Teacher of the Year Finalists and Semifinalists 2019


Teachers make a difference in the lives of children every day. To honor their commitment to excellence, we've compiled essays from the 2019 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.

2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year:
Name District Subject Area
Sheena Graham Bridgeport Public Schools Music

Name District Subject Area
Jennifer Freese Newington Public Schools Biology
Jessica Harris Wallingford Public Schools Reading and Math Interventionist
Ryley Zawodniak Mansfield Public Schools English

Name District Subject Area
Greg Amter Hamden Public Schools Culinary Arts
John Cote Lebanon Public Schools Math
Leanne Maguire Torrington Public Schools English
Sean Maloney Brooklyn Public Schools Elementary
Ellen Meyer Danbury Public Schools Math
Jessica Papp Canton Public Schools Kindergarten
Rob Rose Glastonbury Public Schools English
Kelly Shea Manchester Public Schools English
Camille Spaulding Stamford Public Schools Social Studies
Penny Zhitomi Shelton Public Schools English

Jennifer Freese
Jennifer Freese

Jennifer Freese is currently in her thirteenth year of teaching and feels that she has found the perfect mix of her two passions…medicine and teaching. Jennifer has been teaching in Newington for the last five years. She designed and launched the district’s first middle school academy, The Academy of Biomedical Sciences at Martin Kellogg Middle School, and this year has launched the new Medical Sciences Academy at Newington High School. Prior to her work in Newington, Jennifer was a science teacher at the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford and a Biology teacher at Torrington High School.

Jennifer was selected as Newington High School’s Teacher of the Year based upon her exceptional skills and dedication to children and the teaching profession. She is intelligent, a strong communicator, an advocate for all students, and a strong believer that public education is the vehicle to prepare all children for participation in our society. She is an individual who is poised and articulate, with an outgoing nature. She possesses the superior ability to inspire learning in all students. Students have told her how much they look forward to coming to her class every day. She leads, inspires, teaches, and cares. She consistently models a love of learning and demonstrates patience and genuine interest in her students.

Jennifer’s primary goal as a teacher is to make sure that students have a place where they feel safe with a teacher they can trust. She strives to make her classroom that safe place and be that teacher who instills trust so her students will open their minds and hearts to learning. Jennifer feels that when students know that you care about them, they are then able to see themselves as important members of the classroom and school community.

Jennifer is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Athletic Training and Sports Medicine with a minor in Biology. She worked as an athletic trainer at the college level, high school level as well as in an orthopedic office. She completed her Masters of Arts in Teaching, specializing in Biology, at Quinnipiac University while serving as a Graduate Assistant Athletic Trainer. Additionally, Jennifer completed a Masters of Education specializing in Educational Leadership and Administration at Jones International University.

Jessica Harris

As a child, Jessica Harris always knew she wanted to be a teacher. Whether it was reading aloud to her pretend class of dolls, gathering neighborhood friends for “school sessions” or coaxing her siblings into participating “in class”, teaching has always been a part of her soul. Upon completion of her Elementary Education bachelor’s degree at Penn State University in 2003, Jessica began her teaching career that fall as a first grade teacher in Wallingford. Since that time, Jessica has taught third grade, fourth grade, and second grade but spent the majority of her years as a classroom teacher in kindergarten. After obtaining her master’s degree in Remedial Reading and Language Arts from Central Connecticut State University, Jessica decided to embark on a new career chapter in 2015 and became a K-2 Reading and Math Interventionist at Moses Y. Beach School in Wallingford, where she currently teaches.

As a teacher leader, Jessica embraces change by seeking out innovative teaching practices and sharing those practices with others in professional development opportunities. Jessica has designed and facilitated professional development in Wallingford for the past thirteen years. These experiences span across subject areas from literacy to math as well as social-emotional learning, where she has been a teacher leader in sharing Mindfulness practices. Jessica has extended professional learning opportunities beyond school walls and into the community, where she has facilitated professional development with preschool teachers in the town of Wallingford and through literacy lectures at Quinnipiac University. Jessica has also completed the TEAM program and is a certified mentor for beginning teachers in her district. She truly enjoys sharing her time, talents, and expertise with others.

