SDE: 2017 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Finalists and Semifinalists

2017 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Finalists and Semifinalists


Teachers make a difference in the lives of children every day. To honor their commitment to excellence, we've compiled essays from the 2017 Connecticut Teacher of Year finalists and semifinalists. Teacher of the Year candidates are asked about the factors that influenced them to become teachers, and what they consider to be their greatest contributions and accomplishments in education. Here are their inspirational responses.

2017 CT Teacher of the Year:
Lauren Danner North Branford High School North Branford Science
Sarah Goldin Greenwich High School Greenwich Science
Douglas Haddad Henry James Memorial Middle School Simsbury Science
Joshua Steffenson Glastonbury High School Glastonbury Physics
Kim Begin Windham Middle School Windham Art
Stacie Broden Middlebury Elementary School Middlebury Elementary Math/ELA
Stephanie Cassidy Tolland Middle School Tolland Science
Melissa Dale Union School Farmington Grade 2
Andrew Deacon Torringford School Torrington Grade 4
Mary Elizabeth Fulco Staples High School Westport English/ Journalism
Gary Lotreck High School Inc. Hartford English
Lynn Macalister Putnam Elementary School Putnam Grade 2
James McCaffrey Trumbull High School Trumbull English
Victoria Nordlund Rockville High School Rockville English
Lisa Olivere Woodland Regional High School Beacon Falls Social Studies
Carlos Reyes-Couvertier Strong School KG New Haven Kindergarten/ Grade 1

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Sarah Goldin, Greenwich

Sarah Goldin’s route to a career in education has been a circuitous one, beginning first with sojourns into both academia and law. She spent eleven years in primary science, culminating in a doctoral degree in genetics and development from Columbia University, including seven years as a full-time laboratory research scientist during which she published eight articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Thereafter, she worked for four years as a Scientific Advisor and Patent Agent for an intellectual property law firm.

{Teacher Sarah Goldin}  

In 2009, Sarah joined the science faculty at Greenwich High School (GHS), teaching Biology and Honors Biology. Subsequently, she took the lead in the creation of the school’s Honors Biochemistry course. Her department head and course co-creator, John DeLuca, commented, “The class is immensely innovative and thoughtful. Sarah masterfully connected the science concepts together into a way that teaches comprehensively and logically.”

Most recently Dr. Goldin has been a driver behind the creation and implementation of Greenwich High School’s Innovation Lab, an interdisciplinary, project-based learning program that engages students of all skill levels in collaborative problem-solving around real world issues as supported by relationships with, and presentations to, experts and professionals in the community. Sarah co-teaches the program’s sophomore year STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) course, as well as its Design Studio elective. She has spent countless hours designing and promoting the program, and has also written and obtained three supporting grants from the Greenwich Alliance for Education.

For the past five years, Dr. Goldin has also taught AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) at GHS. Sarah was one of the first members of the GHS AVID site team and is committed to learning the AVID strategies and curriculum, implementing the program with fidelity, and assisting with the AVID certification process. Her four years with the 24 students of the AVID class of 2015 culminated in 100 college acceptances, $67,000 in Greenwich Scholarship Association scholarships, and over $2.6 million in merit scholarships. Dr. Goldin also volunteered to teach the AVID class of 2016 for their senior year and mentor them through the college process. This AVID class boasts 118 college acceptances with a total of $92,796 in Greenwich Scholarship Association scholarships, and over $2.5 million in merit scholarships.

Dr. Goldin graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi from Princeton University, Princeton, NJ with a Bachelor of Arts degree in molecular biology, where she also won the George Khoury ‘65 Senior Prize for Academic Excellence and the E.R. Squibb and Sons’ Senior Thesis Prize for Contributions to Scientific Research. As a recipient of a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship for Postgraduate Study Abroad, she then attended the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, completing a Master of Science in biotechnology. Thereafter, Sarah earned Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy degrees in genetics and development from Columbia University, New York, NY. She completed her doctorate in genetics and development, also from Columbia University, in 2002. Sarah received her teaching certification via the Post-Masters Certification Program for Secondary Science at Manhattanville College’s School of Education.

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Douglas Haddad, Simsbury

Douglas Haddad is a middle school science teacher at Henry James Memorial School in the Simsbury Public School District. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in biology/secondary education from Central Connecticut State University and was awarded the Departmental Honors Award for graduating first in his class. He also received a master's degree in biology from CCSU and a second master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, graduating summa cum laude. Mr. Haddad is a lifetime member of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

Mr. Haddad’s passion for teaching is evident in his creativity in the classroom, which can be found in his original, all-popular “Battle of the Rows” review game before unit tests, along with the “Golden Monkey Awards” for motivating academic achievement. His students rave about the class projects, as well as the original educational songs and music videos that he writes, sings, performs, and produces for each unit being studied. Mr. Haddad’s students have expressed that his songs and videos have helped them better learn the various scientific concepts.

