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2018 Teachers and Educational Service Professionals of the Year

Manchester's 2018 Teachers and Educational Service Professionals (ESP) of the Year were honored at the May 9, 2018 Board of Education meeting. The honorees were nominated by their peers at each school. Superintendent David Trethaway and Board of Education President Donald Webster, Jr. congratulated and thanked the honorees for their dedication to the children of Manchester. The honorees are:

Manchester Township High School Teacher of the Year, Joe Gawlik

Joe Gawlik is a Technology Teacher at MTHS. He began teaching drafting and design in 1996, coming to MTHS via alternate route after a successful career in the private sector.

Principal Dennis Adams said Mr. Gawlik uses the knowledge he learned in the private sector to connect with students in education. Adams called him 'Mr. Dependable.'

"He is unique and can also be called the second MacGyver, there isn't anything he can't fix or at least tries to restore or rebuild. He takes that same approach in the classroom," Adams remarked. "He is determined to connect with students to help them find their strengths while exploring their intelligence and gift of learning. He is an inspiring teacher that uses Auto Cad, Engineering, and Architecture to teach life lessons that will sustain students well beyond the school walls. He often brags about the intelligence of his students and how he learns so much from them...He is highly motivated, has an outstanding rapport with students and staff, and cultivates a vibrant learning environment for his students. He has a student-first approach, which translates to authentic learning through trial and error."

"Mr. Dependable exemplifies everything that is right with education. He spends tireless hours working on the Drama Production set, spends time on weekends preparing for a robotics competition, or building a home for Habitat for Humanity, or another Rotary event, or taking pictures at sporting events, or organizing the 21 Plus Prom, or fixing something around the building. Yes, he continues to have the passion to do all those things without wanting any praise for it. His only objective is for our students. He embodies the true Spirit of the Hawk. I am proud to be working with an individual that displays such character and passion every day."

Mr. Gawlik thanked his family for supporting him when he made the decision to leave a higher-paying career to become a teacher at 40 years old. "The fact of the matter is, this is not about me and it's an old expression, but there's no 'I' in team. And that's a fact...I came from an industry where it took every single person to get through the day, the week, the month, the year. So, I accept this Teacher of the Year nomination with a condition, and that condition is that I accept it for each and every employee of the Manchester Township Board of Education."

Manchester Township High School ESP of the Year, Ms. Kathleen Solan

Kathleen Solan has been a Guidance Counselor at MTHS since 2015. She is also the counselor for the SOAR program, serves as a school Anti-Bullying Specialist, and plans and organizes meetings for the School Safety Team.

"In just a few years as our Guidance Counselor, Kathleen demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the student body and always gives positive perspective to help students overcome hurdles," said Principal Dennis Adams. "While displaying a calm demeanor, she challenges students to perform at their very best. She is the constant voice in our building that promotes the message 'Let's find a way to work it out and be successful.' She is always coming to my office with a new plan to help a student. It is refreshing to know that she never gives up on her students."

"She takes great pride in everything that she does," said Adams. "She is instrumental in sustaining our SOAR program and is a strong student advocate. Ms. Solan models successful habits on a daily basis and that models to students the right way to do things."

"She was chosen by students to be the advisor of the Hawks Have Heart club. The goal of this club is to spread positivity within the school and motivate students to get involved and be successful in the classroom. With her leadership, a group of students presented to me an idea to have a student-led assembly. With much preparation, time, and effort, Ms. Solan and her group of students organized a very impactful presentation to the entire student body. It this type of influence and purpose that has elevated her to receive this award."

"Ms. Solan is well-respected for her opinions and ideas to help make MTHS a better place. In each capacity, she serves with integrity and passion. Thank you, Kathleen, for being an inspiration and for giving Manchester your very best every day."

Ms. Solan thanked all of her coworkers at Manchester, saying "Every piece of the educational puzzle, is essential to ensure student success, both in and out of the educational setting." She singled out her colleagues in the Guidance Department and Child Study Team. "I am so fortunate to be surrounded by these women and men every day and they continually impress me with their compassion, integrity and work ethic. I have become the counselor that I am today because of them."

