Teachers make a difference in the lives of children every day. To honor their commitment to excellence, we've compiled essays from the 2020 Connecticut Teacher of Year finalists and semifinalists. Teacher of the Year candidates are asked about the factors that influenced them to become teachers, and what they consider to be their greatest contributions and accomplishments in education. Here are their inspirational responses.
2020 Connecticut Teacher of the Year:
|Meghan Hatch-Geary||Regional School District 16||English
|Marquis Johnson||Windsor Public Schools||General Science
|Tara O'Neill||Meriden Public Schools||Science
|Erin Pinsky||Regional School District 9||Social Studies
|Lynne Bridge||Tolland Public Schools||Business Education
|Kathryn Dal Zin||Wallingford Public Schools||Agricultural Science
|Marcy Deschaine||Bristol Public Schools||Elementary
|Crystal Kitselman||Greenwich Public Schools||Elementary
|Emily Lisy||Clinton Public Schools||Biology
|Kim Lowell||Newtown Public Schools||Physics
|John Martin||Wethersfield Public Schools||English
|Susan Mollica||Simsbury Public Schools||Music
|Geralyn Nelson||East Haven Public Schools||Elementary
|Diane Pintavalle||Glastonbury Public Schools||Biology
|Lisa Romano||Waterbury Public Schools||Elementary
|Jennifer Stanish||West Hartford Public Schools||Elementary
|Katherine Wood||The Gilbert School School||English
Marquis Johnson is a general science educator at Sage Park Middle School in Windsor, CT, the district where he was raised and educated as a child. Mr. Johnson was recently recognized as the 2020 Windsor Teacher of the Year. Initially, he could not see himself becoming a teacher. It was while earning his Bachelor of Science in Biology at Hampton University that Mr. Johnson reflected on his years as a K-12 student. He observed that neither educators nor curriculum reflected the diverse group of learners within the classroom. This realization inspired him to become an educator. After obtaining a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut, he began his teaching career in Hartford Public Schools before returning to his alma mater.
As a science educator, Mr. Johnson treats his students as members of the scientific community. Students are able to envision themselves as scientists who influence global change through critical thinking. Mr. Johnson believes that educational institutions should create life-long learners by placing students at the center of learning while maintaining high expectations for all children.
Mr. Johnson brings unrelenting focus and passion to everything he does. He creates learning experiences that are not confined within the walls of the classroom. Johnson oversees a partnership with NASA's Stennis Space Center in which students engage in an annual Virtual Career Fair. He facilitates an annual trip to the University of Connecticut, which allows a diverse group of students to learn about engineering from professionals and undergraduates of color. After school, he supervises the Rocket Club and the Performing Arts enrichment cluster. In the early morning hours, students and their families gather with Mr. Johnson to view lunar eclipse events.
Mr. Johnson is co-leader of the Equity Committee whose purpose is to create a learning environment for all students regardless of their identity, personal challenges, or cultural background. He uses this role to create opportunities for students to have a voice in shaping school policies and future programs at Sage Park Middle School. Mr. Johnson organizes and facilitates professional development opportunities for educators, allowing them to equip students with 21st-century skills. As a member of the District Equity Team, he participates in developing a district-wide equity plan for Windsor Public Schools.
Marquis Johnson is an advocate for education reform. In 2019, he testified before the Connecticut House of Representatives in support of House Bill 7082, which sought to “include African-American Studies in the K-12 curriculum.” The bill passed.
Mr. Johnson is passionate about ensuring that all students are successful participants in a 21st-century global community. He believes that it is crucial that educators create a classroom environment that is equitable, student-centered, and inquiry-based, encouraging students to become critically literate citizens.
Tara O’Neill is in her seventh year of teaching 7th grade science in Meriden, where she focuses on enhancing students’ educational, social and emotional outcomes while acting as a cross-curricular teacher leader. Tara is a driving force in creating a positive school climate, providing educator development, and implementing district wide improvement.
As an exemplary educator, Tara puts building and maintaining relationships with students and colleagues at the top of her priority list. Tara has become a leader and role model for the integration and execution of Restorative Practices (RP) in Meriden. Tara believes that in order to ensure student success, educators must consider each student as a whole person, developing lessons that address their social and emotional development in tandem with academic skills and content. She is a member of the district’s Restorative Community of Practice and provides professional development to teachers across secondary schools in Meriden.
Tara is a chair of the District Leadership Team where she supervises the Systems and Operations Committee. In this capacity, Tara’s global perspective has been instrumental in developing and instituting a district-wide system to better prepare middle school students for the transition into high school. Her efforts to create, present, and oversee this work are a testament to her ability to understand the bigger picture as well as lead others in this endeavor.
