Randolph Township Schools Names Teachers of the Year
Six Randolph teachers were recognized for excellence and received surprise visits from their principals, supervisors, directors, and Superintendent Jennifer A. Fano on January 11 when the Educators of the Year were announced.
The 2019 recipients are: Randolph High School: Michelle Lonie (Teacher of English), Randolph Middle School: Stacy Wess (Teacher of Art), Center Grove: Christina Grott (Teacher of Elementary Education), Fernbrook: Viviana Serna (Teacher of Elementary Education), Ironia: Jill Shirkey (Teacher of Elementary Education) and Shongum: Jennifer Leach (Teacher of Special Education).
Superintendent Jennifer A. Fano, Director of Secondary Education Jonathan Olsen, Director of Elementary Education Danielle Soldivieri and Special Services Director Walter Curioni congratulated all of the winners as principals presented them with certificates, flowers, a plant and balloons. Some winners were overwhelmed by the surprise and were literally speechless while others became emotional, wiped tears from their faces, hugged everyone in the room and one even did a little dance. Students cheered and clapped for their teachers, some even posing in photos with them. It was an exciting time for everyone.
Each winner may apply for the Morris County Educator of the Year and the Randolph Board of Education honors each winner with $500 to spend to further support their instructional practices. The Randolph Education Foundation also honors these six teachers at its annual Randolph Rock Star event in June.
When a large group of administrators walked into RHS Teacher of English teacher Michelle Lonie’s classroom and Principal Debbie Iosso announced that she was the high school’s 2019 Educator of the Year, Mrs. Lonie looked shocked. “Oh my goodness, what is this?”
After hugging Mrs. Iosso and Ms. Fano and posing for photos with students, Mrs. Lonie said she was excited, grateful and humbled to be selected. “I love where I work,” she said. “I’m grateful for the people that I get to see on a daily basis, and the work we all get to do together. When I go to work each day, I’m surrounded by such knowledgeable, supportive, dedicated administrators; caring, talented, hard-working colleagues and friends; and bright, funny, kind students. To be recognized within the high school community is sincerely an honor for which I am incredibly appreciative.”
Teaching is extremely rewarding for Mrs. Lonie, she said. “There is nothing quite like working with students on something new or difficult, and watching the moment of understanding brighten their faces as it clicks,” she said. “It’s an example of the invaluable reward that comes from hard work, focus, and trying. I think learning should be both challenging and fun, and I try to incorporate that in all of my units for my students. What I enjoy most about my profession is the people. I know that at any moment, if I need help in any way, that I could turn in any direction and find support, from administrators or colleagues or students. There is such a strong sense of community at RHS, and I’m so glad to be a part of it.”
Mrs. Lonie, a resident of Morris Plains, teaches English classes and AP Capstone classes at Randolph High School where she has taught for five years. Mrs. Lonie said that she was taken by surprise when the large group of administrators walked into her English class and surprised her. Her husband Michael Lonie, the high school’s 2018 Educator of the Year, was also part of the group.
RHS Principal Debbie Iosso presented Mrs. Lonie with a plant and gave her a hug. “Mrs. Lonie continues to be an incredible asset to the staff at RHS,” Mrs. Iosso said. “She is a teacher frequently chosen by students as someone who has positively influenced their lives. Mrs. Lonie is a master of her content and when you watch her teach it becomes immediately evident that she is equally as passionate about building relationships with her students. I consider myself very fortunate to work alongside such an accomplished professional.”
RHS Humanities Supervisor Dr. Amelia Wolfe Wright also congratulated her. “I am thrilled that Mrs. Lonie has been selected as the high school's Educator of the Year!” she said. “Mrs. Lonie is impressive as a teacher in all facets, especially her commitment to the success of her students as academics and people. She is an inspiring adviser of multiple student organizations and a role model to her colleagues.”
Mrs. Lonie has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Teaching English from Montclair State University.
On a recent morning, Randolph Middle School Teacher of Art Stacy Wess was prepping for her day’s classes when Principal Dr. Dennis Copeland, Superintendent Fano and other district administrators surprised her with the news that she is the 2019 Randolph Middle School Educator of the Year.
“I truly feel like I work with the best of the best at RMS, so to be chosen among so many outstanding individuals is really amazing,” Mrs. Wess said. “Teaching is an extraordinary responsibility. We are entrusted with the growth and development of children and there is no greater privilege. The thing I enjoy most about my profession is connecting with students who are having challenges in school. Art can be very therapeutic. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to help kids find ways to cope and manage stress through art making as well as provide them a safe and calm space to decompress.”
Dr. Copeland praised Mrs. Wess. “Mrs. Wess is a gift to the Randolph community, he said. “Through her support of students and continual sacrifice of time, countless RMS students have benefited from her kindness and generosity. Her constant approach and philosophy of addressing individual student social and emotional needs has resulted in students feeling loved and accepted during a critical time in their life. We commend and congratulate Mrs. Wess for being recognized as the RMS Teacher of the Year.”
Mrs. Wess, a resident of Hopatcong, has taught art for 12 years in Randolph, starting at Center Grove School for six years before moving to Randolph Middle School. She has a bachelor’s degree in art from William Paterson University, a master’s degree in educational leadership from the College of New Jersey and a supervisor certificate from Rowan University.
“I am beyond thrilled that Mrs. Stacy Wess was selected as the 2019 RMS Teacher of the Year!” said District Supervisor of Visual & Performing Arts Frank Perrone. “In short, Mrs. Wess' pure dedication, skill and content knowledge along with her desire to create a learning environment where all students feel welcomed and supported provides clear evidence of her true passion for teaching. Mrs. Wess is a true asset to the Randolph Middle School community as well as our Visual and Performing Arts Department.”