{Teacher Douglas Haddad}  

Mr. Haddad has served as a curriculum development leader and guided new teachers through the scope, sequence, and practices of the seventh grade science curriculum, ensuring that all students are being given an education that is consistent and universal. In addition, he designed and taught a workshop for faculty members by modeling practices for the Next Generation Science Standards and led a health and wellness workshop for the faculty on ways to practice mindfulness and meditation through Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Moreover, Mr. Haddad has been a featured health and wellness presenter at the CEA Summer Leadership Conference discussing different strategies to help educators become mentally and physically healthy throughout the school year. In addition to being a teacher, Mr. Haddad also mentored students from the Hartford Open Choice Program. Furthermore, he has helped assist with the afterschool intramural sports programs and has been the coordinator and supervisor for the middle school intramural golf program at HJMS for the past 16 years. While serving on the School Climate/Health & Wellness Committee, he has co-founded “The HJ Way” and the “School of Fish” Character Reward Program at his school.

Mr. Haddad has a passion for helping children, fellow educators, parents, and the community at large through various community service efforts. Over the years, he has appeared on FOX, NBC, ABC, and other television networks discussing a variety of topics related to education, parenting, health and wellness, and the overall well-being of a child. He has written and published more than 200 articles on topics pertaining to parenting strategies, teacher resources, educational technology, life skills and coping strategies for children. In the past year, he has collaborated with various companies in educational technology and was able to obtain innovative products for the district to assist children with special needs.

Mr. Haddad’s dedication to teaching comes from a lifelong love of learning, a love for children, and a yearning to positively shape youth. His deep desire to help parents and children continues through his work as an author. His recent best-selling book, The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies for Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, February 2017), provides specific, proven “child unlimited” tools to help unlock a child’s full potential. The book also discusses today’s “child-limiting” challenges and offers strategies to help parents best prevent and handle the different problems their children can encounter. Mr. Haddad will be donating a portion of the earnings from his book to Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities, a non-profit organization responsible for providing service dogs to individuals with disabilities.

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Joshua Steffenson, Glastonbury

Scientists ask questions about the world and seek answers. Engineers identify challenges and seek solutions. For Joshua Steffenson the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ has evolved from paleontologist to aerospace engineer, to science teacher, but the challenge needing a solution has always been the same: ‘Make things better.’

Joshua has a B.A. in physics from Gustavus Adolphus College, a M.S. in secondary science education from the University of New Haven, and has completed a certification program in educational leadership at Sacred Heart University.

{Teacher Joshua Steffenson}  

Now in his twelfth year teaching physics at Glastonbury High School, Joshua seeks to make his students better by teaching them to ask meaningful questions and to seek out deeper answers and understanding. In doing this he empowers his students to take ownership of, and build appreciation for, their life long learning. Additionally, Joshua has led student enrichment outside the classroom in robotics and rocketry. His work includes mentoring students in the F.I.R.S.T. and B.E.S.T. robotics competitions and the T.A.R.C. rocketry competition. These students’ successes include a first place finish during the 2013 Northern Plains B.E.S.T. Robotics Championships in Fargo, ND.

Making the classroom and public education better has always been the foundation of Joshua’s professional work. Serving as President of the Glastonbury Education Association from 2010-2016 Joshua supported his peers in their teaching positions and worked to develop teacher evaluation plans that treat teachers fairly while also holding them accountable for continuously improving student performance and for improving as educators.

In addition, Joshua has served as a TEAM mentor in Connecticut’s teacher induction program and has led numerous professional development workshops including 21st Century Classrooms, Digital Video Analysis in the Physics Classroom, and Digital Textbook Creation using iBooks Author. Most recently, Joshua has been working with a team of science teachers to secure grant funding for a science, robotics, and engineering center at Glastonbury High School, which is slated to open in the fall of 2017.

Joshua’s classroom is described as one that promotes creative problem solving and authentic learning with a sense of purpose that is palpable when you walk through the door. He is praised for his ability to bring stakeholders from a variety of perspectives together when completing challenging work.

Joshua’s efforts to make things better in education were recognized by President Barack Obama in July 2015 with the prestigious Presidential Award For Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Joshua has been married for ten years to his wife Julie and resides in Manchester, CT. When not in the classroom his passion in life is spending time fishing, camping, and building Legos with his two young daughters, June, age five, and Josie, age three.

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Kim Begin, Windham

Kim became a teacher in the most unconventional way. While pursuing dreams of becoming a graphic designer, she received a call from the superintendent in her hometown. There was an opening for an art teacher at one of the Junior high schools. Although she did not have a teaching degree, he was willing to hire her as a long-term substitute, giving her the opportunity to acquire a teaching certificate. Kim wasn’t sure where this new life path would lead, but as an opportunist, she decided to take this leap of faith. Kim has never looked back on what could have been because she knew she had found her true calling.

Kim began her career at Teachers Memorial Junior High School in 1977. In 1978, she married Len Begin. When Kim gave birth to their first child, Cara, she took time off from teaching. Three years later she gave birth to their son, Evan. While Kim chose to be a stay at home mom, she owned and operated “Kim’s Kreation’s” out of her home, designing and creating wedding gowns.

Kim returned to teaching at Sprague Elementary School in 1996, but always had the yearning to return to teaching Middle School students. In 2000, Kim was recruited by and accepted the position as an art teacher at Windham Middle School, where she has taught for the past 17 years.