In addition to a dedication to self-improvement, Tara has worked to develop and implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned curriculum at the district level, and at the state level. Through implementation of this curriculum, Tara has worked to help other teachers integrate equitable teaching practices into their science lessons by incorporating shared student experiences, incorporating students’ varying cultures into the classroom and providing time for students to connect and better understand one another. Tara works to continually improve her own professional practice through research, development and participation in Connecticut-based and online Professional Learning Communities. She has been paramount in the maturation of the Quinnipiac University Science Teaching and Learning Center (QUeST-LC). In this role, Tara has provided professional development to teachers K-12 in 36 districts across Connecticut. Her role as a QUeST-LC Fellow includes work with professionals from Quinnipiac, UConn, University of Washington, Northwestern University, among others, as well as the State Department and several Connecticut school districts.
Tara is also passionate about increasing the efficacy of elementary teachers in science content and pedagogy. Currently, she spends weeknights and Saturday mornings educating elementary teachers in science content knowledge and interdisciplinary unit formation. Tara has designed and delivered K-5 NGSS/STEAM-based curriculum and professional development to elementary teachers across the state. She works with a team of teachers at QUeST-LC to create interdisciplinary instructional units designed to support teachers as they work to integrate NGSS into their classroom.
Her unique ability to connect with others and understand the bigger picture in her work has allowed Tara to share her passions within Meriden and throughout the state. She not only serves as a teacher of distinction in the minds of the students, but is a continual source of inspiration for her fellow educators.
Tara received her Bachelor’s Degree in Geoscience from the University of Connecticut, her Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from the University of New Haven, and her 6th Year Degree in Educational Leadership from Quinnipiac University.
In the seventh grade, Erin Pinsky’s love of history and admiration for the vocation of teaching was awakened when she took on the roles of Benjamin Franklin and Connecticut hero Nathan Hale for class projects. That joy in bringing history to life, particularly through the arts, has continued to drive her own intellectual pursuits and now her inspiring passion for bringing history to life in the classroom. Erin strives to engage students, encouraging them to become more active thinkers by exploring why history matters. Erin brings her love of art, literature, politics, economics, and sociology into her teaching to illustrate this philosophy that understanding ourselves and our world requires a deep knowledge of history.
Erin aims to build a community of thinkers and empathetic individuals in the classroom, feeling that her greatest contributions are the moments when she has pushed students to think differently, act with empathy, and delve deeper. Now in her eighth year of teaching at Joel Barlow High School, serving Easton and Redding, she actively contributes to her school’s goals of community and collective excellence. Erin teaches American Government, Advanced Placement U.S. History, U.S. History, and World Geography. She has taken leadership roles in the Social Studies Department rewriting curriculum for the U.S. History and American Government courses to be more responsive to thematic teaching and learning, the Connecticut C3 Framework, Understanding by Design, state and national standards for social studies, and vertical articulation of skills for students grades 9-12. She served for two years as Peer Practice Coach, developing and facilitating seventeen professional learning opportunities for faculty in educational best practices for optimal school climate, multidisciplinary learning, and maximizing student outcomes. Her coaching role extended into presenting at the Connecticut Education Association’s annual conference in 2016, “Innovative Reviews of Practice through Peer Coaching.”
Additionally, Erin is in her eighth year as a chair of the Student Intervention Team, developing data-informed plans for academically struggling students, utilizing social-emotional learning and executive functioning models. She is committed to providing for students not otherwise identified for services who run the risk of falling through the cracks. As the co-chair of the Integrity Committee, Erin has been instrumental in giving form to this student, administrative, and faculty coalition that cultivates an atmosphere of personal and academic excellence at Joel Barlow. This work empowers students to maintain personal integrity inside the classroom and beyond for themselves and their peers. In 2017, she was one of only thirty-six Connecticut educators awarded a grant from the Dalio Foundation to attend Lincoln Center Education’s Summer Forum, immersing herself for a week in exploring various art forms that she continues to embed in her classroom activities and field trips to the Yale University Art Gallery to analyze history through the arts.
Erin is a member of the Connecticut Educators Association, National Council for the Social Studies, Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education, Society for History Education, and the National Humanities Center. She was also awarded membership to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society, Golden Key International Honor Society, Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, and Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Richmond with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, Leadership Studies, and Italian Studies followed by a Master of Arts degree in Teaching of Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Lynne Bridge is an accomplished professional educator with government, corporate, and academic teaching/training credentials. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Marketing from Philadelphia University, an M.B.A. from Drexel University, and a M.S. degree in Education from the University of New Haven. Lynne holds professional educator licenses in both Business and Marketing and is currently employed by Tolland High School where she has been a business education teacher for the past eight years.
