New Jersey Department of Education

County Teachers of the Year 2021-22

County Teacher of the Year Virtual Award Ceremony

Atlantic County

Jim House

Photo of Jim House

Science Teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School in the Egg Harbor Township School District

Jim House holds a master’s degree in environmental studies from Stockton University. He has taught environmental science at Egg Harbor Township High School for the last 18 years. During his tenure he transformed an abandoned field into an innovative outdoor learning area that was created and now maintained by his students. He was instrumental in Egg Harbor Township High School achieving the United States Department of Education Green Ribbon Award, as well as certification through Sustainable Jersey for Schools and the Green Flag Award through Eco-Schools. He is the 2017 recipient of the New Jersey Governor's Environmental Excellence Award for Environmental Education, a 2017 Philadelphia Eagles and Axalta All Pro Teacher, and a finalist in the 2018 Princeton University Distinguished Secondary School Teaching Award. He is one of the high school’s Environmental Action Club advisors, the Audio-Visual Coordinator, and the Auditorium Site Supervisor. Outside of school, he is a member of the Egg Harbor Township Municipal Green Team and a member of the Atlantic County Solid Waste Advisory Committee.


Bergen County

Kim Clancey

Photo of Kim Clancey

Elementary Teacher & Professional Development Facilitator at Ridge Ranch Elementary School in the Paramus School District

Kim Clancey received her master’s degree in elementary education from Long Island University with a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) and the recipient of the Distinguished Performance Award for Academic Achievement in Education. She became a teacher because she wanted to be the kind of teacher that children need, a teacher who appreciates each child with her warm and engaging personality. Throughout her career as an educator, Kim has taught second and fourth grade and kindergarten to grade 4 enrichment. Kim considers herself a lifelong learner, always exploring and participating in groups and activities that pushes her thinking and learning. She strives to always learn something new, revise something old, try something different, and to share, teach and discuss ideas with others who share her enthusiasm, dedication, and curiosity. Kim has shared her expertise at the Paramus Summer Institutes, the Lit-Together Teacher Leadership Program, as a professional development creator and presenter, and literacy coach. She eagerly looks forward to the opportunities that tomorrow will bring.


Burlington County

Michelle Poolaw

Photo of Michelle Poolaw

Elementary Mathematics Support Teacher at Hillside Elementary School in the Mount Laurel Township School District

Michelle Poolaw graduated magna cum laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2011, with a master’s degree in education. She taught 3rd grade for eight years before becoming an Elementary Basic Skills Math teacher this school year. Michelle is an active volunteer in the school and community and participates in numerous committees and clubs. She is innovative in ways that are unique and exceptional, creating learning environments that have a profound impact on student achievement. She celebrates differences, cultivates creativity, and invites a sense of curiosity to inspire all learners to see their worth no matter the challenges they face. As a leader, Michelle promotes a rigorous education for all by building relationships, collaborating, and continuously learning new ideas and strategies that she passes on to her colleagues. She empowers her students to have confidence and to believe in themselves and their dreams can come true.


Camden County

Sonia Chugh

Photo of Sonia Chugh

English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher at LEAP High School in the LEAP Academy University Charter School

Sonia Chugh received her master’s degree in Education from the University of Northern Iowa and has over twenty years in education. Her advocacy for and work with her students results in 100% graduation rates. She creates a culturally responsive classroom where students of all cultures feel comfortable and ready to learn because what they are learning about is relevant to their experiences and the curriculum reflects them. Sonia’s ESL students participate in the Rowan University Gear Up program, Puerto Rican Art Center Exhibit, Theater Club, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Club, and dual enrollment college programs while they are in high school. She also supports students outside of the classroom, encouraging them to be active members of the Camden community through holding workshops for parents and students on leveraging community resources in Camden.