Kim believes Art is a universal language that can reach out to all learners. As she nurtures her students’ creative side, she leaves room for free expression and individuality. Their journey is predicated on their imagination, and cultural experiences. When students walk into the classroom they are amazed by the painted ceiling tiles and tables. This work, created by students, was done to emphasize the ability to create beauty in all things. Lessons are diverse and centered around a variety of multi-cultural experiences. Within these walls, students can create without the fear of making mistakes. Many mistakes often produce some of the greatest art.

{Teacher Kim Begin with students in the classroom}

The community and parents are integral to her classroom. Kim had the opportunity to visit Italy, London, Mexico and Puerto Rico to gain knowledge of World culture and its art. As parents became aware of the multicultural projects in the classroom, there was no shortage of support by parents and community members. This collaboration highlights the bond between Kim, parents, community, and her students.

Kim is extremely involved in professional memberships. She is currently first Vice President and Grievance Chair for the Windham Federation of Teachers. She is a member of the Leadership team, PDEC, Time Collaborative, Commissioner’s Network, School Governance Council, and School Improvement Plan for Windham Middle School. She also teaches a class on Right and Left Brain Thinkers at the Parent University in Willimantic.

Kim is inspired by her love of art, teaching art and inspiring others to see the beauty in art each and every day.

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Stacie Broden, Middlebury

Stacie is a K-5 Interventionist at Middlebury Elementary School in Regional School District 15. Before taking this position in 2012 she taught first and second grade at Pomperaug Elementary School in Southbury.

Stacie graduated from University of Delaware with a degree in Elementary and Special Education. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Southern Connecticut State University and a Sixth Year Degree in Mathematics Educational Leadership from Central Connecticut State University.

{Teacher Stacie Broden with students in the classroom}

Stacie is known for being whole-heartedly focused on what is in the best interest of students. She is invested in ensuring that they are equipped socially, emotionally, and academically. Her focus on data to inform instruction leads her colleagues to deep and focused discussion about learning and teaching. Described by colleagues as caring, flexible, and insightful, she positively affects not only staff members, but students and parents as well. Students comment, "Miss Broden lets me read all kinds of books and keep them till I'm done. She always believes in me!"

Stacie has shared her expertise and her enthusiasm within and beyond the Region 15 community. She has served as an Instruction Teacher Leader for both Mathematics and Technology, and she has been a leader on several district committees, including the Region 15 Strategic Plan Committee, Mathematics Textbook Adoption, and Curriculum Development. She currently serves on the Region 15 Enrollment and Space Utilization Committee. Stacie is also an executive board member of the Associated Teachers of Mathematics in Connecticut (ATOMIC) and has presented at ATOMIC conferences on questioning strategies, standards, and SMART goals. She is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation's highest honor for teachers of mathematics and science. Her accomplishments and expertise were recognized in a ceremony at the White House and included opportunities to meet with President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and other leaders in education and educational policy at the national level. For several years since receiving this honor, Stacie has served on PAEMST selection committees and is currently a State Coordinator for this award.

Outside of her role as educator, Stacie spends her time imagining, learning, and exploring the world with her 18-month old son Kai. Also, for the past 15 years, Stacie has been volunteering for Special Olympics in Waterbury, coaching Special Olympians in track, skiing, and volleyball. She also coached the Connecticut Track and Field Team for the 2010 Special Olympics National Games in Nebraska.

Educator, mentor, colleague and co-teacher, results-oriented interventionist, passionate Special Olympics volunteer and loving mom, Stacie Broden is living her dream of supporting and inspiring learners of all ages to aim high and strive to be lifelong learners.

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Stephanie Cassidy, Tolland

Stephanie Cassidy is a sixth grade science teacher and team leader at Tolland Middle School (TMS) and also heads the TMS Enrichment Program (TMSE) as its coordinator. After 25 years of providing enrichment activities to students informally after school, in the 2012-2013 school year Mrs. Cassidy received approval to start a formal STEAM program at TMS. That year, 20 students participated in TMSE and Mrs. Cassidy has grown that program into an effort that last year included several teachers and 83 students, culminating in a TMSE showcase at the end of the year attended by students, parents, school staff and administrators and supporters of the educational community. The event even attracted engineering professors from the University of Connecticut, who are interested in seeing the work of these talented middle schoolers. While students have worked on hundreds of student-generated projects in the TMSE program, some notable ones saw students: build a 3-D printer, drones and robots; secure private funding and construct a music studio in the TMS building; compose original music; and come up with water pollution solutions. Several years ago, two TMSE students started producing organic soaps and lip balms and have actually advanced that project into a business, with a store on historic Tolland Green carrying the products; the girls also sell their wares at the Connecticut Home Show in the XL Center.

Last year, Mrs. Cassidy served as advisor and mentor to five teams of students in grades 6-8 in the inaugural Bright Schools Competition. The competition was a collaborative effort of the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association that encouraged students to explore the correlation between light and sleep and how it influences student health and performance. Three of Mrs. Cassidy's TMS teams, called Blue Light Affects Sleep, Colored Light Effect on Sleep and Save Your Z's were among 50 national finalists chosen from 170 entries; nearly 550 students from 63 schools entered the competition. Mrs. Cassidy's three TMS teams were the only ones from the state of Connecticut selected as finalists.