As a business education teacher for Tolland High School, Lynne continues to enlighten, inspire, and engage young minds in the fields of Marketing, Personal Finance, and Economics. She has brought innovative programs to the school including the development of the school’s highly successful DECA business club, the introduction and management of the school store, involving community business leaders in Interview Day for her Personal Finance classes, and establishing the yearly school-wide community service events that have contributed over $45,000 to charities in the past 5 years. In addition, she has been highly involved in the creation and introduction of the new Tolland Business Academy program. Lynne excels at creating unique and exciting opportunities for students to actively engage in the curriculum, apply what they have learned to real-world scenarios, and develop 21st century workforce skills.
Lynne’s route to her current position as a public school educator was not traditional yet always had teaching as an underlying theme. Originally from Pennsylvania, she began her teaching career with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management as a training specialist for the federal government. She then moved on to becoming a corporate trainer for an international electronics company. At this time, Lynne was also an adjunct faculty member for several colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area including Muhlenberg College, Chestnut Hill College, and DeSales University. She taught classes in Marketing and Consumer Behavior that were primarily geared for adult learners.
Upon relocation to Connecticut twenty years ago, Lynne became deeply involved in the Tolland community. She was voted Tolland’s Citizen of the Year in 2006 in recognition of her dedicated volunteerism. Most notably she was a founding board member and vice-president for the Tolland Education Foundation, helping to raise and distribute over $100,000 to the Tolland Public Schools during her five year tenure. She also served as the chairman of the Tolland Project Graduation program for five years coordinating volunteer efforts to raise over $35,000 per year to host a drug and alcohol free graduation party for Tolland High School seniors. In addition, she was a long-term member and past president of the Tolland Junior Women’s Club and president of the Tolland Elementary Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). While president of the PTO, the club was recognized as the Northeast Region PTO of the Year by PTO Magazine.
Lynne currently resides in Tolland, CT with her husband Jim and has three grown sons who have all graduated from the Tolland public school system.
Kathryn Dal Zin
Fuzzy ears, fluffy tails, feathers, scales, and engaged learners; just a few of the things you would encounter when walking into Kathryn Dal Zin’s Small Animal Science classroom and lab in the Agricultural Science and Technology Program of Lyman Hall High School. Being part of a program which supports hands-on learning gives Kathryn the ability to explore experiential collaborations across learning communities. By forming intentional and strategic partnerships between Lyman Hall High School departments, other local schools, and the larger community, Kathryn’s students’ learning is enhanced and mastery of content and skills, both technical and transferable, is obtained.
Kathryn is in her 12th year of teaching with her first two years of service taking place at Westhill High School’s Agricultural Science and Technology Center in Stamford. Kathryn teaches classes ranging from 9th-12th grade where she engages students in coursework including animal behavior and handling, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, reproduction, and genetics. Kathryn is also an adjunct faculty member for the University of Connecticut through their Early College Experience (ECE) program. Students who enroll in UConn’s Introduction to Companion Animal Management ECE course may earn college credit while in high school.
Kathryn is the Head FFA Advisor for over 315 student members of the Lyman Hall FFA Chapter of the National FFA Organization (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America) and works collaboratively with her colleagues to offer her students a variety of leadership workshops and opportunities. These opportunities include statewide Career Development Event (CDE) competitions in a variety of Agriculture and Agriculture-related fields. Kathryn is a coach of the Veterinary Science CDE team at Lyman Hall. She advises the Paws and Claws Committee which completes community service activities for local animal shelters, and volunteers for the Puppy Up! Walk each year raising funds and awareness for the benefits of comparative oncology in the battle to defeat canine and human cancers.
Kathryn advises her students Supervised Agricultural Experience Projects which offer students a way to explore various career pathways while still in high school. Throughout the school year and summer Kathryn can be found visiting student worksites and project locations as she works to support their goals.
Kathryn works with colleagues across the state as an active member of the Connecticut Association of Agricultural Educators where she has served as Treasurer and works on the State Teach Ag Results (STAR) Committee to recruit and retain diverse, highly qualified teachers in the agricultural sciences.
Kathryn earned her bachelor's degree in Animal Science from the University of Connecticut and master's degrees from both the University of Connecticut and Saint Joseph University.
Marcy believes that in order to help students grow academically she must first connect with them emotionally. She embraces Social Emotional Learning in everything she does. She teaches her students social and emotional skills to help them as learners, while letting them know and feel that we are there to support them along the way. She understands that Social and Emotional Learning is not necessarily a separate course, or a time, but sets out to infuse the theories and strategies throughout the day. She deploys a variety of learning experiences to prepare them to be adaptable in the future. She recognizes vital technology skills in a modern world, but always keeps personal interactions at the center by problem solving both individually and collaboratively.