Manchester Township Middle School Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Dana Civile

Dana Civile has been at teacher at Manchester Middle School for the past 11 years. She is a graduate of Georgian Court University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and holds a Masters of Arts in Administration and Leadership. She participates in Kevin's Kids' Holiday Drive and Relay for Life and is also a member of the Middle School ScIP Committee and serves as the Assistant to the Principal.

"Mrs. Civile has built a career around helping students and being a leader amongst her colleagues," remarked Vice Principal Steve Ninivaggi. "She established herself as an accomplished teacher who has earned the respect of parents and colleagues. Her teaching style reflects her own life. She demands a lot from her students, while promoting a caring environment where all students thrive."

"After being a successful, accomplished special education teacher, she took on another endeavor and transitioned to regular education and currently teaches seventh grade Math Honors. She has approached this role the way she has always approached every aspect of her life, with an exemplary work ethic, positive attitude and the energy often seen from a brand new teacher."

Mrs. Civile remarked, "I find it funny to watch people's reactions when they ask what grade I teach and I respond, seventh, and how that reaction turns to pure horror when I add math. I think most would agree that the middle school years can be challenging, to say the least, but I enjoy every second of the challenge. I am so blessed to work with such an amazing team at the middle school who make navigating those middle school hormones so much fun and so rewarding."

Manchester Township Middle School ESP of the Year, Mrs. Cathy Cardinale

"As a Para-professional in the Autism classroom for the past three years, Mrs. Cardinale has exhibited patience, consistency and high expectations for all her students. We have seen the benefit in the many successes of her students," remarked Vice Principal Steve Ninivaggi.

Mrs. Cardinale lived in Indiana where she worked as a paraprofessional before returning to New Jersey. "It was a chance encounter with (former principal) Marge Stevens who, after talking to Mrs. Cardinale about her educational experience, encouraged her to apply to Manchester in 2011. The rest is history," said Ninivaggi. "After four years at the Whiting School, she joined the Middle School staff and helped establish our Autism program."

"If you know Mrs. Cardinale, you know she is full of energy. As she says, 'breaks aren't for sitting down.' She is constantly looking for ways to help people, whether it is staff, students or parents. She organizes trips, reaches out to local businesses for donations and escorts her students to night events like the 8th Grade Dinner Dance."

"Mrs. Cardinale told me that although her family lives far away, she feels that Manchester is her family too. That is evident in everything she does. On behalf of her Manchester Middle School family, I want to thank her for all she does for our students and our community."

"I love what I do and I always try to do my best and I do it without expectation of every being chosen for such and honorable award," Mrs. Cardinale remarked. "I just love being with children." She thanked her classroom team, Carolyn Defino and Sue Dilloian, saying, "We try every day and we work together and we're a great team. It's amazing how great it all works out." She also thanked administrators, her students' parents, and all of the teachers she's worked with for their support.

Manchester Township Elementary School Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Nicole Raia

Mrs. Raia has been teaching fifth grade in Manchester since 2011. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University and worked as an art director before earning her certification for Elementary Education and Teacher of Students with Disabilities via alternate route at Georgian Court University. She serves on the School Assessment Committee, District Math Curriculum Committee, District Common Grading Committee, and taught the Title One Discovery Club this year.

"Since I have known her, Mrs. Raia has gone above and beyond to serve, lead and inspire our students and the school community," said Principal Linda Waldron. "Her passion for teaching is seen daily as she leads her special education classroom, working as a mentor to a new teacher on grade level, welcoming a practicum teacher to do observations in her room, and partnering successfully with her special education teacher to ensure academic, social and emotional success for all of her 20 fifth graders."

Waldron said Raia is also an extraordinary community leader who was recognized with the 'Community Impact Award' as a result of her work with a child with deaf/blindness, bringing awareness and education to the community about Usher Syndrome. She also formed a service Art Club on her own lunch period, where students turn their talents to advertising and promoting events at the school.