In 2015, Mrs. Cassidy was one of 30 teachers selected to be STEAM trained at the Boston Museum of Science. In 2014, the superintendent, her former TMS principal, appointed her to the Professional Development and Evaluation Committee (PDEC), and she acts as a resource to her colleagues by coaching them on the Tolland teacher evaluation process. She has also been an active member of the TMS Sunshine Committee for most of her career, helping organize staff events and spreading positive school climate. In 1991, she received a Peace Corps Partnership Award, recognizing her help in facilitating funding for the construction of the Colonia Popular Elementary School for needy students in Escuintla, Guatemala, and for her extraordinary contribution to world peace and friendship. Generous Tolland students and their parents donated personal items, school supplies, educational materials and books to help outfit the new school.

Outside of school, Mrs. Cassidy has also coordinated a foreign student exchange program for college freshmen and sophomores from Spain and France. She placed students with local host families and facilitated the cultural and educational programming during their stay in the US.

{Teacher Stephanie Cassidy with students in the classroom}

Mrs. Cassidy is constantly inspired by her students and is dedicated to the social-emotional, psychological and intellectual development of children. After nearly three decades of classroom teaching, she is still not only an energetic educator and tireless advocate for children, but is also a curious participant in the educational process who is always driven to learn and improve herself. Mrs. Cassidy is true to her educational beliefs in and out of the classroom. She is a role model who: is a respected professional, embraces diversity, is compassionate, supportive, and has a real knack for working with children. Her acumen for teaching, desire to help others, commitment to the profession and making a difference in the lives and futures of children are of paramount importance to her. Mrs. Cassidy is an educator known for promoting academic rigor, meeting the needs of students of all abilities and providing hands-on, real-world experiences in her classroom. Her rich, differentiated and guided discovery classroom is one in which children flourish.

Mrs. Cassidy began her teaching career in 1987 in a long-term substitute position in second grade at Coventry Grammar School and then took a permanent teaching job in neighboring Tolland the next school year. She has served the students of Tolland ever since, with most of her time spent teaching fourth through sixth grades. She holds a BS in Early Childhood Education from the University of Connecticut, where she also earned a Master's in Elementary Education, Pre-K through eighth grade. While getting her Master's, she also studied one summer at the University of Cambridge in England, focusing on children's literature and fieldwork.

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Melissa Dale, Farmington

Melissa Dale grew up in Southern California. She attributes much of her success to parents, Robert and Sally Wells and older sisters, Pam and Cindy. She is the youngest of three girls and was greatly influenced by the family’s love of reading and learning and how they equally valued kindness and a good work ethic. An appreciation of education was instilled at a young age. As a child and young adult, she was very active in sports and has always enjoyed being part of a team.

In 1976 Melissa attended the University of Redlands in California to acquire her teaching degree. In 1980, she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education and went on to earn a Master of Science Degree in Reading and Education at California State University of San Bernardino. Melissa has worked in a variety of settings in primary education. She began her career in 1982 as a fourth and fifth grade teacher in the Fontana Unified School District in California. She went on to teach first grade at Bear Valley Unified School District in Big Bear City, California for four years.

In 1989 Melissa married Mark C. Dale and they moved to Germany to teach for the Department of Defense. She taught first grade at Ansbach American Elementary School in Ansbach, Germany for the Department of Defense Dependents’ Schools where she won the Presidential Award for Teachers of Mathematics. While teaching children of military families during the first Gulf War, she learn to understand the sacrifices our military families make when parents are sent to war. She was also able to witness the Fall of the Wall in eastern Germany, and was present in Prague during the Velvet Revolution. Melissa travelled extensively through Europe during the three years she lived in worked in Germany. One of the most exciting events was when her son, Jacob Michael Dale, was born.

In 1992 Melissa and her family returned from abroad and moved to Renton, Washington. She taught fourth grade at Spring Glen Elementary Magnet School in Kent, Washington. Here she had a lot training in collaborative learning and the Gardner’s multiple intelligence. Her greatest joy was when her daughter, Carly Kristin Dale, was born. Their family feeling complete, Melissa and her husband decided it was time to settle down in a family friendly town which led them to Simsbury, Connecticut in 1995.

{Teacher Melissa Dale in the classroom}

For the last 20 years Melissa has been teaching in Farmington, Connecticut. Since joining the Farmington Public Schools, Melissa has been a member of the Union School staff as a fifth grade teacher for 3 years, and a second grade teacher since 1997. Over the years, she has served on many committees including math resource team, curriculum writing, and team leader.

Currently, Melissa enjoys spending time with her husband, Mark, their two children Carly and Jake, and their new daughter-in-law Nicole. She is proud that they have all earned their Bachelor of Arts degree in the past few years. Although they chose to settle down in beautiful Simsbury, CT their family still enjoys traveling, and has completed three cross-country road trips. These trips have taken them to all of the lower 48 states. Melissa loves spending her free time outside, hiking, camping, and going to the beach with a good book.

Melissa plans to continue teaching many years to come. It continues to be her passion and brings her great joy every day she walks in the door.

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Andrew Deacon, Torrington

Upon graduating from Litchfield High School in 2004, Andrew D. Deacon attended Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York where he studied Art History and French. While at Manhattanville, Deacon coordinated Creative Expressions Through Art, a combined studio art and art history program for homeless children, ages 5 to 12. In addition, he completed an internship in museum education at the Cos Cob Holley House/Greenwich Historical Society. Andrew graduated summa cum laude from Manhattanville in 2008, having completed the college’s honors program, Castle Scholars.

