr. Cochran has also mentored many new teachers and helped them with their first year teaching. Because of this, many of his peers look up to him for guidance.

On top of teaching, Mr. Cochran is an advisor for the Environmental club where he spends a great deal of time and effort working with his students. He helps fund this club by selling Earth Day t-shirts. Mr. Cochran is a valuable member of the school, often working as a translator helping to communicate with Spanish speaking school families and students. He was recognized this year as the staff member who best exemplifies Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For his dedication to science, teachers, and students, we honor Mr. Cochran as a Teacher Who Rocks


DEBBIE DRUKER
Kindergarten Teacher
Parsons School in North Brunswick
Nominated by Amee Gorzynski, teacher

Ms Drucker goes above and beyond for her students at Parsons School. She loves her job and it shows. Ms .Drucker also steps up for the community by volunteering her time working with foster kids and takes classes to learn more about their challenges. She has volunteered and worked with the Girl Scouts and a peer mentoring program with Rutgers University.

Ms. Druker is always involved in community programs and organizations that help children. For her dedication to the children in the North Brunswick area, we honor Ms. Druker as a Teacher Who Rocks.


JENNIFER DUGAN
Special Education Teacher
Lincoln Park Elementary
Nominated by Jenna Warden, Special Ed Teacher

Ms. Dugan is described by her colleagues as a great person inside and out. She shows up every day to Lincoln Park Elementary with a smile ready to help her students get ready to practice life skills. Ms. Dugan has been working with preschool special education students for many years. Any student that walks in to her classroom gets a wonderful experience with care. The way Ms. Dugan teaches her staff gives the students the best chance to succeed. They are confident as they work on projects that challenges their sensory skills. She has shown time and again the ability to overcome student challenges including not liking the feel of something and even working with non-verbal students helping them talk through a device. For her amazing ability to work through these challenges, we honor Ms. Dugan as a Teacher Who Rocks.


JON RAY
3rd Grade Teacher
Lincoln Park Elementary School
Nominated by Dave Font, parent

There are few educators who have as much patience and compassion as Mr. Ray. In addition to adjusting to a virtual instructional setting this year, Mr. Ray also saw his responsibilities switch from teaching special needs students to teaching mainstream students. If this was ever a challenge for Mr. Ray, neither his students nor parents were aware. He makes teaching look effortless. He constantly prepares lessons that are perfect for virtual learning, he has a patience that most people simply do not possess, and it is obvious in every single interaction he has with his students that he cares for each and every one of them.

Parents say what makes Mr. Ray special is his ability to take a career’s worth of experience and training and to completely flip it on its head over the course of a few months. He has done this all with an absolutely genuine smile on his face. If he has struggled at all, he has not made that the fault or concern of his students or their parents. The pandemic nudged Mr. Ray to change track in two different ways – in teaching virtually and in teaching mainstream students – and he has risen to the challenge. His students love attending his class. More importantly, his students learn. For his ability to adapt and thrive, we honor Mr. Ray as a Teacher Who Rocks.


DANA LEVENBACK
5th Grade Teacher 
Ironia Elementary School
Nominated by Andria Stampone, Paraprofessional

Ms. Levenback and her co-teacher, Ms. Kessinger, impress their colleagues each and every day. They spent their free time this past summer together working to plan how they would make the coming school year even better for their students, despite the fact that it would be hybrid. Their motto is “we will do our absolute best to reach each and every student in our class each and every single day.” This approach reaches the students as they know each day they are cared about by their teachers and they strive to do the best they can.

In the summer of 2019, one of Ms. Levenback’s student’s homes caught on fire. Thankfully the student and their family were safe, however, they lost everything. Ms. Levenback immediately reached out to the parents and offered support. The student hadn’t even had Miss Levenback as a teacher yet, they were going to be a part of her class during the upcoming school year. Ms. Levenback and her co-teacher put together gifts and items that they would need to help them during this difficult time. They collected and delivered it to the temporary house that the family was staying in. It meant the world to the student who had been struggling with what happened.

