Regional Day School 2021 Teacher & ESP of the Year
Regional Day School Teacher of the Year, James Gunn, and ESP of the Year, Nancy Thompson, were honored at the May 12, 2021 Board of Education meeting.
Teacher of the Year James Gunn
Introduction by Principal Lisa Michallis
As you know the Regional Day School is a special unique place and we have two very special people to honor tonight. It is my honor to introduce the Regional Day School's Teacher of the Year, Mr. James Gunn. This evening Jim is accompanied by his wife Bernadette and his mother Barbara.
Just a little bit about Jim. He completed his undergraduate coursework at Trenton State College and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in elementary education and an academic concentration in mathematics. Several years later he completed coursework for the Teacher of the Handicapped certification at Georgian Court College. Jim has been a lifelong learner. He desired to learn more instructional strategies to assist his students and this led him to the University of Phoenix to complete his Masters of Reading and Curriculum. For the past 21 years, the Regional Day School has been his home. During Jim's tenure he has been an A-pod teacher, educating students with moderate to significant emotional and behavioral needs. Jim has served on many committees over the years including curriculum council, assessment, discipline, attendance, teacher advisory council. He is our A-pod Coordinator, a valuable member of our school crisis team and an all-around handyman. He's the only one willing to climb ladders to help decorate the multi-purpose room for Holiday Express.
In 2004, Jim was first awarded the honor of Teacher of the Year. Jim focuses on his students' needs first and foremost. His efforts during remote learning were exemplary. When school closed in March, through the pandemic he immersed himself in technology and quickly identified what worked best for his students. Live instruction, Google meets, morning meetings, whole groups, small group instructional groups were facilitated as well as time for individual lessons with each student. Instruction and peer interactions were as close to being in the classroom as possible.
Jim is very driven and you will frequently hear him say, “I'm going to get that kid to read” and he will. Jim was integral in piloting two new reading programs this year including Reading A to Z and the iReady program. He was very successful in teaching students to read, but he also teaches his students how to develop and maintain friendships and work together as a team. Dedicated, funny, loyal, good natured and caring are words Jim's colleagues used to describe him. When I asked his students to use an adjective to describe their teacher they responded nice, funny, cool, I like the hard work, and what's an adjective?
If you're unsure who Jim Gunn is, you probably have seen him at the boardwalk or Gino D's spinning some pizza pies. He's very proud of his own children as well as his Regional Day School children. He's an amazing role model for his students and a leader amongst the faculty. Jim you made a positive impact on the lives of not only the students but your colleagues and our families. Congratulations Regional Day School's Teacher of the Year.
Remarks by James Gunn
Before I begin I want to apologize for the length of this speech but it's not my fault, it's Lisa's fault. I realize I sound like my students for blaming others for what they did or what they're about to do but learning does go both ways in the classroom. Lisa asked me if I was ready for tonight and I said my speech would be short but sweet, she said, no don't do that, it's your night, it's your time to shine, so anyway you asked for it Lisa. What you don't know after nine years is that I suffer from middle child syndrome and to give me a microphone and an audience, watch out.
I’d like to start off by thanking everyone who came here tonight to support whomever you came to support. This includes board members, administration, superintendents, staff members, parents and family. I'd like to thank the PTA for that nice gift bag that you gave me. It came in very handy. My daughter took the chocolates, I gave the candle to my wife for Mother's Day and I use the world's greatest teacher mug every morning to remind myself that I have to go to work.
I'd like to give special thanks to Nikki Mazur for hiring Steve Lemoine because if he was still working at Regional Day School it'd be him up here, not me getting this award. I had the privilege of working with Steve for two years and I was his mentor, but if he learned half of what I learned from him, I did my job as a mentor. He's an excellent teacher and even a better person so he's missed at Regional Day School. One of the reasons why he's missed at Regional Day School is it left me as one of the few males working in the building and the only one working in a pod where the action took place. So when a child was misbehaving they would call me to help get the child out of the classroom. So I kind of became the enforcer, like Clint Eastwood. So they walk into the classroom and the kids misbehave and I walk in like Dirty Harry and say to the child ‘you have to ask yourself one question, do you feel lucky, well do you punk?’ Now after the child went on like this I would say, ‘go ahead make my day.’ Not exactly textbook CPI. But I'm just kidding. Obviously I never went Dirty Harry on any of my students. But anyway, if you did that you'd either have the best behaved class in a school or you'd be out of a job. And any younger teachers who don’t know who Dirty Harry is, I say stream the movie.
Two wonderful things happened to me in 1997. In September 1997, I signed my first teaching contract and I met my wife on a blind date. It was a new page in my life. I find it ironic because I had worked for 20 years on the boardwalk and I had many, many blind dates but none of them worked out before or since.