After college, Deacon taught French and Spanish at the Forman School, a private boarding school for high school students with learning disabilities, located in Litchfield, Connecticut. He assumed the role of Senior Class Dean during his tenure.

Later, Deacon attended the University of Bridgeport to earn his Master’s Degree and Connecticut teaching certification in elementary education. During that program, Deacon completed a yearlong internship at Wilson Elementary School in Waterbury, Connecticut and a student teaching practicum in Grade 5 at Litchfield Intermediate School in Litchfield, Connecticut.

Deacon’s first permanent teaching position was as a Grade 2 Teacher at Colebrook Consolidated School in Colebrook, Connecticut. Later, Deacon transferred to Torrington, Connecticut where he assumed the position of Grade 4 Teacher at Torringford Elementary School. Deacon has attended several events hosted by Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, including three of their summer institutes in reading and writing. Also, Deacon was named one of 97 Connecticut Dream Team teachers in April 2014 where he worked with fellow Connecticut teachers to develop Common Core aligned materials in the English language arts and mathematics.

{Teacher Andrew Deacon in the classroom}

Currently, Deacon is a numeracy coach at Torringford Elementary School where he works to refine teachers’ skills in the teaching of mathematics. Also, Deacon is enrolled in the University of Bridgeport’s sixth year program where he is working towards certifications in Educational Administration and Remedial Reading and Language Arts. In May 2016, Deacon was the recipient of the Lydia A. Duggins Award in literacy teaching and the Lauren Rousseau Passionate Educator Award in memory of Ms. Rousseau who lost her life at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Deacon is quoted as saying, “There is no greater reward in teaching than knowing that my students are empowered to make the world a better place for all of us.”

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Mary Elizabeth Fulco, Westport

Teaching has never been just a job for Mary Elizabeth Fulco; it is a lifestyle that she grew up knowing and loving. As an English and journalism teacher at Staples High School in Westport, she works with all types of students, ranging from freshman who struggle with reading and writing to juniors and seniors in her AP English Language and Composition class. To help her students succeed, she works collaboratively with other teachers as well as counselors to develop strategies for students to achieve academic success and strong mental health. As one colleague writes, “To be in M.E. Fulco’s classroom is to feel cared about as a student and human being.”

{Teacher Mary Elizabeth Fulco with Students}

Mary Elizabeth earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and stayed in the south for an additional three years, working at Massaponax High School. She then moved back to her home state of Connecticut, where she pursued a Masters in Women’s Studies from Southern Connecticut State University.

Mary Elizabeth is honored to be named a Connecticut Teacher of the Year semi-finalist. Her other accolades include receiving the 2016 Ann Garland West Award and being named the 2016 Dateline Club Educator of the Year. She recently served as a 2016 Folger’s Teaching of Shakespeare Fellow and is proud to have advised her school newspaper, Inklings, to be a four-time Columbia Gold Star and Silver Crown award winner.

According to Mary Elizabeth, “Teaching is hard. There are many stresses and demands that can wear a teacher down. However, great teachers maintain a sense of optimism about the world and for the students that surround them. Teachers are driven by the need to make meaningful connections with students and colleagues, and to share in the journey of self-improvement. Teachers are inspirational, creative, collaborative, and dedicated, and ask for little more than small acknowledgements, simple praise, and genuine appreciation.”

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Gary Lotreck, Hartford

Gary Lotreck has been a Connecticut resident all of his life, born in Hartford and raised in Tolland, the son of a teacher. He resides in Tolland with his loving wife and best friend, Suzie and three wonderful children, Serena, a first-year student at Cornell, Robert, a high school sophomore, and Jake, a seventh grader. Being a good father and husband are the most important and the most joyful jobs that he has. He also loves to read any chance he gets and he thrives when putting his own pen to paper in his journals that he writes for his children, his observations of life, or bad poetry.

Gary is a very active person who enjoys road cycling, skiing, snowboarding, working out, coaching his son’s baseball team, and shooting baskets with his kids. Also, community service adds tremendous satisfaction to his life beyond the classroom. To this end, he began a Community Service Club years ago at Hartford Public High School (HPHS) and then brought it to Pathways to Technology. One service activity that he enjoys is making and serving dinner at the South Park Inn Homeless Shelter in the company of other teachers, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and his family. He believes in a balanced life of mind, body, and spirit. At Classical Magnet School, he started a bicycling enrichment program and developed an after-school meditation enrichment program for students while offering meditation sessions to staff as well. In addition, when he first began teaching, he was an assistant coach for the club hockey team at HPHS and ran a Creative Writing Club. He believes that education should reach out beyond the classroom and into the world to make the individual and society better.

He has been teaching English for twenty-seven years in the Hartford Public School System at HPHS, Pathways to Technology, and The Classical Magnet School. He holds a B.A. in English, a M.A. in Secondary Education – English, a Sixth-Year Degree in Education Administration and Supervision, as well as an 092 Administrative Certificate, all from the University of Connecticut. He received the honor of Teacher of the Year in 2007 at Pathways to Technology. As an English teacher, he believes in making literature come to life, to bring ideas off of the page and into the classroom, engaging students in inquiry-based learning, writing and reading workshops, stations and centers, seminar discussions, acting and role-playing, and interactive engagement in literature. He teaches his students that to succeed they must engage in risk and struggle, and he models this in his own practice, as well.