Cape May County

Lee Anne Tarr

Photo of Lee Anne Tarr

Elementary and Social Emotional Learning Teacher at Cape May City Elementary School in the Cape May City School District

Lee Anne Tarr, currently enrolled at Capella University, has taught for twenty-nine years. She has been recognized twice as her school’s Teacher of the Year and held the position of Festival Director for the Cape May County Coast Guard Community Foundation. Being the daughter of a teacher and military service member allows her to relate to the students she serves. Lee Anne’s unique school community comprises both children who reside in Cape May City and children who live on the United States Coast Guard Training Base. From seeing what educational practices worked early on  for her and concisely evolving them to meet the needs of her students, she  is carrying the torch that her mother and other colleagues have passed on. Being familiar with the lifestyle of her students with parents in the Coast Guard, allows her to empathize and sympathize as she has walked in their shoes once before. Lee Anne’s familiarity with her students' mindset even before they enter her classroom really helps set very conducive learning environment. She has served in numerous school roles such as the Anti-Bullying Specialist and Anti-Bullying Coordinator, District Event Coordinator, Social Media Coordinator, Intervention and Referral Services Committee Member, a Summer Advocate Teacher and a School Volunteer Program Coordinator. Lee Anne looks forward to continuing to learn, grow and develop her passion for creating and sharing programs with her school and community.


Cumberland County

Samantha Johnson Boyer

Photo of Samantha Johnson Boyer

Pre-Kindergarten Teacher at Charles F. Seabrook School in the Upper Deerfield Township School District

Samantha Johnson Boyer earned her bachelor’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a master’s degree in teaching from Montclair State University. In her six years at Seabrook School, she has balanced her roles as teacher and leader while maintaining an outstanding record of student achievement. Samantha continues to demonstrate her leadership qualities in a plethora of ways and to grow and develop these skills by remaining involved in professional growth programs. She has led her Pre-K colleagues through many changes and challenges by facilitating professional development experiences, creating resources to navigate remote teaching and serving as a curriculum coach. She is a professional learning community facilitator, a leader in a state-wide community of practice, and vice president of her local school association. Samantha is always willing to go above and beyond for all students at Seabrook School, not just the ones in her classroom.


Essex County

Theresa Maughan

Photo of Theresa Maughan

Social Studies Teacher at East Orange Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy in the East Orange School District

Theresa Maughan earned a bachelor’s degree in history and education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in Administration & Supervision from New Jersey City University and is completing a second master’s degree in American history from Pace University. Her educational background is indicative of her commitment to a growth mindset. Theresa’s mission of learning something new each day is transferred to her students via her love of knowledge and research. She believes this is the key that enhances her ability to design and implement lessons that are infused with different perspectives on history. It has been Theresa’s mission to shatter the stereotype that students enrolled in urban school districts are often perceived as less able to compete academically again students from other district by encouraging her students to participate in a host of local, statewide and national contests. In each of these contests, her students succeeded as a finalist or winner. In addition to empowering her students to engage in civic and history-based academic contests, Theresa demonstrates her dedication as an educator and lifelong learner by attending professional development workshops, and connecting with scholars, parents and the East Orange community.


Gloucester County

Lynne Bussott

Photo of Lynne Bussott

2nd Grade Teacher at Governor Charles C. Stratton School in the Swedesboro-Woolwich School District

Lynne Bussott holds a master’s degree in elementary education from Nazareth College and a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University. She is the Academic Team Lead, facilitates professional learning communities and provides professional development for her colleagues. Lynne serves on the Swedesboro Woolwich Environmental Commission and in 2019 won the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commission’s Open Space Stewardship Grant for habitat conservation of the Eastern Bluebird. In 2018 and 2019 her classes participated in the Philadelphia Zoo's UNLESS contest winning 2nd place and Honorable Mention, and in 2020 her class participated in the TREX Recycling Challenge, recycled 441 pounds of plastic bags, and came in eighth place for U.S. Northeastern region. Lynne believes that this project-based learning empowers her students to get involved, to be engaged in their own learning, to have an impact on the world around them, whether it be their school, their community or other countries across the globe.


