MANCHESTER – The 2019 Manchester Teachers and Educational Support Professionals of the Year were honored at a recent Board of Education meeting.
Honorees are nominated by staff and parents, and then the best one is selected by a committee of their peers, according to the district. The winners are:
Ridgeway Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Valerie Schaefer has 20 years of teaching experience that includes five years at Ridgeway, and 15 years in the Lakewood School District. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education from Georgian Court University and a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning from Nova Southeastern University. Mrs. Schaefer has worked at all grade levels and currently works with fourth grade basic skills students and fifth grade special education students.
“Mrs. Schaefer is a Testing Coordinator, an Anti-Bullying Specialist, and our all around ‘Go To Expert’ on a number of topics,” said Principal Nikki Mazur. “If you need a suggestion about how to best support a student, or use data to drive instruction, or arrange your room in a way that will best support multiple learning styles, you go to Mrs. Schaefer. She is one of the few people I know who can be a creative and completely out-of-the box thinker, while still being detail-oriented, logical, and accurate. She is an innovator and a problem solver and is truly an insightful and intelligent educator.
“In the classroom, Mrs. Schaefer works hand in hand with her co-teachers to create one creative and authentic lesson after the other. In her role as ABS, Mrs. Schaefer has proven time and time again that she is an active listener, an advocate for kids, and someone they trust. If you’ve seen any student interact with Mrs. Schaefer, it is so evident that the rapport she has with them is nothing short of magical.
“I know that Mrs. Schaefer recently heard a quote that stated: ‘Engineers make bridges. Artists make paintings. Scientists make rockets. But teachers make them all.’ This resonated with her because it brought to light the importance of the job of an elementary school teacher and the profound impact of teachers each and every day,” Mazur remarked. “On behalf of our students, families, and staff, thank you Mrs. Schaefer for making that profound impact.”
“I always knew I wanted to work with kids so when deciding on a career teacher was the natural choice for me, and it is why being recognized this year is extra special to me,” Mrs. Schaefer remarked. “This job is rewarding in many ways but on occasion it can get stressful. We all lean on our colleagues and I’m lucky enough to have had many of them become great friends and I appreciate every single one of you.”
Ridgeway Elementary School ESP of the Year
Ellen Kurilla has been employed by Ridgeway for nine years, and in that time, she has worked as a paraprofessional in kindergarten, first grade, the self-contained classrooms, and in preschool. She is currently in the K-2 self-contained classroom.
“On a daily basis, Mrs. Kurilla will be seen working one to one with an autistic student, as well as students who have behavior challenges, communication difficulties, learning disabilities, and developmental disabilities,” said Principal Nikki Mazur. “She is professional and compassionate, always putting the students first and supporting their academic needs as well as their social emotional needs.
“Mrs. Kurilla is self-motivated and spends time researching ideas that benefit students. She is truly a role model for other paraprofessionals and often will work closely with behaviorists, teachers and administrators to develop and implement strategies that make a huge difference in the success of our students.
“One of our Ridgeway teachers said it best when describing Mrs. Kurilla’s professionalism in the classroom. She said, ‘Ellen can be counted on to make sure the students stay on their routine and she takes the lead in many situations because she simply knows what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.’ She is a model of kindness, growth mindset, and truly an advocate for students.”
“Working with such professionals has inspired me,” said Mrs. Kurilla. “There is no greater joy than to witness a child persevere to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.”
Manchester Township Middle School Teacher of the Year
Amanda Moore is a graduate of Rowan University and has taught at the Middle School for 17 years. She teaches 8th grade math, coordinates the 8th grade graduation ceremony, and participates in Kevin’s Kids.
“Mrs. Moore has built a career around helping students and being a leader amongst her colleagues,” said Principal Nancy Driber. “As a teacher of 17 years, 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. Mrs. Moore is a driving force behind promoting a positive culture in the eighth grade. She embraces Spirit week, PI Day, Pep Rallies and various school activities; these activities motivate her students to succeed. She has established herself as an outstanding teacher. She has approached this role the way she has always approached every aspect of her life, with an exemplary work ethic and a positive attitude.
“It is not surprising that Mrs. Moore has found success teaching math. She not only brings a demand for a high level of performance from her students, but she has expanded their experiences while preparing them for the rigors of high school.”
“Being recognized by my colleagues comes with great pride and gratitude and I am honored to represent such a dedicated staff,” Mrs. Moore remarked. “I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some of the greatest teachers during my 17 years at the middle school…I would like to recognize the entire middle school math department which has some of the most talented, hard working, and dedicated staff members in our building…Our department is truly second to none and I am proud and grateful to be a part of our Math Family.”