Because of the way Ms. Levenback supports her students both inside and outside of the classroom, we honor her as a Teacher Who Rocks.


BILL ERICKSON
Woodworking Teacher
Morris Knolls High School
Nominated by: Rich Luttenberger, Teacher

Whenever you walk by Mr. Erickson’s classroom, you hear one of three things, (and sometimes all three) the voice of Mr. Erickson, the buzzing and screeching of power tools, and the sweet melodies of rock and roll!  Mr. Erickson attracts kids to his elective courses where they choose to be there, not because his class is mandatory for graduation but because he has created an environment that empowers his students. He gives them ownership of their classroom experiences, and he makes them feel comfortable.  His methods have been so successful that he has six sections of woodshop every year, and he has had numerous students complete four years of his woodworking classes over their high school careers.  He created an award for these students – the “Golden Hammer,” and those particular kids design and build their own Golden Hammer awards that adorn half of a wall of his woodshop!

While Mr. Erickson imparts his woodworking wisdom on his students annually, he enhances their experiences by providing opportunities to learn life skills as well.  Over the years he has involved his classes in multiple assembly-line productions that have been philanthropic in nature.  One year they designed and constructed Pumpkin Boxes for Halloween, another year it was a Snowman Box, and yet another year the project was a Freedom Pen.  For these endeavors, Mr. Erickson assembled a team of project leaders from his advanced level students and then the other classes took on roles in the mass-production process.  Sales were generated from families and staff, and proceeds went to different charitable causes, such as helping a student who had a medical condition to sending money and supplies to overseas troops.  These completely student-run projects were both impressive and inspiring.

And even now, after over twenty years at his position, he is redefining himself to fit the needs of his students and the times.  Like so many during this pandemic, he has had to adapt and reinvent himself.  And he does.  Seamlessly.  He films demos in his woodshop and posts the videos for his students.  He utilizes online resources such as EdPuzzle and YouTube.  He does what it takes to make his “hands-on” class as hands-on as it can be during a period of social distancing.

That is the kind of teacher Mr. Erickson is.  He cares about his students, and he wants to provide the best environment he can for them to grow and learn…and listen to rock music as they do it, because he is a Teacher Who Rocks!


KEITH WILLIAMS
Music Teacher and Band Leader
Hawthorne High School
Nominated by: Gina Puluse, parent

Mr. Williams is one of the most rockin’ teachers at Hawthorne High School. He is known to pick rock music for the band to perform including hits from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Radiohead. Each band member can’t wait for their band camp each year as they make real memories that will last a life time.

Since Covid -19 he has kept the young musicians busy with virtual practices and videos assignments.  The Hawthorne High band even got to perform a few times with strict social distancing that gave them a chance to make some unique memories.  While students struggle during these crazy times, Mr. Williams has kept them going and gives them positive motivation they need.  For finding a way to rock through a pandemic, we honor Mr. Williams as a Teacher Who Rocks.


DONNA NILSSON
Social Studies Teacher & Discipline Advisor
Lincoln Park Middle School
Nominated by: Michael Meyer, Superintendent

While supporting struggling social studies students can be a challenge, investigating and resolving discipline issues at the middle school level is thankless job that Mrs. Nilsson manages to handle with such respect and understanding that she has built many positive relationships with her students. She has become an adult with whom many students feel comfortable sharing their problems and seeking advice. She recognizes that students make mistakes and that this is part of the learning process for many students. Mrs. Nilsson has researched and implemented restorative justice activities that help students learn from their mistakes more than the traditional detention or suspension.

Mrs. Nilsson is also a Google Certified trainer who shares her knowledge of technology with her colleagues to help them improve their own classroom performance. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Mrs. Nilsson has become the go-to person for quick assistance with technology issues for both staff and students. She has helped students and their parents to troubleshoot when technology glitches have kept students from their virtual classrooms. When last year’s graduation became impossible due to Covid-19, Mrs. Nilsson really stepped up to help plan, edit and produce LPMS’s graduation program. Since this was a new experience for everyone, Mrs. Nilsson taught herself everything she needed to help make the program a success…and it was nothing short of amazing.