Jessica believes that equity in education doesn’t mean treating all children exactly the same. Equity means providing each child with what he/she individually needs to be successful. She provides children with tools and strategies based not only on their academic levels but on their learning styles, personal interests, and emotional needs. Another core belief that is important to Jessica is that a child’s social-emotional well-being is as important as their academic learning. Social-emotional learning skills help children navigate peer relationships, increase awareness of their bodies and emotions, and help to improve overall well-being. Jessica pioneered a Mindfulness Club at her school to help support students’ emotional growth in kindergarten to second grade. She feels that when a child’s emotional state is supported, academics can flourish. Most importantly, Jessica believes that children need to feel connected. Making connections with children is a vital component to their success, both emotionally and academically. When a connection is made, the child feels valued, cared for, and comfortable. With that comfort, they are willing to take academic risks, demonstrate creativity and assume leadership roles. It is Jessica’s priority to make connections with all of her students. She learns about their families, their interests, and their personal stories.

Jessica feels blessed to be in a profession that brings her so much joy and many challenges each day. She loves to see her students smiling faces! Jessica currently lives in Wallingford with her husband, Matt, of 13 years, her two children, Lily, 10, and Owen,7, and their Retriever puppy, Colby.

Ryley Zawodniak

Ryley ZawodniakRyley Zawodniak did not always know she wanted to be a teacher. However, all of her early jobs saw her working with children—childcare aid, summer camp counselor, nanny. Upon graduating Keene State College in New Hampshire with a bachelor's degree in Theater Arts and an Acting and Directing concentration, Ryley began working for the Hampstead Stage Company, a national touring children’s theater company. While working with them Ryley had the opportunity to travel to K-8 schools all around the country and perform. It was through visiting a variety of schools: urban, suburban, rural, private and public that her interest in pursuing a teaching career began.

Years later, after moving to Southern California and completing her master’s degree in Education and an Elementary Teaching certification at Pepperdine University, Ryley began her teaching career. She taught in the Los Angeles area for four years in two schools at four different grade levels, including 1st/2nd and 4th/5th combination classes. It was there, in 2003, that she had the honor of being selected as the Teacher of the Year for the Las Virgenes school district.

Choosing to move back East to be closer to family, Ryley was hired by Mansfield Middle School here in Connecticut. Even at her interview, Ryley felt MMS was a perfect fit for her! This will be her 14th year teaching there. As an excellent communicator and collaborator, Ryley has taken on many leadership roles over the years including serving as team leader, being a part of many school and district teams like the data team and school climate committee, as well as being a part of the English Language Arts district leadership team for the past three years, to name a few. As a lifelong student herself, who desires to continually learn and develop as an educator, Ryley constantly seeks to expand her knowledge and expertise by attending professional development opportunities during the school year and over the summer. For example, Ryley has attended Columbia University's Teachers College writing institute for four summers and their reading institute for one, in addition to many other offerings.

In addition to currently being a 5th grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, Ryley has directed ten theatrical productions at the school, including the 2018 spring production of I Never Saw Another Butterfly which focused on the topic of the Holocaust. “I am so lucky to be working at Mansfield Middle School. There I am able to combine two of my passions—education and theater. Both teaching and directing give me the opportunity to work with children and have a positive impact on their lives in a meaningful, creative way. For me, that is perfection!”

Greg Amter

Gregory Amter began his teaching career as a culinary arts and restaurant management teacher in 1999 at Hamden High School after fifteen years of restaurant management experience. Gregory has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Master’s Degree in Education, and a Sixth Year Degree in Educational Leadership from Southern Connecticut State University. In addition to teacher certifications in Culinary Arts, Greg also has a state certification in Intermediate Administration and Supervision.

Greg was originally hired, using grant monies, to create a culinary arts program at Hamden High School. He designed the state of the art commercial kitchen, restaurant dining room, and outdoor catering facilities. In addition, he created the curriculum of the award winning culinary arts program that was ranked #1 in annual state testing in culinary arts in 2009 and 2014, ranked #2 in 2011, 2015, 2016, and in the top five overall from 2009 to 2017. Culinary Arts Hamden students have been ranked #1 for the highest student scores on annual state testing in 2009, 2010, and 2014. There were also four years that 100% of the students passed the state test. Hamden students, under the direction of Gregory Amter, have averaged 37.7 percentage points higher than the state test average for students passing state testing. Greg has created innovative curriculum and teaching practices that utilize backwards design and college level curriculum for students of all abilities. He has demonstrated great success with at risk students and was Teacher of the Year for Hamden High school in 2004 and 2018. He was also Hamden Public Schools Teacher of the Year in 2018 and Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year in 2006.