Manchester Township Middle School ESP of the Year
Mrs. Sandy Maloney is a paraprofessional at Manchester Middle School.
“Sandy Maloney is a leader in our school, in the district and in the community,” said Vice Principal Steven Ninivaggi.
“Sandy comes in each day with a positive spirit and a caring heart. She is a skillful and experienced professional who can quickly evaluate a situation and provide exactly the right degree of help needed to lead a child to the right answer. She is enthusiastic in her efforts during Spirit Week, at Pep Rallies and in decorating for the Eighth Grade Dinner Dance. She loves to see our students dressed up, celebrating the culmination of their Middle School experience.
“Community involvement is important to Sandy. She has been an active member of Relay for Life since it started and is energetic in coming up with ways to raise money. One year she even purchased Disney Wristbands with her own money to sell as a fundraiser. She is member of the Manchester Booster Club. For years, she worked the concession stand, even after her daughter graduated. She is an active supporter of the Municipal Alliance and especially looks forward to participating in the MTEF’s annual golf outing and dinner. Suffice it to say she is very generous in her support of any organization seeking to improve the Manchester community and its schools.
“On behalf of her Manchester Middle School family, I want to thank her for all she does for our students and our community.”
Mrs. Maloney said it is truly a joy and honor to be recognized by her colleagues and to work with such wonderful people.
Whiting Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Mrs. Cori Ruiz is a 2005 graduate of Manchester High School. Cori has been at Whiting for the last five years, first as a kindergarten long term substitute and now as a kindergarten teacher. “During her tenure, she has proven to be an excellent teacher and a wonderful asset to the school,” said MTES Vice Principal Jill Moore, who was filling in for Whiting Principal Evelyn Swift.
“Mrs. Ruiz is a reflective professional who is constantly refining her practices to best meet the needs of her students. She continues to show her dedication to education through professional development and being an active participant in district wide committees.
“Even though times are hectic and personal lives can take over, Mrs. Ruiz continues to inspire and stay on top of her teaching. In my short time at Whiting School, I have already noticed Mrs. Ruiz always wants to learn and become a better teacher. She is willing to sit down with her colleagues, building principal, and her supervisor in order to make sure she is meeting the needs of the students in her class. One thing extremely special about Mrs. Ruiz, it is the way she fights for the best education for her students and involves the children’s parents from the very beginning of this process. With each year under her belt, she feels more confident, more reflective, and more innovative.
“Mrs. Ruiz has found her calling as a kindergarten teacher and is a respected staff member. She is in constant pursuit of opportunities to improve her craft and enrich learning for her students.”
Mrs. Ruiz spoke about her time as a student in Manchester, thanking the teachers who influenced her. She said that after struggling for several years as a young mother, going to college and working night jobs, she was thrilled when she was hired at Whiting School. “I finally felt like all I had ever dreamed of was happening! The struggles were finally taking me somewhere, the very somewhere I dreamed of as a little girl. I wanted to be like all of those memorable teachers that taught me – to make a difference in my student’s lives as they did mine.”
Whiting Elementary School ESP of the Year
Mrs. Susan Acquisto has worked with special needs children for 27 years. She came to Whiting School in 1989.
“Humble: having or showing a modest of one’s own importance. Each person I have spoken to states Mrs. Susan Acquisto is the exact definition of humble,” said Vice Principal Jill Moore. “Throughout her twenty-seven years of experience working with special needs children she has gone above and beyond but unless you really know her or pay close attention, you would never know.
“Sue has consistently been an asset to the classroom. She has helped to introduce our youngest special education students to school. Her assistance with academics as well as life skills has allowed our students to succeed. Whether it be lifting a student to help them go up and down a slide or pushing them tirelessly on a swing, her goal has always been to make each child, no matter their disability, feel just like everyone else.”
Moore said that Mrs. Acquisto is dedicated to her students and to the staff at Whiting. “She takes the time to continue her education through attending various workshops, which allow her to implement strategies and skills into her current position working with the self-contained class.
“Watching Sue with the students is really amazing. Her peaceful words and ways are mirrored by students. This results in calm and respectful interactions…Mrs. Susan Acquisto is kind, caring, and compassionate towards everyone.”
Mrs. Acquisto thanked all of her colleagues who helped and inspired her throughout her nearly 30 years at Whiting School.
Manchester Township Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Jessica DeRiggi currently teaches third grade at MTES. She has taught first, second and third grades since coming to MTES in 2009. She is the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) school leader, a member of the District Math Committee, a member of the Science and Assessment Committees at MTES, and Co-Leader of the MTES Spirit committee. She also teaches the Title One Discovery Program.