Mrs. Nilsson also exhibits tremendous school spirit. When everyone was missing school due to the pandemic, Mrs. Nilsson used pictures from around our school to create a weekly feature on our morning news, “Where in LPMS is Mrs. Nilsson?” Students tried to guess the location of each picture from around the school. She works with colleagues to organize spirit days and is often seen decorating the hallways with motivational or humorous decorations.

As the pandemic continued into the current school year, Mrs. Nilsson has continued to step-up. When students fail to log-on to their remote classes, Mrs. Nilsson contacts their homes to remind them to get to their class as well as to provide technological assistance if that is the problem. Remote learning is a challenge for everyone: parents, teachers and students. She makes countless calls to parents every day, even after the students have gone home, to get the students back on track. Without Mrs. Nilsson’s assistance, many students would not be performing as well as they are.

For her school spirit, creativity and tireless effort, we honor Mrs. Nilsson as a Teacher Who Rocks


DANIELLE MORGANROTH
8th Grade Science Teacher
Lincoln Park middle School
Nominated by: Cathleen Bonsiewich

Mrs. Morganroth is an outstanding grade 8 science teacher that truly excels within the classroom. She is hardworking, motivating, and inspiring. She cares deeply about all of her students. Each day, when instructing, Mrs. Morganroth utilizes music, dance, laughter, and love to help build her students’ self-esteem, confidence, science knowledge, and their needed skills in order to achieve.

Mrs. Morganroth is an excellent teacher that always goes above and beyond in order to help her students achieve in the science lab and in Lincoln Park Middle School. Her smile and positive attitude is truly beneficial to not only her students but to our staff as well. For all of her hard work and for her positive attitude, we honor Mrs. Morganroth as a Teacher Who Rocks.


MS CAROL MACKEN
Instructional Coach and Academic Support Teacher
Lincoln School in Caldwell
Nominated by: Adam Geher, Principal

After dedicating 27 incredible years of teaching to the Lincoln School in the Caldwell-West Caldwell School District, Ms. Carol Macken is retiring this year. She has taught every grade K-5 at some point before becoming and instructional coach and academic support teacher for all of the district’s elementary schools five years ago. Ms. Macken is student centered in all decision making and has a magical talent of teaching young children how to read. Parents rave about how she helps all students develop a passion for books.

On top of that, Ms. Macken has written numerous grants including one that got bird feeders installed on school grounds so students can observe nature as part of their science curriculum. She also secured several grants to purchase a diverse set of books for the school’s classrooms as well as a grant that helps supports a program she helped create called ‘USA Day’. On this very special day, she invites Veterans to our school where they are honored by the students and community. Carol is terrific team member who always wants to share ideas. For her 27 years of commitment to the Lincoln School, we honor Ms. Macken as a Teacher Who Rocks!


MS KRISTEN MAUS
Social Studies Teacher
Randolph High School
Nominated by Brian Hoesly, teacher

Ms. Maus’s most important quality as an educator is how she interacts with her students. Not a day goes by that a student does not come to visit her, letting her know what is going on in their lives, and asking about her children. If one were to ask both her former and present students, they would describe her as tough, but fair and loving. Ms. Maus has been asked by several students over the years to stand beside them at Teacher Appreciation Night events for sports teams and she is always willing to attend games, plays, or other events she is invited to. It does not take much effort to see that she loves her students, and they love her back. Given Ms. Maus’ history both at Randolph High School and her time in Philadelphia Public Schools, she has reached well over a thousand young minds and each are better for having known her.

When it comes to providing educational opportunities to students of varying abilities, Ms. Maus has become an expert. She often accommodates students, helps to advocate for brighter futures of students of varying needs, and creates hands-on projects to engage every student. She happily attends IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings and contributes to PLEAFP (Present Level of Educational and Academic Functional Performance) writing, always with a watchful eye on, “How will this document help prepare them for the next step?”