Hudson County

Kimberley Madalena

Photo of Kimberley Madalena

Language Arts Teacher at Washington Middle School in the Harrison School District

Kimberley Madalena received her bachelor’s degree in education from Jersey City State College and is currently taking graduate coursework. She takes great pride in continuing to build the love of learning that she developed so many years ago as a student. She has been an influential member of the school's Leadership Team and is always at the forefront of the latest educational trends, technology and new programs being implemented in the district. Kimberley is a curriculum writer and editor as well as an innovator for language arts elective and intervention courses. She has been one of the founding members of Harrison’s summer enrichment program which centered on project-based learning with community involvement. Kimberley has led her school in data analysis, focused prescriptive instruction, and shared best practices. She is a frequent presenter for district professional development and has presented at the county level on topics such as project-based learning and use of technology in the classroom through the Google platform.


Hunterdon County

Teresa Alessandria De Sapio Diaz

Photo of Teresa Alessandria De Sapio Diaz

Commercial Arts, Advertising Design and 3D Computer Animation Teacher at Hunterdon County Polytech in the Hunterdon County Vocational School District

Teresa Alessandria De Sapio Diaz received her bachelor’s degree in illustration and visual communication from the Columbus College of Art and Design. Teresa is a member of the Art Educators of New Jersey and has presented at their annual conference and serves as a member of the State Career and Technical Education (CTE) Arts Advisory Committee. Her students have won numerous awards including first place in the New Jersey State SkillsUSA 3D Visualization and Computer Animation competition, second place in Advertising Design and third place in the New Jersey Courtroom Artist competition. Her greatest contributions are the relationships she has built, the confidence she encouraged, the knowledge and experiences that she has imparted to help guide her students to fulfilling jobs in the industry. Her former students are animators for Disney, Cartoon Network, and film studios in the U.S. and Canada, are senior art directors at advertising agencies in New York City, web developers in Australia, brand strategists, freelance illustrators, and graphic designers, to name a few. She teaches her students to be independent learners and creative problem solvers to prepare them to enter a workforce that’s competitive and continually changing.


Mercer County

Brittany Thomas

Photo of Brittany Thomas

Vice Principal of Robbins Elementary School in the Trenton Public School District

Brittany Thomas holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education and math/science with a concentration in special education and a master’s degree in school administration, both from Rowan University. What defines her as an extraordinary educator is her ability to go above and beyond for her students, teaching every child that walks through her classroom and school as an exceptional scholar with limitless potential. This mindset helps her meet the child where they are to support and nurture their gifts and abilities. She is a leader because colleagues naturally seek her expertise in technological classroom advancements. She has led initiatives for the school and district on the use of technology in the classroom, data and effective parent-teacher communication tools. Her extracurricular activities include tutoring students outside of school, working one-on-one with adults with disabilities, and volunteering at her church.


Middlesex County

Melissa Vega

Photo of Melissa Vega

Bilingual Language Arts Teacher at New Brunswick Middle School in the New Brunswick School District

Melissa Vega has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in bicultural/bilingual education from Kean University. Most of her students are recent immigrants that are caught between two languages and two different worlds. Getting to know them, meeting them where they are, and helping them grow academically while supporting their social-emotional needs for them to succeed and thrive, are her first priorities. Melissa works hard at developing scaffolded lessons and differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all her students. To her colleagues she is known as a mentor and leader that provides professional development and modeling, guidance and support, and serves as a liaison between the staff and administration both at the school and district levels. She sits on the New Brunswick Middle School School Improvement Panel (ScIP) Committee, Data Committee, Intervention and Referral Services Committee, and the School Re-Entry Committee just to name a few activities. To her students and their families, she is known as a staunch advocate for their educational and personal needs and goals.


Monmouth County

Alyssa Geary

Photo of Alyssa Geary

Special Education and English Language Arts Teacher at Red Bank Middle School in the Red Bank Borough School District

Alyssa Geary earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Loyola University and a master’s degree in special education from Hofstra University, where she strived to develop a refined understanding of reading and writing processes. She takes pride in her craft, in her advocacy for students and in ensuring that inclusion is at the forefront of her mission. Alyssa believes that investing time and care into relationships, builds student agency and academic success. Alyssa’s efforts stretch beyond the classroom into the Red Bank community, including her role as co-advisor to student council, Grade Level Leader, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Site Team Representative, and Vice President of Red Bank Borough Education Association. Recently, Alyssa was recognized as a finalist for the 2021 Princeton University Prize for Distinguished Secondary School Teaching. Appreciating her colleagues and students to be a constant source of knowledge, kindness, grit, and inspiration, she is honored to be celebrated among many talented educators.