“This highly qualified educator is a valued member of our third grade team at MTES and one of the most positive, happy and compassionate individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting,” said Principal Linda Waldron.
“As an exceptionally skilled and dedicated educator, Jessica plans lessons with her colleagues to meet the needs of all her learners and digs deep into her bag of tricks to inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities. Jessica works hard to find ways to help struggling learners succeed, creates social and emotional supports for all students and knows how to engage and challenge her more advanced learners to think outside the box. She believes that all students can learn and perseveres in making sure they do. Student growth is seen in her classroom year after year.
“Mrs. DeRiggi demonstrates leadership and innovation in and outside the classroom, as an active member of our school and community. She is constantly providing resources, advice, suggestions or expertise to teachers and staff due to her many involvements.”
Mrs. Waldron said that Mrs. DeRiggi is a lifelong learner, earning a graduate degree in English as a Second Language. “She believes strongly in closing the achievement gap between ELL and non-ELL students and staff often seek her advice and guidance in this area.”
“We are honored to have such a positive, professional, dedicated, innovative teacher to represent us at MTES.”
Mrs. DeRiggi remarked, “Becoming a teacher was always a dream of mine and 10 years later, I still feel grateful to come to ‘work’ everyday, feeling like I am never working, just doing what I am meant to do…I feel as though I can’t thank specific colleagues because you all have played such an important role in my 10 years of teaching. I thank each and every one of you for your support, guidance, and setting the bar high. I share this honor with you!”
Manchester Township Elementary School ESP of the Year
Cynthia Goldsberry started in the district in the HS Cafeteria in 2005, but then came to MTES in September 2007 as a paraprofessional. “For the last 7 years she has been the classroom paraprofessional in a self contained special education classroom with Liz Hahn as her mentor, friend and teacher,” said Principal Linda Waldron.
“She wears many hats in this role and over the years she has touched many lives with her warmth, her compassion and her sense of humor. She is positive and willing to give you the shirt off her back, literally and figuratively. She will do anything for her students or our staff. Her students look to her for support and guidance with loving eyes. She has made connections over the years that have helped our students through some difficult times.
“She is a role model for our newer instructional aides and shares her knowledge with our staff turn keying information to help everyone learn something new. Cindy is a firm believer in positive reinforcement and building a child’s self esteem…Knowing when to back off and when to step in is a trait of a good paraprofessional, which she possesses. She is truly a team player. What stands out in my mind is that you will NEVER hear a negative thing coming from Ms. Goldberry’s mouth. She is always thinking of ways to nurture her students in a calm and non judgemental way. Her care and concern is unconditional and she is one of the most patient people I have ever met.
“She can make a student who faces challenges in life realize that they can accomplish anything because she embraces each situation in life with a special power and Can Do attitude.”
Mrs. Goldsberry said that, having started in the cafeteria, she has great appreciation for the contributions of all of the district staff. “It’s like we are all individual puzzle pieces, coming together to form one giant puzzle of the Manchester Township School District…We are a team. How could the puzzle pieces fit together if we weren’t, right? I thank you for recognizing me as a piece of this amazing puzzle.”
Regional Day School Teacher Of The Year
Maria Brucato-Wilson is a special education preschool teacher at Regional Day School. She also organizes many special programs for students and assists staff with her tech expertise.
Principal Lisa Michallis said she first met Maria when she interviewed for an autism program teaching position in the fall of 2016. “Afterwards we sat in my office and I shared my vision for starting a preschool disabilities program at our school. Maria cried and shared her passion for the preschool population. A few days after she joined the RDS family, I approached Maria and inquired, ‘What do you think about starting the preschool?’ She was beyond thrilled. She immediately began her research and planned a comprehensive program. In the fall of 2017 we had a program and no students.”
“A little over a year later, we have eleven students in our preschool program and the growth they made is incredible. One student spoke his first words, ‘I did it.’ Another student is graduating to kindergarten at his home school and we are expanding and developing a second program to meet the needs of Ocean County.
“Maria has been instrumental in developing a vibrant, literature rich, multi-sensory, multi-modality program for three to five year old students with moderate to significant disabilities. The classroom environment is so inviting and supportive for our youngest learners. She collaborates with the speech, occupational and physical therapists to develop activities based upon each child’s unique needs.
“Maria is a well-respected member of our faculty and has the trust of the families that send their little ones to our school. She keeps parents informed and shares videos and pictures of the many activities their children are engaged in. Maria is very dedicated, innovative and compassionate. She truly is a shining example of excellence.”