Marcy demonstrates teaching beyond the four walls of her classroom. She has adopted a mentality that promotes the idea that, no matter the grade or classroom, if children are in her school they are ¨Our Students.¨ She tirelessly works to ensure the whole school meets the goal of cooperatively working together to create a safe, welcoming, and enriching environment for all. She encourages working beyond the grade level and arranges whole school activities. One of her most impactful contributions to demonstrate this was ¨STEAM Day¨. It was a whole school experience with a concept focus on science, technology, innovation, creativity, and collaborative work for an entire school day. Due to its success, she further developed the idea by establishing a Science Room to support ongoing STEAM related challenges, and Science Courtyard to create an educational space for more continuous Ecological excitement.
On top of being an active community leader, Marcy is an energetic and expert Instructional Leader in her district and the global community. In Bristol she serves as a Science Leader, Technology Leader, Webmaster, Mentor Teacher and currently on the district ELA Enhancement, STEM, and Social Emotional Learning Curriculum teams. She enjoys working with her peers and developing curriculum for teachers during the summer. She utilizes various social media platforms (Twitter: @marcydeschaine) as a vehicle to connect with peers and experts in the field both within and beyond her district. She holds reflective practice in the highest regard by frequenting PD such as the National Math Teachers, Teacher of the Year, and NGSS conferences. She holds weekly meetings with coaches, seeks professional resources, and connects with other educators in person or via digital platforms. She always models to her students how to be a 21st Century Learner.
Marcy is always actively seeking grants for her classroom and school. She has petitioned and received over $71,000 for her school community. Items have included books, computers, kindles, 3D Printer, furniture, organizers, gardening supplies, robotics, Target Field Trip Grants, and most recently a $55,000 playground! These materials help create an exciting, motivating, engaging environment for the community and school.
Marcy Deschaine is a third grade teacher at Mountain View School in Bristol, CT. Her primary assignments have been in Special Education Pre K, First, Second, and most recently, Third Grade classrooms. Marcy earned her bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education at Central Connecticut State University and her master's degree in Special Education from Southern Connecticut State University. Marcy lives in Bristol with her husband Jim, who is also a teacher. She has two hardworking and kind sons Chase, 10 and Max, 8. She is very fortunate that she is currently teaching at her former elementary school and gets to give back to her own community.
Crystal Kitselman has been working in the Greenwich Public Schools for 13 years. She is beloved by students, colleagues, and parents alike. Not only is she a highly effective teacher academically, but she also connects deeply and personally with all of her students, and regardless of their intrinsic abilities, she sets the bar high.
Crystal is a reflective teacher. In fact, it was her reflection of a math lesson three years ago that set her on a path of discovery that would change forever her life as a teacher, and the lives of her students as active learners. Crystal had a vision, which she named “Pathways.” The vision was for Pathways to replace whole group instruction. Crystal recognized that her students had differing abilities and learning styles, and so she created four different pathways to mastery for each of the math standards. Students were able to choose the best pathway for their learning style, and having mastered a standard, they were encouraged to demonstrate their understanding in a way that was meaningful to them. Students were transformed as learners through their participation in the design of their own learning, and consequently, Crystal’s role as the teacher shifted completely; she had become a participant alongside her students, rather than the leader. Her discoveries were so powerful that the district adopted this way of teaching and learning – Crystal’s “Pathways” were renamed “Playlists”, and are now an integral part of Personalized Learning in the Greenwich Public Schools.
Crystal is an expert at reaching marginalized students. If she receives word that an incoming student is going to pose problems, she will immediately begin to find ways to reach that child, no matter what it takes. A special education teacher at North Mianus once said to her, “Do you know the difference you’ve made for (name of student) and how much she trusts you?” The child in question was able to recognize that her behavior was different when she was in Crystal’s room, because she felt safe. She says, “Teaching is about taking time to make personal connections and create a safe environment.” A parent noted that she is able to reach all students: “Crystal’s ability to connect with all of her students was amazing to witness. Every time I visited the classroom, I watched as she commanded their attention without raising her voice, spoke with calmness and kindness, treated them like the small adults that they are, with respect and understanding, and always assured them by her actions that she had their backs.” A colleague says of Ms. Kitselman: “Crystal’s hallmark quality of teaching is she not only inspires her students, but humbly inspires her colleagues every day. Her dynamic personality embraces the journey of being a student herself; never stagnant, never settling, and always having the drive to explore which mountain she can climb up next, with the help of her students of course. Crystal embodies the meaning of a teacher, a teammate, and a true leader who leads by example.” Angela Schmidt, Principal at North Mianus, states: ”Crystal is a teacher whose enthusiasm never wanes. She is a true innovator, always seeking to improve her instruction and that of her colleagues. She is the foundation of her team and one of the most talented and passionate teachers I have ever met.”