Morris County

Jonathan Dowler

Photo ofJonathan Dowler

Social Studies Teacher at West Morris Mendham High School in the West Morris Regional High School District

Jonathan Dowler began his teaching career at Mendham High School only a few weeks after receiving his undergraduate degree from The College of New Jersey and has become an integral part of the school community. He has taught all levels of American history as well as a variety of electives, but most proudly introduced Advanced Placement (AP) World History to the district. Jonathan’s prioritizing of argumentation, critical thinking and humor-infused student-centered learning results in consistently high engagement and test scores. He is passionate about collaborating with faculty members within and beyond his department. He writes curriculum, presents professional development and serves on a variety of committees promoting student wellness. Jonathan co-advises the Light & Sound Club, Student Council and Community Service Club with a focus on the annual blood drive and canned food drive. While this is his first major award, the nominations and letters from his colleagues, students and administrators will always be his greatest pride.


Ocean County

Michael DeRiggi, Jr.

Photo of Michael DeRiggi, Jr.

5th Grade Teacher at North Dover Elementary School in the Toms River Regional School District

Michael DeRiggi started his educational journey at Stockton University. It was there that he developed his passion for education. He started his student teaching experience in first grade at North Dover Elementary School and has been teaching there for the last thirteen years. He constantly uses data from various sources to best meet the needs of all his students and learners. Using data, he can conduct lessons that are differentiated to help guide student achievement. Michael tries diligently to make impacts both in and outside the class setting. He often watches his students perform in athletics and the arts which help create a strong teacher and student relationship. Michael enjoys collaborating with his peers and has conducted several professional development sessions to help his fellow teachers in any way that he can. This past year Michael received the Curriculum Associates Extraordinary Educator of the Year Award as well as this award. He is beyond honored and humbled to be recognized.


Passaic County

Tammy Cooper

Photo of Tammy Cooper

English Language Arts Teacher at Passaic High School in the Passaic School District

Tammy Cooper received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina and received another bachelor’s degree with a concentration in English literature from William Paterson University. She obtained her master’s degree in school administration and supervision from Montclair State University. Tammy was the first African American English teacher at Passaic High School. She has not only been of service as an educator, but as a school administrator in several capacities on short- and long-term assignments. Tammy’s commitment to education has been displayed in the growth of her students' state assessments in addition to teaching her students to be passionate lifelong learners. She has high expectations for all her students and holds them accountable while going above and beyond to support them with their needs in order to help them be successful. She believes that all students can make their dreams into realities with mentoring and strategic planning.


Salem County

Julie Knight

Photo of Julie Knight

Social Studies Teacher at Woodstown High School in the Woodstown Pilesgrove Regional School District

Julie Knight graduated magna cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in social studies from Rowan University and her master's degree in school leadership from Wilmington University. Upon graduating from Rowan University, Julie Knight returned to her alma mater, Woodstown High School, to begin her teaching career eleven years ago. Through her work as a classroom teacher, mentor, softball and Mock Trial coach and Student Government Advisor, Julie has made connections with students that have lasted well past graduation day. She takes pride in her ability to connect with students of all backgrounds, levels and interests. Her positive rapport results in a classroom environment where students feel valued in the classroom and comfortable discussing their views. Julie was a member of the Standards-Aligned Grading pilot within the district and has worked with teachers and administrators to turnkey the LinkIt! data and assessment tool. She was given the honor of being named a Woodrow Wilson Foundation History Fellow at their 2017 summer conference. Julie is most proud of the numerous opportunities she has had to stole former students in the National Honor Society as their "most influential teacher."