Greg’s culinary arts and restaurant management classes are dual-enrolled with Gateway College where high school students receive college credit for college level curriculum in Culinary Arts, Baking, and Sanitation. In 2018, approximately 65 students received three college credits from dual enrollment. Greg is also an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport over the last five years in the allied health department where he has designed curriculum and taught college courses.

Gregory Amter is one of the founding members of a non-profit organization within Hamden High School that has used funds generated from the school’s restaurant to purchase food and equipment that allowed for advanced culinary and restaurant management applications. In addition, substantial scholarships and monetary donations were awarded to school initiatives and organizations through revenues generated from the school restaurant.

Greg has donated thousands of hours beyond contractual obligations for school initiatives and large catering events and celebrations for over 800 people. He has also served on numerous school and district committees. Greg is also an active community volunteer in his home community of Guilford with his wife Mary and children Gregory, Nicholas, and Gianna. He attributes much of his teaching success to the ability of his students to view education as an opportunity to overcome great obstacles and challenges in their lives. Greg also appreciates the Hamden School community for its support of vocational and technology training combined with college preparation and dual enrollment at a comprehensive high school.

John Cote

John W. Cote grew up in Griswold, Connecticut, the son of Joseph and Judith Cote. He was salutatorian of the Griswold High School Class of 2019. It was during high school that John became interested in the teaching profession and was greatly influenced by many of his teachers within the Griswold Public School system including his Chemistry and Physics teacher, the late James L. Smith. Upon graduating high school, John attended Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU), majoring in Mathematics with a concentration in secondary education. While at ECSU, John was a member of the Honors program and was named an Honors Scholar of Distinction. He graduated summa cum laude with his B.S. in Mathematics in 2003.

Immediately upon his graduation from ECSU, John became a math teacher at Lyman Memorial High School in Lebanon, Connecticut, where he has taught for the past 15 years. In 2007, John was named Chair of the Mathematics Department. Throughout his tenure at Lyman, John has been a leader both inside and outside of the classroom. John was Co-Chair of the NEASC visiting committee in 2014. He also serves as Chair of the Lyman School Improvement Team where he led the development of a new eight period schedule for Lyman that includes built in Professional Learning Committee time for teachers as well as a CORE period for students to seek extra help and support within the school day. In 2018, John became Co-Chair of the Lebanon Public Schools Safety and Security Committee. John also is a member of the Lyman School Climate Committee, the Professional Learning and Evaluation Committee, the TEAM Coordinating Committee, and the SRBI Committee. He also has served as the Class Adviser for the Class of 2014, 2018, and is currently the Co-Adviser for the Class of 2022. He is also a TEAM mentor and cooperating teacher for future teachers. In 2014, John became the Lyman Student Activities Director, where he organized the implementation of Lyman’s X-Block activity period which meets twice per month. As part of this program students have an opportunity to join over 50 different clubs and activities. In his position he is also in charge of the Lyman Master Calendar, coordinating the scheduling of various school and community events.

In 2009, John obtained his M.S. in Educational Technology from ECSU. From 2009 until 2014 John also was an adjunct faculty member at ECSU in the mathematics department. In 2014, he enrolled in the 092 certification program in administration and 6th year program in Educational Leadership at Sacred Heart University. He completed the 092 program in 2016 and is currently completing his 6th year degree.

John currently resides in Lebanon, Connecticut with his wife Katie and Goldendoodle Lucky. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends. He also enjoys cheering his students on at many Lyman Memorial High School activities and events. John enjoys teaching and strives to teach all of his students the knowledge and skills that will help them achieve their lifelong aspirations. He is very dedicated to all of his students including his AP Calculus and AP Statistics students, for which John hosts yearly Saturday AP Test prep sessions, complete with breakfast, to provide additional support. John is passionate about mathematics and helping students make connections between what they learn in class and how the concepts can be applied in the real world. His goal is not to have all his students say, “I love Math” (although he wouldn’t mind), but to have confidence in their abilities and be able to say, “I can do this”.