With a bouquet of flowers, Center Grove Principal Mario Rodas surprised Teacher of Second Grade Christina Grott and announced that she was selected as the school’s Governor’s Educator of the Year. “It is such a great honor to be selected for teacher-of-the-year!” Ms. Grott said. “I am so lucky to teach and have taught such great students, here at Randolph, who have made me the teacher I am. It will continue to encourage me to implement new strategies to foster student creativity and growth. In addition, my colleagues and administrators have supported and been an integral part of my professional growth as a teacher in Randolph. This honor reflects the professional staff I am fortunate to work with each day.
Afterwards, Ms. Grott posed for photos with her students and said “teaching means to me the creation of strong relationships with my students to help them succeed. I aspire to help each of my students reach their true potential and in the process they in-turn help me succeed in being the best teacher I can be. I enjoy seeing my students engage with their peers and help each other to learn. Student discovery empowers my students and provides me with such fulfillment.”
Ms. Grott, who lives in Denville, has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and history from Monmouth University and a master’s in educational technology from Ramapo College. She began her teaching career in Mahwah before coming to Randolph where she taught first grade for seven years and is teaching second grade this year.
“Ms. Grott is a highly motivated and hardworking individual,” Mr. Rodas said. “Her commitment to our students and the district is commendable. She takes advantage of professional development to strengthen her skills.”
Fernbrook Teacher of Elementary Education Viviana Serna was so overcome with emotion when Fernbrook Principal Dr. Michelle Telischak announced her selection as the 2019 Educator of the Year for Fernbrook School that she started to do a little dance and shout “Yay!” “I am ecstatic and honored to be recognized as Fernbrook’s Teacher of the Year!” she said. “I feel humbled to be amongst so many educators who I have such high regards for and who have brought so much to our students.”
Mrs. Serna then did another little dance as she hugged Dr. Telischak, Ms. Fano and other teachers who came to congratulate her. “I believe teaching is making a difference in children’s lives,” she said. “I am passionate about recognizing and helping my students pursue their passion, talents, and supporting their unique learning styles. Every child is special to me and it is my responsibility to provide my students with the highest quality education while being kind, compassionate, and empathetic.”
Dr. Telischak presented Mrs. Serna with balloons. “I am extremely proud to recognize Mrs. Viviana Serna as our Teacher of the Year for Fernbrook School,” Dr. Telischak said. “Mrs. Serna is a passionate educator who cares deeply about the success of each and every student at Fernbrook. Her supportive and caring demeanor positively impacts our school community. Mrs. Serna is truly an inspiration to our students!”
Mrs. Serna is a resident of Randolph with two sons, Jonathan and Daniel, who graduated from Randolph High School. She taught Spanish in Randolph before becoming a second grade teacher and is currently teaching basic skills. She was a bilingual teacher in the Bronx before coming to Randolph. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a minor in Spanish from Baruch College and a master’s degree in bilingual/bicultural education from Mercy College.
When Ironia Principal David Kricheff surprised Teacher of Elementary Education Jill Shirkey announcing her as Ironia’s Educator of the Year at a whole school meeting, and presenting her with a balloon and flowers, she was overcome with emotion and wiped her eyes. “I just love teaching here,” she said. “This is a very humbling award. I am so proud to represent Ironia's amazing staff. Teaching is being able to impact a young person's life and being a part of a child's journey into literacy is what I enjoy the most.”
“Mrs. Shirkey has made a dramatic difference in the lives of so many individuals at Ironia,” Principal Kricheff said. “Her biggest impact in the building has been her work with struggling readers. Mrs. Shirkey’s professional knowledge plus her unconditional belief that all students can be proficient readers has equaled the success of countless students throughout her career. This impact on students can only be compared to the influence Mrs. Shirkey has had on her peers. Mrs. Shirkey serves as both official and unofficial mentor to many of her colleagues, fostering their development and ensuring that the entire school community benefits from her tremendous insight and understanding.”
Mrs. Shirkey, a resident of Roxbury, has taught in Randolph for 20 years. She has a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in early childhood education from St. Rose College in New York.
Shongum Teacher of Special Education Jennifer Leach, who is a resident of Blairstown, said she was very honored when Principal Dr. Cliff Burns surprised her with the news that she is Shongum’s 2019 Educator of the Year. “I love my job and am extremely proud to serve the students and families of the Shongum community. To me, teaching means showing up every day and trying to make just the smallest bit of difference for my students so that they can grow to be kind and productive citizens in our community. It is challenging work on a day-to-day basis, but it is an amazing feeling when you see a student have that ‘ah-ha’ moment. There is nothing else like it! What I enjoy most about my profession is the camaraderie of working with other teachers. No matter what I am facing, there is always someone who is willing to lend a hand or offer a helpful suggestion when I need it.”
After hugs from Dr. Burns, Ms. Fano and other staff, her students gathered around to congratulate her and take photos.
Mrs. Leach, who is a graduate of Randolph High School, taught kindergarten at Ironia before teaching in Colorado and Hawaii and then returning to Randolph to teach third grade special education at Ironia and later third, fourth and fifth grade special education at Shongum from 2012 to the present. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and English Literature from William Paterson University and master’s degrees in special education and educational leadership from Centenary University.
“Mrs. Leach is a tremendous educator and leader who emulates all that the Teacher of the Year recognition stands for,” Dr. Burns said. “She consistently seeks out ways even beyond her role to better serve our school and community. Mrs. Leach’s balance of high expectations with a warm approachability results in her students feeling fully supported. Her colleagues and I recognize and appreciate her drive, enthusiasm, and commitment to our students and families.”