{Teacher Gary Lotreck with Students}

Gary believes that professional learning is essential to effective education for our students. He has been a BEST and TEAM Mentor, Master and Lead Mentor, and Cooperating Teacher, as well as an Acting Assistant Principal. After being sent to training by the Hartford Federation of Teachers, he taught a graduate course in Instructional Strategies at Saint Joseph College and has presented numerous professional development workshops on classroom management and instructional strategies throughout the Hartford Schools, at New Teacher Induction, and for outside institutions as a consultant. As the Teacher-in-Residence for English Language Arts and Writing for the Hartford Public Schools from 2013-2015, he did just that – help teachers improve their craft by increasing teaching and learning in their classrooms. He loves to help teachers and learn from them, as well. He firmly believes that teaching is a profession in which one can continually improve throughout their career for the benefit of their students.

Gary loves the craft of teaching. It is tremendously fulfilling as it allows him to be creative and innovative. Touching the lives of young people, helping them to be the best they can be, encouraging them to dream and realize that dream, to struggle and strive to achieve their goal is at the center of his work. Teaching English allows Mr. Lotreck to explore big ideas, issues, concepts, and themes with his students, opening avenues to understand others, the world around them, and themselves.

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Lynn Macalister, Putnam

Lynn Macalister is a thirty-year veteran of the Putnam School System having taught Kindergarten through third grade. A core belief of hers is to help make the world a more beautiful and better place. She has wanted to make a difference in people’s lives since her early years. She passionately believes a teacher’s greatest calling is to help others see and find their own greatness.

Currently Lynn is a second-grade teacher of a community of learners who sail together on a glorious journey of learning. She has an aged and well-used poster of students standing together on the “friendship boat”. Each sail holds a very important belief to their community of learners; friends listen, friends help, friends share, and friends HAVE FUN! When all are on the friendship boat, exemplary learning happens.

Lynn has a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Rhode Island College in Elementary Education and Language Arts. She resides in Charlestown, Rhode Island with her husband Mitch.

America is currently polarized on many issues. Lynn feels our country needs to come together on the many serious matters the United States faces. She regards a quality education for all is the powerful key to more beautiful and better America. She firmly believes all stakeholders in our country's future need to pursue solutions to the seemingly intractable large achievement gaps among socioeconomic, race/ethnicity and gender groups. She states “All of us must come together and work harder to solve this problem. Our country can transform our citizens lives through the excellence of education. It is time for all of us to come together on the friendship boat, fix our problems, and HAVE FUN!”

{Classroom artwork}

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James McCaffrey, Trumbull

Thank you for giving me this book, somehow you knew I needed it. This reading experience will stay with me forever.

James McCaffrey graduated from Fairfield University in June of 2004, where he majored in English and minored Education. He did his student teaching at Derby High School under the guidance of his cooperating teacher Steve Pronechen. In 2004, he was hired by the Stamford Public School System and spent six years teaching English and coaching at Stamford High School. During his time at SHS, he helped revive and cultivate the Annual Poetry Slam and worked closely with Library Media Specialist, Jean Isler to secure funding to bring in poet and Slam coach Mahogany Browne from the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City to work with students.

{Teacher James McCaffrey with students in the classroom}

In 2010, as residents of Trumbull, CT, McCaffrey and his wife Marian welcomed their first child, Mia into their family. Ironically, a position was posted on the Trumbull Public Schools website near his wife’s due date. James applied because it was always his vision to teach in the community he lived in. As a volunteer fire fighter in town at Long Hill Fire Company No. 1, McCaffrey knew the power of this connection. He was also interested in teaching in the district his children would attend school because it was added incentive to continually strive for improvement. On the day McCaffrey brought his newborn daughter home from the hospital he abruptly changed into a suit and reported to Trumbull High School to interview for the job. Within a week or two he was hired and his career path led him to THS.

Now, six years into his time as a teacher and coach at THS, McCaffrey has continued to challenge himself to grow every year, while bringing some of the positive experiences from SHS with him to his new school. Within his first two years at THS, he, along with his colleague Emma Balter took over the senior Poetry Elective and have brought performance poetry to new heights at THS. The elective students are responsible for promoting and producing the Annual Poetry Slam. In the spring of 2016, 70 student poets auditioned for the 30 spots allotted at the Slam and more than 900 people attended what has become a marquee event each year.

McCaffrey and Balter have also started a poetry club at THS, called “The Thread THS.” In 2015, with Emma as producer and stage director, McCaffrey and the students of the club embarked upon his vision of a dramatic poetry performance called Voice. The poetry “play” was student written and arranged by McCaffrey. It followed the characters throughout a day in High School as they struggled to find value in their voices and perspectives. It debuted at THS in January of 2015, then was invited to be performed at the Bijou Theater, Bridgeport, CT in May of 2015 for a one night performance. Students from the Voice were also invited to the Nuyorican Poets Café where they had the chance to perform their poems in that historic venue and receive feedback from the resident poet.