"I am honored to have such an unselfish, positive, dedicated, hardworking teacher such as Nicole Raia at our school," said Waldron. "She believes that students should be actively engaged in the classroom and she builds student leaders, challenging them in her inspiring classroom. We are honored to have such a positive, dedicated, committed teacher to represent us at MTES."

Mrs. Raia thanked her colleagues, saying she was humbled by the honor. "I do accept this honor on behalf of the wonderful fifth grade team at MTES and so many others who have helped and continue to help me grow as an educator. If not for Christine McGrath, Andrea Riccoboni, Gretchen Freund, Shari Buhnerkemper and Liz Hahn, and their continued support, I wouldn't have been considered for this honor."

Manchester Township Elementary School ESP of the Year, Mrs. Colleen Herr

Colleen Herr has been a Paraprofessional in the Manchester Township School District for the past four years. "She works in a third grade classroom with Mrs. DeRiggi and is a valued member to the rest of our third grade team, as well as the rest of our paraprofessional team," said Principal Linda Waldron. "She volunteers as our Spirit Committee leader, co-organizes our MTES Spirit Wear Committee, and organized many out of school events to build a positive culture and climate for all staff members."

"Mrs. Herr plays an important role in the special education classroom working closely with several students this year," said Principal Linda Waldron. "When you think of positive energy you automatically think of Colleen. She can brighten up a room with her genuine smile and heartwarming laugh. She has a knack of making a child feel valued and important. Mrs. Herr takes great pride in all she does, knowing that it is always in the best interest of our children. Her professionalism, wealth of knowledge and ability to keep calm make her an asset to our MTES family and our district. Mrs. Herr is thoughtful, loving, humble and kind and makes a difference every day! She has so much to offer, and I can't imagine life at MTES without her."

Mrs. Herr remarked, "It's weird for me to be up here because I feel like there should be so many people standing here beside me. It's my pleasure every day to come to MTES and hang out with the kids because they are really my favorite people. I marvel at them every single day. I'm in awe of them and I am truly in awe of our teachers, especially in my building, the ones that I spend my time with every day. Really, you all should be up here with me."

Ridgeway Elementary School Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Gina Foss

Gina Foss is a first grade teacher who has been at Ridgeway for 26 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Rutgers University. She has conducted a number of professional development workshops for the school, the district, and the county.

Principal Nikki Mazur said that Mrs. Foss fell in love with teaching first grade during her student teaching and taught first grade all but one year of her 26 years, when she asked if she could loop to second grade. "She did an outstanding job, but her heart was truly with first graders, and so she returned to that grade level this past fall where she continues to do what she does best, which is teach children how to read, write, think, create, problem solve, be good friends with kind hearts, and be independent learners."

"Mrs. Foss is truly one of the most innovative and passionate educators I have ever known. Whether she is working with her students in Chat Stations, the Author's Chair, Sci-Fi Fridays, a STEM Center, or on Happy Heart activities, no one can deny that Gina Foss motivates all learners to be the best they can be in a way that makes learning fun and engaging. Mrs. Foss has found the art and science of balancing academic with social emotional learning. She brought Whole Brain Teaching to many of our classrooms and has done an enormous amount of work on finding ways to differentiate for children of all learning styles. Her students are independent learners who love to read, and find great comfort in even being around her positive and nurturing personality."

"Mrs. Foss completely captivates not only her students, but anyone who walks into the room, and that truly includes both myself and Mr. Jones. More than once, one of us came out of Mrs. Foss's classroom and said, 'You have got to go see what those kids are doing now!' My personal favorite is when I hear the students say, 'Clap, clap teach,' and then they turn and talk and have a conversation about any number of topics, in a way that is not typical of first graders. Mrs. Foss's teaching style is truly magical."

"As an educator for the past 26 years, I realize daily that I chose the most rewarding and satisfying profession," said Mrs. Foss. "The love of this profession gives me a new beginning daily and a new beginning at the start of every school year...I look forward to those new beginnings and will embrace the successes and failures that await me." She thanked her colleagues, administrators, and family, saying, "This award is not just about me, but about we."