Crystal Kitselman received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and her master’s degree in Elementary Education from The University of Bridgeport.
Emily Lisy is a biology teacher at The Morgan School in Clinton, CT. She has her Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Wildlife and Fisheries Science with a minor in Marine Science from The Pennsylvania State University. Emily is in her sixteenth year of teaching and has taught a variety of courses including Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, UConn ECE Environmental Science, ECE Marine Science, ECE Allied Health, ECE Floral Art and ECE Advanced Floral Art among many others. She is also the varsity field hockey coach at The Morgan School as well as the Environmental Club Advisor.
Emily has developed partnerships with the Jackson Laboratory allowing her to bring biotechnology equipment into the biology classroom to teach students how to isolate genes. She has developed partnerships with many community organizations such as the Cedar Island Marine Research Lab in Clinton so students gain real science research experience. Students are then encouraged to present their findings at the UConn Marine Science Symposium. She teamed up with the Numi tea company for students to plan and host a school-wide tea party to raise awareness about global water issues and raise money to build clean drinking water wells in Madagascar. Emily also has worked with key stakeholders to form a team to develop a campus-wide sustainability plan for the Morgan School.
Besides being the Clinton Public Schools Teacher of the Year, Emily has also received the Connecticut Science Teachers Association “Excellence in Secondary School Science Teaching” award and the Stamford Public Schools “Spotlight on Teachers” award. The Morgan School Peer Advocates group honored her with the “Making a Difference” award. In addition, Emily has lead students to become national finalists in the Make Waves Contest with Exposure Labs who created the Netflix video, Chasing Coral as well as a finalist for the National DNA Day Pinterest Challenge. During her career, she has worked on numerous biology and agriculture curriculum writing endeavors, and has been trained in both TEAM and AVID.
While at Penn State she helped organize and plan three conferences on Biodiversity, Global Warming, and Sustainable Communities. Attendees included environmental educators, conservation organizations, policy makers and lawyers. During this time she was an editor for a book titled, “Biodiversity Conservation Handbook” which is used by local governments, conservation organizations, law classes, and environmental lawyers.
Emily loves to inspire students to appreciate science, become life-long learners, and gain awareness of community and global issues. She loves to show students that they can do things they never thought possible and to inspire them to follow their dreams --- no matter where they come from or who they are. The environment is something we all live in and as such, ties us all together. For Emily, the environment makes science and other subjects accessible to all, regardless of gender, parent’s level of education, or socioeconomic background. All students leave her class as informed citizens with a higher confidence in their own abilities. Students are taught to have a greater appreciation for the environment, a solutions-oriented mindset, and a deep empathy for the daily struggles of people in the class, the community, the country, and around the world.
Lowell has been a physics teacher at Newtown High School since 1999. She believes that all students should have a physics class that meets their individual needs, which is why she has taught all levels of physics offered in Newtown. This includes the CPB Physics class that she created for students who want to experience physics on a more conceptual, project-based level, and the addition of AP C Physics- a challenging course for students who want to learn calculus-based physics.
Kim is passionate about physics and helping students find an engaging connection between physics and their daily lives. She loves to teach her students how to see more rainbows, life lessons on the dangers of speeding, and practical uses of physics such as how Christmas lights are wired. She teaches the principles of buoyancy to her AP students and has them put those into practice by building cardboard boats to race across the school pool.
In addition to her work in the science department, Kim has served as the building facilitator for the new teacher program. She found mentors for all new teachers, conducted monthly meetings, and assisted teachers to write their BEST portfolios or TEAM papers. She has served as a mentor for many new teachers, scored papers for TEAM at the state level, and was part of the TEAM Coordinating Committee for Newtown Public Schools.
In 2016, Kim became one of the academic officers for freshmen. In this position, she works with incoming freshmen that need extra support with their transition to high school. In collaboration with one of her colleagues, she leads a group of freshman teachers to discuss the progress of students and how to best meet their needs. Kim is also part of the Fusion advisory group, which pairs up freshmen with a student mentor to help them make a peer connection in the high school.
Kim has been grading AP physics exams for the College Board from 2009-2018. She served a leadership role as a table and question leader at the national grading meeting, arriving early to help prepare for the training of the readers. She also helped to write the student performance Q&A for four years that was published on the College Board website.