McCaffrey has not stopped there though. Perhaps the most rewarding and enriching element of his teaching has come to fruition in the past three years. He has collaborated with his colleagues, Stephanie Jalowiec, Karlen Shupp, and Kristin Magazine to start the THS Reading (R)evolution. This initiative empowers the readers in all of their classes. Inspired by Mamaroneck High School in NY and reading/ writing guru Penny Kittle, McCaffrey has implemented a new model of rigorous independent reading into all of his classes. Through Twitter, the @THSReadRev has left a positive digital stamp on Social Media as well. They promote positive digital citizenship by posting images of students with books or quips in the form of book recommendations. In these posts they tag authors which has led to three Skype sessions with three different authors: Nicola Yoon, Andrew Smith, and Kimberly McCreight.

The work of McCaffrey and his colleagues has not gone unnoticed. They have presented at the NCTE Convention in 2014 and 2015, at the CRA Conference in 2015, and most recently they were hired by the Hamden Public Schools to present their model and their Reading (R)evolution Starter Kit to Middle and High School teachers at their district convocation this past August. The THSReadRev is changing the future for many students and stands to help non-readers become readers. McCaffrey’s mission, along with the mission of many teachers he works with is to always teach the student first.

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Victoria Nordlund, Rockville

Victoria Nordlund is the department head of English at Rockville High School in Vernon, CT, where she has taught English for twenty-six years, and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut. She received her BS in Education in from UConn in 1990 and her MALS from Wesleyan University in 1999.

Nordlund developed the creative writing program at Rockville High School that has won major state and national awards in every genre. Her students are not only outstanding writers but also articulate speakers, dynamic performers, and wonderful role models and ambassadors of Rockville High School. She has created a culture where poetry readings, one-act play festivals, and book clubs are cool. Her students design their own team shirts and wear them with pride. For over ten years students in her program have won more writing awards than in any other private or public school in Connecticut. Last year alone, Rockville had fifty-seven students from every level and grade who won prestigious awards. Her students earned an impressive 144 Regional Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards and six National Medals. Since 2008, she has mentored fifteen national writing medalists in short story, flash fiction, writing portfolio, poetry, and persuasive essay, and has been honored with eight national Scholastic Arts and Writing Outstanding Educator Awards that she received in ceremonies at Carnegie Hall. She has coached three Poetry Out Loud state champions, four CT Slam Team champions, and Six Fresh Voices Sunken Garden Poets. Her students have also been selected to attend the New England Young Writers Conference at Breadloaf in Middlebury, Vermont. For five years Nordlund has been a nationally recognized teacher/adviser in the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Program to Recognize Excellence in Student Literary Magazines.

{Teacher Victoria Nordlund with students in the classroom}

In her role as a teacher and department head, Nordlund leads a community of critical, creative, and reflective learners who support and respect each other. She possesses a deep regard for education and considers herself a lifelong learner; consequently, she has enjoyed her roles as a mentor and cooperating teacher and through these roles has found ways to strengthen and improve the teaching profession. For the past six years,she has taught the graduate English methods course at UCONN. Furthermore, she has developed strong relationships with writers, teachers, and teaching artists across the state who have strengthened Nordlund as an educator and have given her a network of artists that inspires her, her department, and her students.

In addition, Nordlund contributes a great deal to her community. Over the past ten years, she has organized and directed the annual student-written murder mystery play at Rockville High School, a community event that draws over four hundred people each year. Proceeds have funded more than $10,000 in RHS writing scholarships, classroom laptops, partial publication of five award-winning literary arts magazines, contest entrance fees, writing conference fees, and field trip fan buses. Nordlund has also planned trips to deliver hand-made Christmas cards to convalescent homes; in the past fifteen years her students have created over 1500 cards. Last year, she organized a school-wide book drive and used book sale for the Vernon community and donated hundreds of books to ECHN-Hospice patients. She has also arranged and fundraised for numerous author visits to the Vernon school community, including Neal Schusterman, Elizabeth Thomas, Ruta Sepetys, and Geraldine Mills. Additionally, Nordlund created a volunteer after-school writing program staffed by her students at Vernon Center Middle School. She volunteers at Young at Arts, a non-profit arts center in Manchester, where she organizes poetry events, workshops, and writing lock-ins. She has also volunteered and provided student poets for community events through Imagine Main Street, Vernon Arts Center, and Art in the Park.

A writer in her own right, Nordlund is the 2016 New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE) Poet-of-the-Year and took first place in UConn’s Connecticut Writing Project Poetry Competition. Her work has been published in PANK Magazine, SHAPES Magazine, the Connecticut English Journal, and The Leaflet. Nordlund is also part of a local writing group, the Wordsong Poets.

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Lisa Olivere, Beacon Falls

Lisa Olivere describes her position as the Social Studies Department Chairperson for Woodland Regional High School (WRHS) as the best of both worlds in education. She is a leader and a teacher. As an instructional leader, she influences policy decisions and coaches other teachers. As a teacher, she cherishes the opportunity to get her daily fix of joy while working with her own students. Lisa is proud of her roots; she grew up in Braintree, Massachusetts, the birthplace of two of our early presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams. She attended the University of Connecticut in Storrs from 1984-1988. Decades later, Lisa still most fondly recalls that the greatest educational opportunity she had at UConn was her summer study abroad experience at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. There she studied European economic and political systems, discovered what it really means to be an American, and ignited a lifelong passion for traveling.