Ridgeway Elementary School ESP of the Year, Mrs. Elizabeth Hackett

Elizabeth Hackett has been at Ridgeway for over 12 years and works as a paraprofessional with special needs students. "On a daily basis, I have personally observed Mrs. Hackett to be motivational, supportive, positive, articulate, and always respectful," said Principal Nikki Mazur.

"Her colleagues had so many wonderful things to say about Liz. For example, a teacher said, 'Every person that is around Liz will always feel better about themselves because she is a genuinely kind person with a heart of gold.' Another staff member said, 'She will do anything for her students and the teachers. She is truly an asset to the Ridgeway community.' Liz is someone you go see when you need a smile, a laugh, and encouragement."

"I recently had a conversation with Liz and she described to me why she does the job she does each and every day. Liz said, 'I open my eyes each day and I think that I have beautiful gifts. One gift is my eyes, and the other is that I understand that you never know what child is one adult away from being a success story.' That's Liz. Kind, compassionate, insightful, and just simply remarkable," said Mazur.

"This really is an enormous honor and privilege because I know so many people here at Ridgeway are equally deserving of it," Mrs. Hackett remarked. "From the bottom of my heart, I just want to say how extremely humbled and blessed I feel to be working here at Ridgeway doing something I truly love doing every single day and amongst people I love and admire so dearly."

Regional Day School Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Lisa Yannazzone

Lisa Yannazzone has been at Regional Day for thirty-three years. "During her tenure she has been educating students with the most diverse and significant disabilities," said Principal Lisa Michallis. "She has served on many committees including curriculum, discipline, Teacher Advisory Council, and School Improvement Committee. She has also been the C-Pod Leader for several years. In 1998 she was first awarded the honor of Teacher of the Year."

"Lisa is the epitome of creativity, vibrancy, innovation and compassion. Each day she brings warmth, a smile and new recipes to the classroom," Michallis remarked. "Each child is treated as if they were her own. Her lessons and activities incorporate academics, communication, self-help, and valuable life skills. Most important, the classroom environment she fosters is one of friendship, respect, and support...She is a leader in technology and a model of excellence. Staff respect her opinion and input and will seek her assistance. Lisa, you have made a positive difference in the lives of so many children and contributed to the continued success of our school."

Ms. Yannazzone said that although things have changed over her 33 years, she can honestly say that she still loves her job. She thanked her principals, colleagues and friends. "I would also like to recognize all of my students over the years. They've taught me as much as I've taught them, the little things, by reminding me that everyone can make a difference." She singled out Diane Mango, her paraprofessional for 29 years. "Words cannot express how I feel about Diane. I couldn't have asked for a better person to work with over these years."

Regional Day School ESP of the Year, Ms. Jessica Stofik

Jessica Stofik has been a Speech Therapist at Regional Day since 2014. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences and a Master's Degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Kean University, as well as a Certificate of Clinical Competency through the American Speech and Hearing Association. She began her career at Children's Specialized Hospital providing outpatient therapy services and conducting evaluations.

"Jessica has a wealth of knowledge and experience working with children from ages three to twenty-one, with moderate to significant disabilities, in a variety of areas including feeding therapy, articulation and phonological disorders, as well as fluency, voice and expressive and receptive language disorders," Principal Lisa Michallis remarked. "Jessica is an exceptionally skilled speech therapist who works with numerous students with various speech and language needs. She has been instrumental in developing our Preschool Disabilities Program. Jessica always has a smile on her face and works collaboratively with all staff and has been a valuable resource for families."

"Jessica, you truly have a generous spirit and have made a positive difference in lives of so many children, families and colleagues.

Ms. Stofik remarked, "From the second that I walked into Regional Day in 2014, I knew that was the place for me to be. It is a unique place to work, with unique students. Everybody works together as pieces of an intricate machine and it is a well-oiled machine...It's a great place to work and I am thankful for everyone who works there."