Leanne Maguire

As I reflect upon teaching, I find myself traveling back into childhood. That’s where it all started. As a child, becoming a teacher was the end-all be-all. I loved school, and felt my family was connected to my school. The importance of education was instilled at home, and little did I know, but my beliefs in teaching and learning were beginning to form. Since then, I have developed my own beliefs about teaching and learning, and have spent countless hours thinking, learning, researching and collaborating so that I can effectively connect to every student emotionally, academically, and culturally.

In my classroom, reaching out to students’ families is essential. I want my students AND their families to feel a sense of belonging. During my elementary teaching, it was, in a sense, easier to develop trusting relationships. Yearly, I had a weekly after school program so students could receive extra help, work on extension projects, and have a quiet workplace. This program allowed me to meet face to face each student’s family member. At pick up, we touched base and developed trust. Families were reassured that I knew their child, and shared even more about their lives. What a privilege.

At the middle school, I learned it takes more to build a sense of belonging for a far greater amount of families, but it is just as important. In order to know each student and their family story, the middle school team becomes essential. A unified team can build the sense of belonging for many families and once families have trust in the educational team, the barrier of coming in or contacting the school is broken down. In my opinion, if you partner with the family, you will reach the child.

There is not a one-size-fits-all way families support their children educationally. Families should not feel judged or compared to others, but recognized and appreciated. In my experience, families who trust you will open up. For example, trust was gained and a family shared that they were lacking resources and had no beds to sleep on. This took a lot of courage to share, and through a willingness to be open, we were able to support this family and provide necessities until they could. We cannot have the same expectations for families when each is dealing with unique situations.

Also of great importance is the connection between school and community. Every year, my students decide on ways to positively affect the community based on their passions. We have collected items to donate to shelters and animal rescue organizations. We have organized and run change challenges and made monetary donations to organizations in our community. We reached out to the community and in turn, the community reached in. We hosted community members on career day, invited and learned from police and fire rescue, and celebrated our veterans. Throughout my career, my greatest accomplishment continues to be partnering with my students’ families and our community.

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, Leanne was promoted to Assistant Principal at Torrington Middle School.

Sean Maloney

Born on May 23, 1978 in Manchester, Connecticut, Sean Maloney began his teaching career only 4 years later. He never forgot his first class which consisted of Teddy Ruxpin, Ralph (his Cabbage Patch Doll), a G.I. Joe action figurine, and Darth Vader. Even back then, Maloney was mastering his craft to deal with students who spoke out of turn like his broken Teddy Ruxpin, or the student who tried to get his attention with bad behavior using the “dark side.” Being a teacher was in his blood.

After many years of “playing” school, Maloney was done pretending and decided to take it on for real as he attended Clark University in Worcester, MA. He got his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2000, and also received his master’s degree in elementary education from the same university in 2001. After taking a year off to travel the United States, Sean began his teaching career at Brooklyn Elementary School in Brooklyn, CT in 2002. Right from the start, he centered his teaching around one of John Dewey’s quotes: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Using this as his philosophy of teaching, every year Sean tried to find or create innovative ways to engage his students. Whether it was creating a movie with his class, creating BattleBots driven by a Sphero, developing unique Flash games to enrich certain subject areas, producing his award winning website mrmaloneysroom.com, or learning how to create stop and go animations, Sean tried to always make sure he didn’t rob his students of tomorrow.

Sean’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed. The different Flash games he created with Pomfret Community School teacher Mr. Martel, earned them honorable mention by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Curious Classroom Contest in 2015. It also grabbed the attention of the Morton Foundation which donated $12,000 to continue the innovation started by Sean. He was also honored as one of the 2016 PBS Digital Innovators.

Besides finding ways to innovate within the classroom walls, Sean also wanted to share his love of running. He has completed 10 marathons including the Chicago Marathon and is planning to run the New York Marathon. To share his love of running, Sean and his colleagues started the Read, Run, Recycle, Refine Club. Students meet after school every Monday and discuss a couple chapters from an assigned novel. After the discussion, students and teachers run around their school campus and then pick up trash. In addition to this, students take part in monthly STEAM projects to “refine” their ideas. Because of this club, they were honored as Follett Innovators for 2018. Sean has also been approached by Solution Tree Press to help review 2 books: “Now Classrooms Grades 3-5: Lessons For Enhancing Teaching and Learning With Technology” and “50 Strategies to Boost Cognitive Engagement: Reimaging the Classroom for Critical Thinking.”