Somerset County

Darrin Wolsko

Photo of Darrin Wolsko

Science Teacher at Watchung Hills Regional High School in the Watchung Hills Regional High School District

Darrin Wolsko received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Montclair State University. He has taught for nearly twenty-five years, and in that time, he has been a middle school teacher, a supervisor, a high school teacher and even an adjunct college professor. For the last seventeen years, he has taught science at Watchung Hills, focusing on living things and their interconnectedness. He specializes in helping his students manage complex information with kindness and good humor. Darrin is a relationship-driven teacher, and students trust him to help not just with biology, but with navigating the challenges of being an adolescent in a complex world. They know he comes to school each day for them. He is a consummate team player that works with his colleagues to prepare resources that challenge all their students. His leadership in the school and his participation on strategic planning committees demonstrates his investment in the growth model. The most important thing he gives his students is a belief in themselves and someone who nurtures that belief. Darrin’s students know he cares about them, wants to be with them and believes in them.


Sussex County

Shawna Longo

Photo of Shawna Longo

Music Teacher and Arts Integration Specialist at Durban Avenue School in the Hopatcong Borough School DistrictShawna Longo holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and a master’s degree in public administration in arts administration from Seton Hall University. She is an international clinician and consultant for music education, technology, social emotional learning, arts integration, and science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). She also serves as a coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. Through her passion for music, Shawna creates a classroom environment of respect and eagerness to learn while instilling values that cannot be directly measured. She strives to stay ahead of the trends by continuously learning, so that she can transform her technology-integrated classroom into an engaging learning environment. Shawna attends many workshops where she brings ideas and best practices back to her district and turnkeys proven strategies to help her colleagues better integrate technology and turn it into positive outcomes. Making her students a priority in the classroom has garnered Shawna national and international recognition as an educator, given her opportunities to write curriculum, and be a professional development provider at the state, national and international levels. Her awards include 2019 Mike Kovins Technology for Music Educators Teacher of the Year, 2019 New Jersey Governor’s Award in Arts Education Leadership, 2019 Teach Rock Star Teacher Award from The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and 2018 New Jersey Music Educators Association Master Music Teacher Award.


Union County

Dennis Dagounis

Photo of Dennis Dagounis

Science Teacher at Roselle Park High School in the Roselle Park School District

Dennis Dagounis has degrees in nutritional science education and educational administration. He has taught all levels of biology and environmental earth science, and last year, one hundred percent of his Advanced Placement (AP) Biology students passed the AP exam. He designs learning experiences that are student-centered and exploratory, using real-life scenarios that enable students to think critically and collaborate to solve problems. Dennis integrates student choice and has found that as students are allowed to interact with the content in ways that appeal to their interests and abilities, they are able to develop a stronger understanding of the concepts. He has been instrumental in helping his colleagues with their technology and instructional needs, supporting them as they move towards developing student-driven and engaging learning experiences. He also oversees a cancer research student experience with Kean University, serves as the Chess Club Advisor and the Girls Volleyball Head Coach. He has received the Garden State Green Award, Jefferson Award for Public Service, PSE&G Environmental Education Grant, and served as a member of the US Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education Delegation to China.


Warren County

Faith Roncoroni

Photo of Faith Roncoroni

English Teacher at Phillipsburg High School in the Phillipsburg School District

Faith Roncoroni earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Lehigh University, where she is currently working toward her second master’s degree. She has taught in the English Department at Phillipsburg High School, her alma mater, for ten years. During her time at Phillipsburg, Faith is most proud of being the assistant coach of the girl’s tennis team and advisor of the Anime, Comics, and In Her Element Clubs. The members of the Anime and Comics Clubs have been running a successful Comic Con since 2015. In Her Element is the women empowerment club which focuses identifying issues that target women at school and in our community. They run a peer mentoring program, dispense resources through awareness campaigns, work with administration to address students’ needs, and team up with local agencies for ethical service. Faith constantly challenges herself to improve and connects her lessons to real-world issues and skills. She is an innovative educator who is not only willing to share her thoughts but collaborate with her colleagues to create the most dynamic lessons possible.


to top