Whiting Elementary School Teacher of the Year, Miss Meagan Drapkin

Meagan Drapkin came to Whiting Elementary as a Basic Skills teacher in March 2015. She is a member of the Intervention and Referral Service Committee, Affirmative Action Coordinator, Anti-Bullying Specialist, member of the School Safety and Climate Committee, Assessment Committee, Professional Development Committee, STEM Committee and an Assistant to the Principal. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Ramapo University and Master's in Psychology from Capella University. She also has a supervisor's certification from Georgian Court University and is working on her principal certification at Rowan University.

"This list of educational pursuits and accomplishments give great insight into Meagan Drapkin," remarked Principal Evelyn Swift, "a devoted learner; a devoted teacher. She came to Whiting with a wealth of experience, having served as a Third Grade teacher in the Matawan-Aberdeen School District and then as a Literacy Coach, Interventionist, Wilson Reading Specialist, Data Coach and SIOP teacher in the Lakewood Public Schools. Lakewood's loss was truly Manchester's gain."

"Miss Drapkin's strengths lie in her ability to identify students' challenges and explore best practices that best meet their needs. Her vast skill set allows her to easily collect and analyze data, research strategies and implement creative and innovative methods that enhance student achievement. Her graduate school project this year, acting as the facilitator of our building-wide PLC (Professional Learning Community), proved beneficial in helping teachers work collaboratively, improving the fidelity of writing scores and developing lessons that aid our students in their quest to be successful writers."

Since Meagan is an avid runner, Mrs. Swift likened her teaching to the qualities needed to be successful in that capacity, praising her preparedness, tenacity and consistency.

"The fact that Miss Drapkin is in receipt of this prestigious recognition having been with our district for only three years speaks volumes on the level of impact she has made on her students and colleagues," Swift said. "You were meant to be at Whiting School with our kids and I couldn't be more happy, grateful or proud in sharing this outstanding accomplishment with you tonight."

Miss Drapkin thanked her colleagues, saying, "Being a part of the Manchester School District and teaching at Whiting has been nothing but amazing. I can honestly say that in my 12 years of experience this is by far the best place I've taught. Every person at Whiting is dedicated and hard working. Whiting Elementary truly is the little school with the big heart."

Whiting Elementary School ESP of the Year, Ms. Amy Stedronsky

Amy Stedronsky has been the school nurse at Whiting School since 2007. She received her Bachelor of Science in biology with a minor in biochemistry from Mt. St. Mary's University and her Master's in Health Administration from NJ City University. She holds a NJ standard certification as a school nurse and is also a registered nurse. She is a parent liaison for the Manchester Lions Club and the Ocean County Health Department Dental Services.

Principal Evelyn Swift remarked, "As you may or may not know, school health professionals juggle an array of medical and social issues, seeing students daily with everything from cuts and bruises to chronic health issues and just old fashioned 'I don't feel goods'...School nurses partner with parents, teachers and students to advocate for policies that promote a healthy school and community. Amy, your role in helping support student health and its effect on learning is valued and impactful."

"Students with both acute and chronic health conditions can get their needs met because of Mrs. Stedronsky's planning, assessment, expertise and judgment. She has been an advocate for the health concerns of students at Whiting, offering suggestions and initiatives including working with students on handwashing, combatting germs and flu, as well as, teaching on diabetes, seizures and other pertinent topics. She is a monthly contributor at our faculty meetings, affectionately known the singing nurse."

"There is so much to love about Mrs. Stedronsky," Swift remarked. "We love that you love your craft and are always looking for ways to improve yourself professionally through research of newest medical findings, procedures or medication. We love that you can make something 'yucky' into a song that makes us want to wash our hands or sneeze into our elbow. We love that you have fresh clothes, toys, and any and everything needed to make us (even the grown-ups) 'feel better' in the nurse's office."

Mrs. Stedronsky thanked her fellow school nurses for their support and then performed her famous 'wash your hands' song, saying, "I have to do it for school nurses day." After the song and a round of applause, she remarked, "As school nurses, our main goal is the health and safety of students and staff, but my favorite part of school nursing is the little ones and talking to them and if they're having a problem, making it a little better for them."