“I love love love what I do. I wake up every single day excited about going to work, even on the crazy days…I am so so so truly blessed!” Mrs. Brucato-Wilson remarked. “Thank you to my entire RDS family, since day one every single person at RDS has been so supportive of me and excited about the preschool program.”
Regional Day School ESP of the Year
Diane Mangold has been a paraprofessional at Regional Day School for 38 years. She currently works with high school aged students with multiple disabilities.
Principal Lisa Michallis said that Mrs. Mangold is the only current employee that came with the building. “She has worked for six principals and made a significant impact on the lives of hundreds.
“Diane is a creative thinker and planner. She is always looking ahead to the next trip or event. Diane believes strongly in inclusion for all students, teaching children life-skills, and community service. This year she was instrumental in developing a partnership with the senior residents at Spring Oaks Assisted Living residence located on Whitesville Road. Several times a year our student meet with their ‘grandfriends’ for a snack, craft, sing-along, camaraderie, and a game of good old Bingo. Friendships have been built. To see the students and seniors smiling faces when they greet each other or the hugs when they depart is very moving.”
“Diane has a heart of gold and great pride for our students. She will always ask, ‘What can I do?’ and she will never shy away from a challenge…Tonight we celebrate you and all that you have done for the Regional Day School family and community. It is so rewarding to watch you embrace students and shape them into young adults that are prepared for their future.”
Ms. Mangold said that after 38 years, she is still excited to go to work each day and spoke about how rewarding it is to teach special needs children. “They complete me and I hope I complete them,” she remarked.
Manchester Township High School Teacher of the Year
Paul DeSilva is a Social Studies Teacher at Manchester Township High School. He serves on the school’s 504/I&RS committee, is advisor of the Bible Club, and also serves as a teacher mentor for new teachers. He is a graduate of MTHS.
“He is an outstanding educator on our teaching staff,” said Principal Dennis Adams. “His authentic teaching strategies not only engage students, but allows them to critically think how history plays a vital role in today’s society.
“The quality of his work is demonstrated through a unique skill set that is seen on a daily basis. He is compassionate, organized, a tireless worker, energetic, and establishes positive relationships with students. He represents the 1percent who are always willing to go above and beyond.
“This accomplishment is indicative of what Mr. DeSilva does behind closed doors as a teacher, counselor, and motivator to many students. He takes great pride in leading, guiding, and assisting students in preparing them for the future. He understands setbacks and hurdles that come with being a teacher but yet remains a rock for students to share their concerns, learn life lessons, and discover how learning develops the mind.
“Mr. DeSilva has a strong presence in our high school. He comes to work every day with a passionate conviction and integrity to make a difference in his student’s lives. I am proud to be working with an individual that displays such humbleness while having such a large impact on many students.”
Mr. DeSilva spoke about all of the teachers who influenced him as a student in Manchester and said it reminded him of what a great school district it is. “In the end, the students are the best part of teaching. The time that we as teachers spend with students is a privilege and a responsibility, but the impact goes both ways. We have a chance to positively impact young people, but they also leave their mark on us, and often change us for the better.”
Manchester Township High School ESP of the Year
Theresa Zacchia is a School Psychologist and part of the Child Study Team at Manchester Township High School. She also coordinates SAT Testing, is advisor for Key Club, and serves on the School Safety Team and I&RS committee.
“She comes to work every day with a smile ready to advocate for her students and tackle any challenge,” remarked Principal Dennis Adams. “She is compassionate, organized, a tireless worker, and energetic, but yet very calm. She remains cool as a cucumber when dealing with parents, students or even a crisis situation…She is extremely knowledgeable in special ed law and performs her duties with integrity and enthusiasm. In addition, she has an outstanding rapport with students and staff, and remains dedicated to fulfilling her case manager responsibilities.
“From the countless number of hours, we have spent working together this year, it is evident that she is a motivator, a cheerleader, and at times the child whisperer. She takes great pride in leading, guiding, and assisting students in preparing them for their future. She understands student setbacks and hurdles that come with her position yet remains a calming force for students to share their concerns…Every day her smile and genuine concern make a difference at MTHS.”
“They say that if you find what you love to do, you will never have to work a day in your life,” Mrs. Zacchia remarked. “I have been so lucky to be one of those few people and to be able to look forward to coming to work each day, because for me, this is not just a job, this is about being a piece of something larger; to be a piece of a special community such as ours, and to inspire our young adults each day while they prepare to transition into the next chapter of their lives.”