Kim earned her Bachelor of Arts from Colgate University and her Masters in Physics Education from the University of Virginia. She earned her national board certification in Science/Adolescence and Young Adulthood in 2004 and successfully completed the renewal process in 2014.
John Martin is an English teacher at Wethersfield High School in Wethersfield, CT. John holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Education degree in English Curriculum/Instruction, both from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He has taught in Wethersfield since 2013, when he moved to Connecticut from Massachusetts, where he began teaching in 2011.
John often tells his students and colleagues that he has the most fun and fulfilling job in the world. He can be seen in the hallway shaking student’s hands, connecting on classroom assignments, and laughing and building relationships with students on their common and shared interests. It is rare that you see John without a welcoming smile on his face.
John is an active member of the Wethersfield High School community and loves cheering on student athletes at sporting events, attending school theater productions, chaperoning prom and senior outings, and supervising international student trips including recently leading 29 students to New Zealand and Australia during Summer 2019.
Prior to teaching, John worked for many years as a journalist. John has brought his experience into the classroom and created the school’s journalism program, which over the course of six years has become the highest enrolled senior English elective. He also launched and maintains a student-run journalism news website eagleeyewhs.com for students, staff, and community members.
John continuously strives to maintain excellence at Wethersfield Public Schools by serving as the Staff Liaison on the Board of Education’s Career Advisory Board, designing the school’s student advisory program, writing the curriculum for ten courses in the English department, and by facilitating numerous professional development activities, many focused on how to best utilize technology and writing practices in the classroom. John also volunteers as district representative at job fairs throughout the state.
John believes great educators are at the core of public education and is committed to helping new and developing teachers find their voice within the classroom. He serves as a mentor for new teachers at Wethersfield High through the TEAM Beginning Teacher program and a cooperating teacher for master’s students and prospective teachers at local universities.
John strives to contribute to the overall advancement of education throughout the State of Connecticut. He is editor of the Connecticut Student Writer’s Magazine at the University of Connecticut, on the leadership team of the Connecticut Writing Project, and is a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project, working to help teachers across content areas further their writing practice in the classroom.
Outside the classroom, John is an avid musician and fitness enthusiast. When not teaching, John is working to improve his skills playing the banjo, guitar, ukulele, bass, and drums. John has also recently completed his second half-marathon and is a coach at CrossFit Thin Blue Line in Manchester, CT.
Susan Sager Mollica is a veteran educator with over 39 years of experience, 35 of those years in the Simsbury, CT school district. She is the vocal music specialist at Latimer Lane Elementary School, where she teaches chorus in grades five and six, and general music to Kindergarten through grade six.
Susan is a founding co-conductor of the Simsbury Town wide Elementary Chorus (TWEC). Under her direction, TWEC performed at the 1997 and 2004 CMEA (CT Music Educators Association) conferences, and at the 2007 MENC Eastern Division conference. Susan has presented sessions to music teachers at the local, state, and national level. She is a co-author of an article in the Orff Echo: Looking at Student Work: Collaborating as a team. Susan has mentored numerous student teachers and beginning teachers. She has sponsored many students for CMEA regional and state chorus festivals, and for OAKE national honor choirs.
Susan is an accomplished pianist and vocalist, and has provided musical direction for countless theatre productions through the years. She received the CMEA Outstanding Elementary Music Educator Award in 2009. In 2019, Susan was chosen as the Kathleen Magowan Simsbury Teacher of the Year.
Susan received her Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education from the University of Vermont and her Master of Music Education degree in Classroom Music from The Hartt School/University of Hartford.
Geralyn Nelson has taught in the East Haven School District since 1993. She began her career as a third grade teacher and soon after transferred to second grade. After seven years as a classroom teacher, Geralyn took a position as a technology teacher and worked with all grade levels from Kindergarten through eighth grade. In 2009, she came full circle when she returned once again to the classroom as a third grade teacher.
Throughout her teaching career Geralyn has mentored new teachers and served as a cooperating teacher to student teachers. She has also been a BEST Assessor, Portfolio Scorer, and TEAM Reviewer for Connecticut.
In addition to teaching, Geralyn is currently the President of the State of Connecticut Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa (PDK). She has coordinated three annual statewide meetings incorporating all four Connecticut Chapters of PDK. Geralyn has participated in multiple educational committees in her district, including the Teacher Evaluation Committee, Professional Development Committee and various curriculum writing committees. While designing and presenting several professional development activities for her district, she has also had the opportunity to present projects at four consecutive Tech Expos sponsored by the Connecticut Educators Computer Association.