Ms. Maus never brushes off recommendation and ideas in her ICS pairing. She does not make her co-teachers feel like a second-tier teacher, but rather part of a team. Simply speaking, Ms. Maus is a premier educator. She is warm, kind, and funny, but she is tough and holds her students to high standards of accountability. She creates valuable opportunities to engage all learners regardless of ability or interest and she fosters a classroom environment of inclusion and cooperation. For this, we honor her as a Teacher Who Rocks.

 


MS. ERIN VALENZANO
5th-8th Grade Special Needs
Gramon/Glenview Academy in Fairfield
Nominated by: Mike Valenzano, Teacher

Mrs. Valenzano works tirelessly to make every day better for her students!  She has been working with special needs students for 20 years and has climbed the ladder from one on one aide to head teacher. As a head teacher, Mrs. Valenzano has to lesson plan each day for her students so that each get the most out of her class. She is currently a hybrid teacher and she zooms to meet with support staff and parents constantly to keep everyone in the loop and to ensure that her students are growing and achieving.

On top of her work as a teacher, Mrs. Valenzano is currently taking graduate school classes working towards a new degree. Most nights are spent writing papers and working into the wee hours of the night. She also actively helps the environment by walking with her daughter Rachel on Long Beach Island and picking up trash to keep the community clean. In her little free time, she coaches youth soccer and basketball. A parent of an autistic child on her team was brought to tears when they found out Coach Erin had experience working with similar children and was so happy they signed their son up for the team.  

Mrs. Valenzano has gone above and beyond in the pandemic, often printing out work and hand delivering packets to her student’s homes so they could continue to learn and follow along with the class. She is a woman who does it all and gives everyone the stink eye whenever 105.5 is NOT on the radio dial!  For her dedication to her students and her community, we honor Mrs. Valenzano as a Teacher Who Rocks!


DR. ANTOINETTE BUSH
Science Teacher
Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Teaneck
Nominated by: Janice Dowd, Retired Administrator

Dr. Antoinette Bush is a science teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Teaneck, NJ. Dr. Bush did not take a traditional route to her teaching career. After college, she pursued a degree in veterinary medicine and became a licensed veterinarian. However, she had always wanted to teach and more than 20 years ago, she returned to Teaneck to enter the Alternate Route and become a science teacher.

As a dedicated science teacher with expertise in dealing with animals, Dr. Bush brings science to life for her students. Her knowledge of animal physiology has served her well as she explained the interdependence of the plant and animal kingdoms. Not only did she explain her craft so clearly, but because of her background, she also showed her students what it meant to take care of the world and its inhabitants. With permission from the school, she would bring in animals to class so that her students saw first-hand how to care for them and make their lives better. She also advised her students on how to handle their pet problems and helped them find an appropriate solution when there were difficulties. Long after students left her class, they would talk about Dr. Bush and the lasting impression that she made on them about the importance of studying science.

Dr. Bush is also a leader in the community. This past June when everyone was at home, sitting at computers too much, she formed a “Get Up and Dance” group with other teachers in the district. They organized Zoom dance classes where different teachers or community members taught how to do dances from all over the world. The audience consisted of students from her classes, their parents, and interested community members. The classes were open to all including retired teachers and interested friends. It was Dr. Bush who wanted to ensure that people were moving around despite the pandemic. Dr. Bush explained and demonstrated how to do various African dances that she had learned many years ago as a student in the Terpsichorean Troupe at Teaneck High School. To this day, she volunteers her time as a choreographer for the productions that the troupe puts on at Teaneck High School every year.

Her colleagues have always been impressed with Dr. Bush’s work ethic and dedication to her students, school, and community. She works tirelessly to help all her students master difficult material while showing them a great deal of love and caring. She is actively involved in making sure that they learn how to make a lasting contribution to society.  