Lisa graduated from UConn with a BS in Human Development and Family Relations and returned to the Boston area to begin a career in the business sector at Poland Spring Water. She quickly ascended the corporate ladder earning five promotions in six years. One position as an employee trainer, opened her eyes to her knack for teaching. After moving to Connecticut to accept another promotion at Poland Spring Water, Lisa decided to enroll in graduate school to pursue a career in education which promised not to be nearly as lucrative, but much more fulfilling. Lisa graduated in 1997 from Southern Connecticut State University with an MS in History and a 7-12 social studies teaching certificate.

{Teacher Lisa Olivere with students in the classroom}

After four formative years at Bacon Academy in Colchester teaching geography, Eastern civilization, United States history, sociology and psychology, Lisa jumped at the opportunity in 2001 to enter at the ground level of opening WRHS, Region 16’s brand new high school. She worked with administrators, colleagues and other stakeholders to create programs and curricula, establish a positive and collaborative culture, and design vertical and horizontal alignment within and among disciplines. Lisa initially played an instrumental role as the Advisory coordinator, laying the foundation to WRHS’s cornerstone advisory program. After earning her position as the Social Studies Department Chairperson in 2007, Lisa led her department in creating a more global and comprehensive experience for their students by designing and implementing courses in Middle Eastern studies, contemporary world issues, and Advanced Placement psychology.

Lisa is deeply involved in her educational community. In her sixteen-year tenure she has co-chaired the NEASC Steering Committee, participated in Region 16’s Professional Development and Evaluation Committee, and coached soccer just to name only a few of her commitments. Lisa, however, is most proud and most widely known for co-founding and co-advising Woodland Worldwide, a school-based organization that helps women and children within its community and around the world gain opportunities. Lisa and fellow teacher and co-advisor, Meghan Geary, along with a vibrant network of faculty, alumni, parents, students, and community members work collectively to fulfill their mission. Together they raise awareness about gender discrimination and media bias, promote equal access to education for females worldwide, advance leadership and service opportunities, and work to end human trafficking. Since its inception, Woodland Worldwide has raised nearly $60,000 for its own programs and scholarships, and global non-profit organizations that support its mission. Woodland Worldwide received the Connecticut Association of Schools Excellence Award in 2013 and the Thomas R. Flanagan Student Activities Award in 2011. Lisa was also honored with the Connecticut Education Association’s Susan B. Anthony Award for Creative Leadership in Women's Rights in 2012.

Laughing with family and friends, traveling, reading, and running fuel Lisa’s spirit. She loves challenges and adventures and felt immense gratification when she finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 and survived skydiving, despite her fear of heights, in 2012. Lisa lives with her spouse of twenty-two years, Mary Beth Schreindorfer, who is also a devoted high school educator. Lisa has an 092 certification in Educational Administration and has her Sixth Year degree from Sacred Heart University. She aspires to earn a PhD in Educational Psychology and continues to be an innovator and advocate for progressive approaches to teaching and learning.

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Carlos Reyes-Couvertier, New Haven

After experiencing great family loss and being given the opportunity to work as a special education paraprofessional with children of various disabilities, Carlos decided that he wanted to go back to school to become a teacher. He wanted to honor the memory of his loved ones by making a difference in the Hispanic community. Carlos wanted to give to others what was lacking in the life of his brother and what he hoped someone was giving to the life of his oldest daughter. He saw the necessity of having more male teaching role models and more bilingual male role models in the field of education. He believed that he could make a difference in the lives of disenfranchised youth and their families, guiding students to a path of success. Carlos was encouraged to pursue this dream by a supportive administration, colleagues, and his mother who is also a teacher. Carlos’ wife encouraged him to pursue the Career Ladder Grant where he successfully earned three teaching certifications in 2004. The support of his family, friends, and colleagues has been instrumental in achieving his dream of becoming a teacher. Throughout his teaching career, Carlos has furthered his education and training to enhance his teaching knowledge in order to better instruction for his students. He pursued a master's degree with a concentration in reading to learn more about reading and research-based strategies and better plan and instruct his students on how to read. Carlos continued learning in the ARCTELL program, gaining more knowledge about teaching students who speak other languages.

{Teacher Carlos Reyes-Couvertier with students in the classroom}

Carlos believes his work within the Hispanic community has been his greatest accomplishment in education. He has spent many years working within families, building trust, and building positive relationships to help their children succeed. He has taught families of children. They come back to see him, tell him about their accomplishments, and share their dreams of college. He has spent years working with parents, guiding and teaching them to be the best resource for their children. This true partnership has led to the success of Carlos’ students. There is nothing more meaningful to him than seeing his former students in the community, successful and telling him much they appreciate the foundation that was laid years ago.

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Kim Wachtelhausen
State Coordinator
Connecticut Teacher of the Year Program
Bureau of Educator Effectiveness - Talent Office

Phone: (860) 713-6841

Content Last Modified on 5/2/2017 3:00:01 PM