When my boss on the boardwalk heard I got a job teaching on the island he said ‘I guess you‘re never going to get off this island.’ Well the teacher in me said, ‘it's a peninsula not an island.’ Two years later I got off the peninsula. I was a casualty of a reduction in force. I just got married, just bought a house and needed a job desperately. In late August 1999 I was hired at Regional Day School, just in time for my first mortgage payment. I don't know about any of you but getting a teaching job was difficult for me. It took me a long time, as my mother can tell you. You know, it took me so long I was going to make sure that my second teaching job I'd do whatever I had to do to keep it. I got the job. I called up Paul O'Neill (not the baseball player, the former colleague of mine at Seaside Heights who was hired one year before me at Regional Day School) on the phone. He said to me ‘Jim, I saw your class list and let me give you some advice: enjoy the rest of your summer.’ Not encouraging news, but at least I had a job. Looking back, I wish I'd taken his advice. The students in my class, as Ollie can tell you - he was principal back then, had gone through four teachers in three years. The class consisted of eight adolescent boys who had emotional and behavior problems. I had two years experience, but I was relatively green. Well, it was baptism by fire and I'm sure at times it wasn't pretty. Learning did take place that year, some of it by the students. I was a newlywed and I seriously questioned whether I wanted kids of my own.
I survived that year and was surprisingly hired back to teach another. I want to give thanks to Ralph Lotierzo, Paul O'Neill, and the late Corliss Hagler, who taught me a lot in a short amount of time, and of course CPI intensive training. Ollie helped me get through that first difficult year. My second year, I received a different assignment in Corliss's room. I had more success teaching these students because I had the year experience and they were younger and cute, until they didn't get what they wanted. I have to give credit to Linda Bush, my former teaching assistant who taught me a lot. She had worked with Corliss for a long time and taught me a lot and I continue to learn every year.
I am now finishing up my 22nd year in this school and it's amazing how the years fly by, but the minutes in the classroom sometimes take forever. When people say to me, wow I can't believe you worked for 22 years at this school, I say, well the good moments far outnumber the difficult ones and when I die, hopefully I get to spend less time in purgatory.
All kidding aside, Regional Day School is an awesome place to work as long as you do your job, as long as you work hard, care about the kids, honestly reflect on what goes on in the classroom, and not let it bother you when things don't go as planned. Someone told me it's not a perfect world, so don't expect perfection in the classroom. If you don't want to believe me, go ask Charlotte Danielson.
I have to give a lot of credit to my current teaching assistant, Jeanette Mojica, for putting things in perspective. Jeanette grew up on the Lower East Side of New York and grew up under difficult circumstances. She told me that she was just like these students when she grew up. I would say they’re not listening to me, she said don't worry about it. I said they're not listening to me, it's not fair, and she said look, you've been married for 20 years and you have two children in high school so you should be used to having kids not listen to you. Jeanette is also very artistically talented and organized, not two of my strong suits, so when you walk into the classroom and you see an organized class, well decorated, it's all her. And by the way, Jeanette, you still are like one of those students occasionally and, as I promised, before the end of the year there will be a student's desk with your name on it.
I'd like to thank Da'Jah Lomax and Kelly Sales, who are also working in my classroom. They're two personal paraprofessionals and I am very fortunate to have three hard-working, caring, dedicated people working in my class. The three of you make the class run more efficiently and help students so much. Without your help, our children would not be as successful as they are.
I'd like to thank Lisa Michallis for everything you've done for me. This includes helping me when I was going for my master's. I'd like to thank Michelle Nichol for being my mentor and for helping with my certification and Ridgeway's Crystal Policastro for letting me observe her in the classroom twice.
Thank you Mr. Trethaway for approving my tuition reimbursement and for not posting that video you made during the Holiday Express, which is probably still on your phone right now. Thank you also Mr. Trethaway for interrupting the one lesson in my career where my students were actually on task and paying attention. I was teaching a lesson on how to write a friendly letter. With technology today they don't do that, but I figured I'd show them how it's done, how we did it back in the day. So in the middle of the lesson, Mr. Trethaway walks in and hands me a sharpie. I said what is that for? So he reaches into his back pocket and he takes out this (shows magazine) and says, sign this for me. Now as a kid I thought I'd be on the cover of a magazine but I thought it would be Sports Illustrated or GQ or Forbes, not Hackensack Meridian Health. After signing the cover of the magazine, he leaves the room and says congratulations, and I'm thinking, congratulations? Did you read the article? I'll be on blood thinners for the rest of my life, I have a DVT, and now the world knows all my health problems.
