Teacher of the Year Awarded: Joel Naatus PS 28

The Sharkapellas perform at the 2014 Teacher of the Year Luncheon

On Monday, February 10, this year’s Jersey City Teacher of the Year luncheon was held at the Duncan Family Sky Room at Saint Peter’s University. In spite of the cold weather that has more than overstayed its welcome, the partially snow-covered roads, and slippery, icy sidewalks, guests came out to gather and celebrate the city’s public school educators who have gone the extra mile to facilitate their students’ growth and success.

A great deal of effort was put into the planning and executing of this year’s Teacher of the Year luncheon — for example, the Sharkapellas, a Jersey City capella group, filled the room with song as guests arrived. The singing group was later cited by Superintendent Dr. Marcia V. Lyles as an example of the many ways a teacher can inspire a young person to discover their passions and pursue their dreams.

45 teachers from Jersey City’s public elementary, middle, and high schools were recognized for their outstanding achievements as educators at their respective schools (full list at bottom). The event’s programs included headshots and quotes from every single Teacher of the Year nominee as well as a word cloud made up of different words the teachers’ used to describe their profession. “Passion,” “challenge,” and “grow” were just a few of the words that the teachers used to define what educating means to them.

Before the awards ceremony commenced, a video played on a projector screen above the stage. In it, superintendent Dr. Lyles in full-on talk show host mode, interviewed each of the nominees about their motivations and teaching techniques. The interviewees revealed interesting tidbits about themselves, from Barbara Gannon of Gladys Cannon Nunery School, P.S. 29, who is currently balancing teaching and graduate school, to Esther Masiello of Fred W. Martin Center for the Arts, P.S. 41 who comes from a family of teachers.

Gina Golombos, who teaches at Cornelia F. Bradford School, P.S. 16, states that one of the biggest things she wants her students to know is that “they always have someone to talk to.” Wayne Creed, a teacher at Jotham W. Wakeman School, P.S. 6, has a lot of advice for new teachers including, “Get to know what your students like and dislike.” He also suggests that new teachers ask themselves what they would do better. “The things that don’t work will come out (next year) and the things that work will stay in place,” states Creed.

Every single teacher who was nominated for 2014 Teacher of the Year had much to say about teaching, so much so that all of their advice and insights could have filled up a how-to book on being an educator in the public school system.

As the interview video played on, guests helped themselves to a self-serve buffet. The spread was decidedly Italian. Salad, garlic bread, Italian grilled chicken, creamy penne a la vodka, and grilled vegetables that included cauliflower made up the lunch menu. Varieties of tea, Starbucks coffee, and an assortment of cookies were laid out for dessert. It was just one of many components orchestrated to show the teachers how much their efforts are appreciated.

The awards ceremony itself kicked off with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. This was followed by an a capella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” (sung by a few of Sharkapella’s members), which was met with standing applause. Each teacher received a trophy inscribed with their name. In addition to the trophies and the lunch, each Teacher of the Year recipient was presented with a free dinner for two at one of Jersey City’s many restaurants. Paul Silverman and Susan Firth of Silverman Properties arranged for over a dozen restaurants to award these teachers with a complimentary meal. A few of the participating restaurants included The Merchant, Liberty House, Tommy 2 Scoops, and Razza Pizza.

The 2014 Teacher of the Year was carefully selected by a district-wide committee that included Meg Freeman, last year’s Teacher of the Year recipient. Freeman, now a Vice Principal, earned past awards that included County and District Teacher of the Year. At the podium, Freeman commended all the nominees and acknowledged the territory that comes with teaching in an urban environment, stressing that “education is the way out of poverty.” Last year Freeman was celebrated at the Silverman Corporation’s Cinco de Mayo parade, an honor that included donning a special sash. Following tradition, this year’s winner, Joel Naatus of Christa McAuliffe School, P.S. 28, will be recognized at this year’s parade.

Naatus is a special education science teacher who has received attention for Project Reservoir, a multi-disciplinary project where students have been working to transform an abandoned local reservoir into a recreation and education center. Their many experiments have included cultivating a floating tomato garden and working to control mosquito populations in the reservoir, both of which have been met with positive responses from Jersey City residents. As expressed by Dr. Lyles, the teachers are representatives of the community. A few of Project Reservoir’s rewards include the grand prize in the 2012 Disney Planet Challenge, a 2012 Environmental Protection Agency Quality Award, and first place in the 2012-2013 Lexus Eco Challenge. Naatus’ involvement in Project Reservoir is one of many examples of the school district’s teachers working hard to engage their students and prepare them for the adult world.

Dr. Lyles closed the awards ceremony by reading from She Loves Me by Jeff Gray. It is a heartfelt illustrated book that quotes many of the loving things that teachers do for their students from visiting a student in the hospital to having patience and understanding for another student’s disability. When the awards ceremony ended, the Sharkapellas performed “For the Longest Time” by Billy Joel. The shade covering the floor-to-ceiling windows behind the stage were raised, revealing a stunning view of Jersey City as well as the Freedom Tower amidst the Manhattan skyline.

Nominated Teachers Include:
Kristi Zupko PS 3
Max Arias Jr. MS 4
Maryann Stulich PS 5
Wayne Creed PS 6
John Flora MS 7
Maria O’Donnell PS 8
Theresa Worth PS 11
Jasmin Greenwood PS 12
Eileen Llaneza PS 14
Graciela Anderson PS15
Gina Golombos PS 16
Peter Realmuto PS 17
Migdalia Torres-Rosario PS 20
Addys Denis PS 22
Gina Walls PS 23
Paul Germadnig PS 24
Amanda Haber PS 25
Kristine Gervasio PS 27
Joel Naatus PS 28
Barbara Gannon PS 29
Elissa Forenza PS 30
Kathleen Porro PS 31
Susan Colby PS 33
Thomas Gesualdo PS 34
Rebecca Todd PS 37
Marissa McCarthy PS 38
Colleen Culhane PS 39
Aimee Rodriguez MS 40
Esther Masiello PS 41
Eric Marto, Academy I Middle School
Laura Kong, Regional Day School
Jennifer Resnick, Early Childhood Department
Kristen Marino, Bright Street Academy
Stephen Nyarko, William L. Dickinson High School
James M. Chiariello, James J. Ferris High School
Uyen Vu, Infinity Institute
Salvatore Capaldo, Liberty High School
Finis Galante, Abraham Lincoln High School
Maria C. Rodriguez, Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School
Gladys Ocasio, Henry Snyder High School

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Photo by Tricia Bangit

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Tricia Bangit

is a UNC graduate with a degree in English and minor in film studies. She has lived in Long Island, Jersey City, and Charlotte, and currently lives in Bayonne.