Geralyn’s first interest in becoming a teacher was when she was nine years old. She was strongly influenced by her fourth grade teacher and felt the power of having a teacher believe in her. Geralyn then decided that she also wanted to be an educator who would make a difference in the lives of students.
Geralyn is committed to “her” children and believes in educating the whole child. She has the ability to make connections with both her students and parents. Her genuine concern for her students lends itself to a safe environment and a love and passion for learning. The bond that develops between Geralyn and her students allows her to watch her students grow mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially. She enjoys watching them discover their own potential which enables them to soar.
Diane Pintavalle has taught science at Glastonbury High School since 1989. She has primarily taught Advanced Placement Biology and a dynamic Advanced Research Mentorship (ARM) course. She is a force in the development of our nation’s future scientists and researchers.
For the ARM course, Diane has developed an extensive network of professional mentors from universities and local industries across the state of Connecticut. Together with Diane, these practicing scientists facilitate authentic student research projects during the year-long course. Diane guides her students to build strong research and professional skills as they imagine their “near future selves.” Several years ago, she worked together with her students to establish Glastonbury High School’s annual STEMposium. This well-attended event showcased student scientific research while promoting student interest in the STEM fields.
In her Biology classes, Diane enjoys inspiring her students to appreciate the beauty and complexity of living systems. She takes pride in her ability to facilitate a deep understanding of the nature of science. She feels this understanding to be critical in the development of scientifically literate, global citizens.
Diane is praised by students and colleagues alike for her contagious scientific passion and her creativity in the classroom. According to one colleague, “She brims with ideas and bubbles with happiness over the prospect of opening doors of understanding for her students.” Diane finds great joy in watching her students get hooked by the thrill of scientific discovery and the possibility of generating new knowledge.
Diane is a 2017 Awardee of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. In three different years Diane was selected as a finalist for the Connecticut Technology Council’s Women of Innovation Awards. She serves on the executive committee for the CT Junior Science and Humanities Symposium and has participated in the National Science Foundation funded Joules Fellowship at The University of CT. Diane has served as an AP Reader for the College Board’s AP Biology Exam since 2017. Diane has assisted in rewriting her district’s curricular materials to reflect the recently adopted Next Generation Science Standards. She also has both chaired and participated in a variety of school committees over the years.
Diane has a B.S. Ed and an M.S. Ed in Biology from Central Connecticut State University as well as a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University. She holds certifications in Biology and General Science for grades 7-12.
Lisa Romano’s career in education began as behavioral specialist in a special education school. There she worked with children with emotional, psychological, and learning vulnerabilities with a goal of successfully transferring students back to their local schools. During this time, the power of relationships became apparent. Connecting with kids became her passion, and teaching was the best way to do so. When Lisa became certified in elementary education, she knew that she wanted to serve the district where she attended grammar school. The Waterbury Public Schools taught Lisa to love learning and she has now worked there for 8 years. She has worked as a student teacher, literacy interventionist, summer school administrator, and classroom teacher. In any role, she educates through the lens that all students have the ability to learn at high levels regardless of their differences or life circumstances.
Currently, Lisa teaches fourth grade at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury. It is here where her two passions collide, the arts and education. To engage students of all backgrounds and learning abilities, Lisa uses an integrated arts approach to teaching which allows students to demonstrate content through an art form. If you walk into her classroom on any given day, it is perfectly normal to witness students engaging in dance, drama, visual art, music, and media art. Bringing the arts into her classroom creates long lasting learning experiences, and provides students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their understanding.
In addition to her teaching duties, Lisa created the Rotella Student Leadership Team which gives 5th grade students a voice in their school and community. Under her guidance, the team has raised $1,300 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, collected food for local shelters, wrote letters of kindness to community leaders, and mentored younger students. Furthermore, Lisa is an active member of the school-wide data team and serves on the Rotella School Governance Council, which works to strengthen school, family, and community relationships. She has also worked collaboratively to help her school become a nationally certified magnet school through Magnet Schools of America. Most recently, Lisa created and led a professional development workshop for new teachers on creating positive learning environments.
Lisa has been recognized by community organizations for her efforts. She was presented with a “challenge coin” from the chief of the Waterbury Police Department for going above and beyond for the Waterbury community. In addition, she was named a Shoprite and Waterbury Foodbank Community Partner, and was awarded the Horace Mann Educators Corporation Crystal Apple Award.
Lisa prides herself on being a lifelong learner. She has earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a mental health concentration from Southern Connecticut State University, a master’s degree in elementary education from Southern Connecticut State University, and a 6th year advanced degree in educational leadership and 092 certification from the University of Bridgeport. She teaches her students that education is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you - a sentiment that was instilled in her by her mother.