Even after 16 years of being a fourth grade teacher at Brooklyn Elementary, Maloney still sees teaching as running long distance. He states, “When you first start out, it is very hard and it’s going to hurt. But, as you keep going you become stronger. However, every time you run up a hill, it’s still going to hurt. No matter how good or strong you think you are you can always push yourself to be better.” It is this conviction that pushes Sean to become a better teacher every day. He tries to make sure this motivation also carries over to his students. Outside of school, Sean is either coaching, going on hikes, or fishing with his wife, Amy, and their 3 children: Hayden (age 9), Teagan (age 8), and Tristen (age 8).

Ellen Meyer

Ellen has been an educator in the Danbury public schools for 25 years. She began her career teaching first grade, where she was impressed by the warm and welcoming environment and witnessed firsthand how kindness can make a difference in the life of a child. When that position ended, she moved to Broadview Middle School, where she has happily taught mathematics to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders for 24 years. Ellen believes that her greatest contribution to education is the passion she has for creating opportunities that make a difference in her students’ lives. She is constantly searching for ways to teach math more effectively in order to cultivate success in her students. Through the years she has participated in countless workshops, several conferences, and webinars in order to hone her craft.

So that her contributions go beyond her own classroom, Ellen has chosen to be an integral member of her school’s community. She has been a contributing member of the school leadership team, co-chaired the school Tools for Schools committee, and co-chaired the School Wide Data Team. She also participates in activities such as Pi Night and school plays. On the district level she has served on curriculum writing committees, and as a teacher representative on The Danbury Enhancement Collective and Lesson Plan Design Committees. On the state level Ellen took part in a PIMMS workshop to write lessons and to create activities that aligned to CMT Generation 4 mathematics. She was also chosen as one of Connecticut’s Dream Teachers to create Learning Cycles for the State Department of Education.

Ellen believes that her greatest accomplishment is the impact she has on her students’ successes. Danbury is considered to be a district in “need of improvement”. However, she feels that there is less of an “achievement gap” and more of an “opportunity gap”. She has coached the school math team for thirteen years and has seen her students shine in mathematics competitions. Accolades for her “mathletes” include earning first place in Fairfield County’s Math League Competition, and placing second at the Northwest Regional MATHCOUNTS competition. By placing second, the team qualified for the state competition, which is a big deal for any school, but especially an “underachieving” one. Ellen’s motto is, “Given opportunities, students can and will accomplish great things!”

Jessica Papp

Jessica Papp is currently a Kindergarten teacher at Cherry Brook Primary School in Canton, CT. As a child, Jessica loved to play teacher. She would force her three brothers to do schoolwork and wouldn’t allow them to leave their desks until she rang the school bell. As Jessica grew older, however, she realized that she also had a passion for writing. School was an old friend, writing was a new love. Before long Jessica had packed away any vestiges of playing school and she began to write. In college, Jessica found success as an opinion writer but realized that she rarely saw the direct impact of her work.

She looked to her greatest role models for inspiration. Her mother, a biology and special education teacher. Her father, a social worker. Her stepdad, a leader and coach. Her uncle, a humanitarian. Her grandmother, a mentor. Jessica asked herself, what did they all have in common?

They didn’t stand on the sidelines and lament about what was wrong with their country, city or community. They got up and got busy changing the world. They were each leaving a real legacy. Jessica knew that she also wanted to make real change. So, she dusted off her old school bell and never looked back.

Jessica is able to put her creativity to use each and every day in teaching. Kindergarten is where Jessica feels most at home. Jessica has been teaching Kindergarten for 10 years. She is very passionate about social-emotional growth in youth, technology’s role as an educational tool, the mental and physical health of her students, and helping to create ambitious lifelong learners that will contribute to society in many ways. Jessica loves how her students are like little sponges, taking in everything around them. Being the first teacher that helps create a child’s passion for learning is one of the things Jessica loves most. Plus, the students think that Jessica’s stick figure drawings are “super beautiful”.

Most notably, Jessica received the 2018-2019 Canton Teacher of the Year. Jessica also won two grants in the 2017-2018 school year, one designed to make technology more accessible to her students, and another to offer fresh fruit each day as a healthful snack alternative for students.

Prior to working in Canton, Jessica taught Kindergarten and substituted in Torrington, student taught in Morris, and interned in Bristol. She studied at the University of Bridgeport for her master’s degree in Education, and at the University of Connecticut where she received degrees in English and Journalism with a concentration in Creative Writing.