Dr. Bush gives generously of her time after school to make science education a reality for all students.  She is an incredibly creative and deserving teacher and most definitely is a Teacher Who Rocks.


MS. LAURA WESTERVELT
2nd Grade Teacher
Edith M. Decker Elementary School
Nominated by Jeff Grillo, Principal

All teachers are working hard during these challenging times of COVID-19, implementing new ways to teach students in the best way possible. Ms. Westervelt has exceeded everyone’s dedication to education. Ms. Westervelt has been working tirelessly researching resources, preparing lessons, posting, correcting, and providing feedback remotely for her students. Building relationships with students online and making learning fun and interactive on a screen is challenging, but Ms. Westervelt has been able to accomplish it all.

Ms. Westervelt’s overall positive attitude, enthusiasm and love for teaching after more than 20 years of teaching is impressive and it has added tremendously to the teaching attitude of those around her. Ms. Westervelt supports her colleagues in any way possible, utilizing her own time and resources assisting or training colleagues in need, especially on how to use technology (Google, Chrome Extensions, websites, etc.).
She seeks out countless professional development opportunities to better herself as an educator while taking courses and classes to complete her masters plus 30,  which has led to her reading specialist degree as well as the Orton Gilligham certification. That expertise adds tremendously when it comes to implementing various teaching strategies, which all her students benefit from.

Ms. Westervelt also has strong relationships with special area teachers and is always interested in how her students are performing in a non-classroom setting. For example, she will come into the school gym and jump into a game or share some of her athletic skills and experiences. She takes time out of her day to participate in programs such as the ‘PedalUp’ for sustainability or runs the 5K race in Mount Arlington. Teachers like Ms. Westervelt who make their district exceptional deserve our “Teacher Who Rocks Award”.


MR. SALIM LAIB
Physical Education Teacher
Mt. Vernon Elementary
Nominated by John Taylor, Director of Athletics & Physical Education

Mr. Salim Laib has been a P.E. teacher with Irvington Public Schools for the last ten years. He demonstrates he is a caring educator who selflessly provides his own financial resources and personal time to his students. Mr. Laib volunteers to run the Play Unified program at Mt. Vernon Elementary School where students with profound intellectual disabilities are provided the opportunity to engage in physical activity. He works with each of these students after school to improve their skill-sets in hopes they remain physically active throughout their lives. This program is one of the most inspiring environments a parent, student, or educator can witness.

Mr. Laib works tirelessly to provide a caring environment where students can have fun, engage in new experiences, and make friends. Due to his efforts, these students are happier, healthier children with positive memories that will last a lifetime. Each spring, Irvington Public Schools hosts a “Play Unified Day,” and these athletes have an opportunity to showcase their skills. Mr. Laib takes a leadership role on this day, and the genuine warmth he demonstrates for his students is always evident. If not for his help, many of these students may not have the opportunity to experience a day where they are the “stars of the show” in an athletic setting.

Mr. Laib serves as the Head Boys Soccer and Head Boys Tennis Coach at Irvington High School. In his six years as the head soccer coach, he has won two conference championships, qualified for the state playoff six times, and was the No. 1 seed in the state playoffs in 2018. Mr. Laib has coached two players who led Essex County in scoring (2018 and 2020). What makes this accomplishment remarkable is Irvington Township does not offer youth soccer programs. Many of his players participate in competitive soccer for the first time during their freshman year of high school, and he has shown an ability to develop his players into competitive soccer athletes. Two of Mr. Laib players have received scholarships to play college soccer. A player’s inability to purchase the required equipment never stopped Mr. Laib from helping a student play. He uses his own money to help students pay for cleats, shin guards, mouth pieces, and meals when needed. Over six years as the head soccer coach, and four years prior as the assistant boys soccer coach, Mr. Laib has easily spent thousands of dollars to help his athletes.

For his generosity, care for his students and athletes, and ability to develop his players, Mr. Laib has certainly proven he is a remarkable educator, person, and a Teacher Who Rocks


Sponsored by:
Saint Elizabeth University