Now that I insulted the superintendent, now I'm going to work on the principal (tells a story about hitting her in the forehead with a paperclip while doing a magic trick). It's great having Lisa as a boss because number one, she does not play favorites, she's always there for you and is always approachable.
I thank my two children, Christopher and Stephanie, who cannot be here tonight. Both of them are in high school and they have more important places to be. Actually, my son is working and my daughter's performing at the Southern Regional Symphonic Band tonight. My mother-in-law, who is awesome, is taking our place to support my daughter, but we're DVR-ing it so she can't get too mad at us.
Finally I'd like to thank my wife, Bernadette, who's been there since I started teaching. Thank you for your love, support and understanding, especially when I woke you up countless nights during my first year teaching at Regional Day School. As I said many times, behind every successful man is a great woman and you are truly great and I love you.
I can't imagine anything more gratifying than enlightening students with knowledge. Therefore, it is an honor and a privilege to be chosen Regional Day School’s Teacher of the Year. The cooperation and support by my students, parents, along with the help of the wonderful therapists and paraprofessionals, are recognized and appreciated. The endless support from my family and colleagues drives me forward and truly motivates me to make a difference as a teacher.
ESP of the Year Nancy Thompson
Introduction by Principal Lisa Michallis
Nancy loves this community and has great pride for the Regional Day School. In the mid-90s, Nancy began her career in Manchester at MTES, in food services as an employee of then PMG. After a few years, she applied for a transfer to Regional Day and found her calling. She adored the children so much that she spent the summers working as a paraprofessional during our extended school year program. One day she decided to trade in her apron and become a substitute. In January 2004, Nancy joined the faculty as a full-time employee.
For years, Nancy worked in our C4 autism program both as a personal and classroom paraprofessional. She learned all about and implemented picture exchange communication, discrete trials, behavior modification and shaping. When we began planning for the new preschool disability program, she approached me and shared her interest in working with the toddlers. I knew this was the perfect fit for her. Nancy is a dedicated employee who is detail-oriented and demonstrates a high level of initiative. She assists the classroom teachers as well as her colleagues. She helps foster a positive and safe learning environment for all students. During the course of any given day, she completes many tasks and wears many hats, whether it's cooking, doing laundry, monitoring students, assisting and preparing instructional materials, supporting students in academic tests, therapeutic settings, classroom organization, watching the classroom chicks, you name it she does it.
The classroom teacher, Maria Brucato Wilson, described Nancy as having a huge heart and endless amounts of energy. That's spot on. She always displays school spirit, asks what she can do to assist volunteers for all school activities and functions, and donates food and clothing for our neediest of students. When the school closures occurred in the spring, she was the first one to volunteer to help students and teachers, whether it was picking up mail, copying materials, delivering them, reading stories virtually to the preschoolers, grocery shopping or creating food baskets, she's always working behind the scenes and is very humble.
Nancy has had a very positive impact on the lives of everyone she touches and everything that she does. Nancy is so deserving of the honor of an Educational Service Professional of the Year because she is an ESP: an extra special paraprofessional. Congratulations Nancy.
Remarks by Nancy Thompson
Thank you Lisa. I'd like to thank the Board of Ed, Miss Lisa, my family, my Regional Day School family and of course C4. I am so incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award. Thank you for the support and love.
I started about 17 years ago in C4 and I learned so much working with the autistic population. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. Well along came Maria. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this exciting journey, wow. And then to find out preschool was coming, I was on board. The idea of working with three-year-olds was something I knew I wanted to be a part of. Best decision of my life, besides taking the job in the first place, which I initially didn't want. Maria, thank you for believing in me and introducing me to kinetic sand, Pete the Cat, an old lady who likes to swallow stuff, the hungry caterpillar, Monday we have butterflies now, yesterday and today we now have 16 chicks - I don't have one - and I even got to hold it today, Friday’s ADL lessons that never quite look like they're supposed to - we are definitely not Pinterest - and the list goes on each day. It is a blessing watching these little ones do or say something for the first time. It's been amazing, getting excited for these little moments and watching their excitement for what they are doing. That is pure joy.
Working with the C4 staff has been another blessing. We are truly a well-oiled team and I share this with you. Last night, I was thinking, when I couldn't sleep, what was the easiest part of the job? Loving your children. The hardest part of the job? Trying not to fall asleep during rest time. Yeah, I'm sure we've all done it.
I want to thank my husband for never questioning an Amazon box that happens to come, or all this food that appears in the house that he knows we don't eat, and my love for garage sales and a bargain.
Thank you for this honor and God bless.
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