Jessica lives in Torrington with her husband James and her two children, Julianna, 5, and James Thomas, almost 3. Motherhood has been her greatest adventure. Despite having taught hundreds of tiny humans over the last decade, nothing could have prepared her for the controlled chaos of parenthood. And, nothing could have prepared her for the magnificent weight and fierce beauty of her love for her children.

In her spare time, when she isn’t dressing up dolls, trying to find her kids matching socks and reading bedtime stories, Jessica enjoys binge watching TV series with her husband, reading grown-up books, meditating, going to the movies, thinking about cooking, and spending time with her large, fun family and her loving friends.

Jessica is so thankful that she is able to ignite a spark of knowledge within her students and watch as it grows and changes within them. She can now see her own legacy taking shape in the minds and hearts of her former and current young students, just as she dreamed she would over a decade ago.

Rob Rose

Rob’s introduction to the teaching profession came at an early age. His mother, a dedicated educator, modeled the passion and work ethic required to excel at teaching. Later, Rob was influenced by two of his former educators, George York and Richard Behan. These two individuals showed him the true power of teaching. Rob states, “I never became an engineer or a biochemist, so it was not the curriculum that changed my life. It was those educators and their belief in what I could achieve.” He was inspired to enter the teaching profession to have the same influence on today’s students that these educators had on him.

Rob is now is his seventeenth year of teaching. A majority of his teaching career has been in the Glastonbury Public School system. He has taught English at Smith Middle School for sixteen years. Rob has experience teaching at both the seventh and eighth grade levels. He feels this experience has given him a well-rounded view of the middle school student. Rob notes that he is inspired by his students’ energy and willingness to take risks when learning new material.

In the classroom, Rob focuses on developing a growth mindset and preparing his students for the future. He explains, “My job is not to teach my students what to think, but rather, how to think.” Rob views himself as a facilitator of learning, guiding students along the process of discovery. His students are encouraged to develop knowledge in a collaborative learning environment centered on student engagement. Students work to gain an understanding of the curricular material while challenging themselves and evaluating their individual strengths as learners. One of Rob's core teaching beliefs is: “If we teach to change the world, we face an impossible task. But if we teach to change our students’ worlds, anything is possible.”

Supervisor of Secondary English Kate Lund says, “From planning and instructing to reflecting and adjusting, Rob’s command of best practices is second to none.” He has piloted some innovative approaches to teaching and grading in his classroom that are being quickly adapted across his school. One approach centers on regularly evaluating students on a variety of skills while they are learning. As students practice this set of skills—advocacy, classwork, teamwork, initiative, voice, and effort (ACTIVE)—they begin focusing less on grades and more on improving their problem solving and collaboration skills.

According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alan Bookman, Mr. Rose is “beloved by students and staff” and “a superior teacher in every way.” Dr. Bookman praises Mr. Rose for his commitment to reaching, motivating, and exciting each and every student. He also notes that Mr. Rose is a popular presenter on a variety of teaching topics, usually related to integrating technology into the classroom. Rob earned bachelor’s degrees in both Secondary Education and English from Marist College and a master’s degree in Integrating Technology in the Classroom from Walden University. He currently resides in Glastonbury with his wife, Michelle, and his two children, Cailin and Tessa.

Kelly Shea

Kelly Shea credits the teachers she had in the North Haven Public Schools system with inspiring her to become a teacher. Now in her 7th year as an English teacher at Manchester High School, Kelly has taught grades 9-12. She currently teaches 10th grade English, a UConn Early College Experience English course for juniors, and a co-taught World Literature/World History course that she co-created with her colleague Angela Tedesco. Kelly also teaches Acting as part of Manchester High School's Performing Arts and Communications Academy.

To encourage her students to be excited about learning, Kelly shares her own enthusiasm for learning with her students. She brings what she has learned from her interest in the performing arts into her classroom, infusing improv and drama into her lessons. She also emphasizes the importance of reflection and metacognition in the learning process.

Kelly serves as a mentor to new teachers through Connecticut's TEAM program and also mentors underrepresented and would-be first generation college students in the Imagine College program as they navigate the college application process. As a member of her school's Equity Team, Kelly works with her colleagues to address the achievement gap in Manchester. She is the assistant director of the drama club's fall show, and director of the school musical.