Jennifer Stanish has been teaching for the past twenty years at Wolcott Elementary School in West Hartford. She is the daughter of Richard R. Burbank and Sheila A. Burbank, her heroes. The product of two educators, Jennifer would spend time helping her dad in his classroom at Braeburn School in West Hartford, and her mom who taught at DePaolo Middle School in Southington. These early experiences fostered a curiosity and excitement in Jen, serving as the foundation for a storied career. From a very early age, she simply loved school.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Hartford, Hartt School in 1995, Jennifer decided she wanted to further her education and enrolled in graduate school to obtain her teaching certificate. She attended Central Connecticut State University and earned her master’s degree in Elementary Education. She became a member of Alpha Chi, a National College Scholarship Society and graduated with high honors. After two years of teaching, her BEST Portfolio was chosen as the exemplar in the state of Connecticut.
Jennifer is pursuing her life’s work as a teacher and leader with passion, dedication, and love. She is the epitome of a lifelong learner. Wolcott’s administrator, Scott P. Dunn, says that while Jennifer’s genuine collaboration with colleagues and consistent dedication to high quality planning and instruction are hallmarks of her practice, it is Jen’s passion for supporting not only the whole child but the entire family unit that further distinguishes her as an exceptional teacher. Her passion and love for teaching and learning influence her classroom and the entire school community.
What matters most to Jen is the success of her students and the journey along the way. She wants her students to know she believes in them and will never stop. She strives to have students understand the importance and influence of relationships, the power of following one’s heart, and that positivity should prevail. She celebrates differences and unites her classroom community through her sincere belief that everyone belongs and everyone is of value. In one of her essays submitted for the Connecticut Teacher of the Year, Jen wrote: My classroom is a place where every student is a part of something greater–our family.
Jennifer participates on several committees within her school and at the district level, including the Safe School Climate Committee, Leadership Team, and the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee. She resides in Southington with her husband, Stephen, her two children, Chloe and Chase, and her beloved greyhound and two cats. She is blessed with a large extended family and enjoys spending time with her three siblings. When she is not teaching or working in her classroom, Jennifer enjoys reading, card games, singing, playing piano, writing songs, playing tennis and going to the beach. One of her favorite places on Earth is Cape Cod, and she hopes to live there one day.
Katherine Serafini Wood is honored to be one of the semi-finalists for Connecticut Teacher of the Year! After earning her teaching certificate in Secondary English and a master’s degree in education from the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Katie began her teaching career at Global Experience Magnet School in Bloomfield during its initial year as a magnet school. In 2013, she returned to her alma mater, The Gilbert School in Winsted, to share her passion and enthusiasm for learning with the newest generation of Yellowjackets. She has been at Gilbert ever since, where she is actively involved in most facets of the school.
It is often said that Katie “bleeds blue and gold”, the Gilbert colors. She coaches girls’ soccer, serves as the student council adviser, produces the school musical, oversees the yearbook class, and leads the student fan section during basketball games. She can often be found at Gilbert concerts, sporting events, art shows, or in her classroom helping students work through English (and sometimes math) assignments or giving them advice on personal matters. She is a current teacher coach and a former TEAM mentor and co-chair of the PD committee. When Katie is not at a Gilbert event, she’s generally supporting her former students by watching them play college sports, helping them find a new job, or talking to them about their career and life paths.
As a teacher, Katie values more than just her content area. She focuses on helping kids to see their full potential and to find their own voices. Many of Katie’s lessons center around perspective and empathy, and she strives to incorporate these two tenants into all of what she does both inside and outside the classroom. For the last seven years, Katie has taught American Studies English, a crossover course with roots in project-based learning. She traveled to San Diego for the High Tech High Deeper Learning Conference in 2017, and since then she has worked to help increase project-based learning throughout her entire school community.
For the last ten years, Katie has also worked at ESF Dream Camp at Trinity College, a summer camp for Hartford kids. She started out teaching Conflict-Resolution in the Sports Camp division, and for the past four years she has served as a Sports Camp director. Her time at Dream Camp has had an immediate and lasting impact on her teaching philosophy, and it has helped her bring a different lens back to her teaching at Gilbert.
Katie was honored to be selected as the Gilbert Teacher of the Year, especially given the highly talented faculty and staff she has the pleasure of calling her colleagues. She is equally blessed to be grouped with the other amazing teachers around Connecticut, and she is excited to have the opportunity to work with her cohort and be an advocate for teachers everywhere. Katie believes teaching is the most challenging, yet rewarding profession, and she is thankful for the opportunity to work with so many incredible young people on a daily basis. She is confident they will change the world!