A graduate of the University of Connecticut's Neag School of Education, Kelly has a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction and has just recently completed a second Master of Arts in Educational Psychology with a focus in Gifted and Talented Education. She is passionate about developing curriculum that meets the needs of gifted students, advocating for gifted and talented programming, and providing gifted and talented services to those students who are traditionally underrepresented and/or underachieving. In her spare time, Kelly enjoys reading, creative writing, rock climbing, and cooking.

Camille Spaulding

Camille S. Spaulding is an educator with over 30 years of experience teaching, leading, and consulting in independent schools, public schools, and the non-profit educational sector. She has served as an administrator and curriculum developer, middle and elementary school teacher, and spent five years as Education Director for REACH Prep of Stamford, CT. She continues to volunteer her time as an education consultant to several organizations and individuals, working to help underserved students and families gain equitable access to educational opportunities. Most recently, Camille returned to her first love of teaching history in the Stamford Public Schools.

Camille demonstrates her tireless passion not only for educating young people, but also for guiding them through their personal and academic journeys. Camille has mentored several young people over the years, in both middle and high school, coaching them through the college admissions and matriculation processes. Her community-based work extends throughout the broader Stamford community, to her home church, Union Baptist Church, where she directed the Youth Ministry for 3 years, and served on the Finance Committee. Additionally, she is a past board member for the A Better Chance organization, and Person to Person of Darien, CT. Camille’s most recent service endeavor was her girls mentoring program, AGAPE, where she partnered with the Stamford YMCA to offer academic and character development support to high school girls. She has also volunteered her time to conduct parenting workshops and continues to offer informal consultation to parents through the independent school admissions process. She is the recipient of several awards, including, the Stamford NAACP Education Award; Zeta Phi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Coretta Scott King Award; The Urban League of Southwestern Community Service Award and The Kimball Award for Outstanding Teaching and Curriculum Development from Greenwich Academy.

Camille holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Bowie State University, with a minor in Special Education and Masters Degree in Education Administration and Supervision from George Mason University. She is married to Charles E. Spaulding and is the proud mother of three adult daughters—Blaire, Shannon and Joi Spaulding.

Penny Zhitomi
Penny (Witt) Zhitomi, was born in New Jersey, grew up in Connecticut, and has called Shelton “home” for the past twenty-seven years. Living in Naugatuck throughout her childhood, she attended Western Elementary School, Hillside Middle School, and Naugatuck High School. Penny then attended Central Connecticut State University where she earned her B.S. in Elementary Education in 1989. She continued her professional education at Southern Connecticut State University where she received a master’s degree in Science Education (1994) and a sixth-year degree in Oral Traditions/Storytelling (2004).

Penny began her teaching career working for the New Haven Public School System at Nathan Hale School in 1991 where she taught every grade from 4th through 8th over her decade-long tenure there. She then transferred to the Shelton Public School System in 2002 where she has been teaching at Shelton Intermediate School ever since. Penny has taught Language Arts/Humanities to 7th and 8th grade students for the past seventeen years.

Married to her husband, Paul, a Fairfield Warde High School teacher, together they have two children, Adam and Alexis. Adam earned his bachelor’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University in Speech Pathology and is currently attending the University of Connecticut as a graduate student in pursuit of his doctoral degree in Audiology. Alexis is a junior at Southern Connecticut State University majoring in Speech Pathology and also serves as SCSU’s Student Government President. Penny’s “extended” family includes two rescue dogs, Bryce and Massie, a bearded dragon, Rhonda, and fish!

The Zhitomi family enjoys all types of travel. They have traveled to all fifty states in America and have journeyed to five continents. Memorable trips included a week-long white-water rafting adventure down the Colorado River, a life-changing trip to Tanzania, Africa, and a month-long excursion to Australia and New Zealand. Most recently, Penny and Paul hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and toured the Amazon Rainforest in Peru in August 2018.

Penny feels passionately about the plights of those less fortunate than many of us. Her students have raised more than $12,700 since January 2018 to help fund a clean water well for villagers in South Sudan through the charity Water for South Sudan, Inc. Her students have resumed their fundraising efforts this year and they hope to reach their $15,000 goal soon!

In her spare time, Penny likes to read, bike, kayak, swim, play board games, and cheer on the Boston Red Sox at her favorite place on Earth-Cape Cod!