New Jersey Department of Education

County Teachers of the Year 2022-23

County Teacher of the Year Virtual Award Ceremony

Atlantic County

Brenna Baker

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Biology Teacher at Absegami High School in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District

Brenna Baker earned a bachelor’s degree in marine science and education from Stockton University. She also holds a master’s degree in educational leadership and supervisor certification from The College of New Jersey. Brenna is currently defending her doctoral thesis at the University of New England. She has taught science and engineering for the past 19 years in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District and as an adjunct professor at Stockton University for the past eight years. She has led professional learning communities on assessment and Next Generation Science Standards, wrote over $40,000 in grants and is a founding member of the school Green Team. She received the Clean Teen Glitter Award, the 2009 Recipient of the March Teacher of the Month Award WXPN, and the 2019 Atlantic County Utilities Authority Clean Communities Litter Award. She has coached academic and extracurricular sports teams, advised clubs, directed backstage, and sat on countless committees. Because Brenna feels building culture in her classroom is one of the most, if not the most important aspect of teaching for her, her students view her classroom as a safe space where they are free to learn, to fail, to have an opinion, and to try. .


Bergen County

Gina DiMaggio

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English Teacher at Lyndhurst High School in the Lyndhurst School District

Gina DiMaggio holds a doctorate in education from Northeastern University, a master’s degree in educational leadership from The College of New Jersey, and a bachelor’s degree in English from Thomas Edison State University, earning the Arnold P. Fletcher Award of Excellence. She avidly seeks professional development opportunities and is an ardent volunteer and leader in her department, school, district, community, and state. During her 14-year tenure at Lyndhurst High School, she has taught all levels of English, including Advanced Placement (AP) Literature, English core and elective classes, SAT Prep (verbal and math), and science classes, helping increase student achievement in all classes. In addition to teaching, Gina serves as the advisor for the four-season Color Guard, competition Mock Trial team (2019 Quarterfinalists), and the newly formed Model United Nations (UN) team and serves as a member of the Equity Steering Committee. She believes in incorporating fun and equity into the classroom (students voted her the Most Comedic Teacher in 2012) and uses her twenty plus years of improvisation and comedy experience to allow her students to feel both welcome and inspired in her classroom.


Burlington County

Sarah Sherman

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English Teacher at Rancocas Valley Regional High Schooll in the Rancocas Valley Regional High School District

Sarah Sherman graduated from the University of Virginia with a master’s degree in English before attending the George Washington University to pursue another master’s degree in in Secondary English Education. In her 10 years of teaching, Sarah has been active in several initiatives to support marginalized students across different socioeconomic backgrounds. Starting with her work at Leadership, Education, And Partnership (LEAP) Academy in Camden, and continuing throughout her seven years at Rancocas Valley (RV) Regional High School, Sarah has made validating student voices an integral part of her pedagogy. Her founding of the RV Black Student Union has created a model for other south Jersey high schools that seek to develop their own groups to support and celebrate students of color. A self-described “newspaper geek,” Sarah is also passionate about journalism and advises RV’s student-run newspaper, which continues to grow through her efforts. Teaching writing is what Sarah enjoys most, and her experience as an expository writing instructor at Rutgers University continues to guide her work in the classroom and with college-bound students.


Camden County

Michael Weppler

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Mathematics Teacher at Winslow Township Middle School in the Winslow Township School District

Michael Weppler earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Scranton, a supervisor’s certificate, and two bachelor's degrees from Rowan University, one in elementary education and one in geography. His educational background allows students opportunities for cross-curricular connections to be naturally infused into lessons. This helps his students see success in the classroom and beyond while fostering lifelong learning. Michael encourages students to build on their strengths to realize the impact they can have. His involvement and advanced coursework have helped him transform him into a teacher leader. These experiences help him empower students to be leaders at an early age. Michael received the outstanding graduate student award from the University of Scranton and was named Staff Member of the Month before being named Teacher of the Year. Michael is a chairperson on the school's green team, team leader of the School Wellness Committee, member of the School Leadership Committee, head cross country coach, assistant track coach, and a bookkeeper for athletic events. He strives to show his students the relevance of topics to the world around them both in the present and in the future, while challenging students to see beyond the basic concepts.


Cape May County

Stephen Serano

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Culinary Arts Teacher at Wildwood High School in the Wildwood School District

Stephen Serano attended the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, New Jersey, and completed his culinary degree. He received his bachelor’s degree at Thomas Edison State University. He was the 2015 Chef of the Year at the Restaurant Gala in Atlantic City, and Teacher of the Month in Cape May in September 2021. He runs the food truck, The Warrior Wagon, at football games, caters events for scholarship dinners, and participates in festivals all over the island. Stephen has been teaching for 10 years and feels one of his greatest accomplishments was starting the Culinary Arts Program at the high school. With his students in the program, he strives to make his lessons engaging to create a high level of excitement to ensure that they will achieve their goals.


Cumberland County

Jennifer Carbone

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Science Teacher at Bridgeton Public School Excel Program in the Bridgeton School District

Jennifer Carbone earned her bachelor’s degree from Stockton University and her Teacher of Students with Disabilities certificate from Rowan University. She is in her eighth year of teaching, all in the Bridgeton School District. Jennifer is dedicated to educating our youth and developing a rapport with her students. A lifelong learner, she completes numerous hours of professional development and attends education conferences every year. She is involved in several school committees, including the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, Academic Excellence, Parade of Champions, Safety Patrol and Honor Society. Two of her biggest contributions to her school have been the development of a recycling program that gives back to the school and holding the first Honor Society induction. Jennifer has also co-hosted Math and Science Family Nights and has taught parent classes in the evening. Her commitment to education is highlighted by the fact that her school has the highest standardized test scores for science in the district. .


Essex County

Kristen Dunleavy

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Special Education Teacher at Redwood Elementary School in the West Orange School District 

Kristen Dunleavy earned her undergraduate degree in special education and master’s degree in counseling from The College of New Jersey. Kristen has been serving West Orange students and families for 16 years. Her teaching strengths are greatly supported by her social-emotional insights. Kristen is certified as a Supervisor in Education and contributes with her leadership in various school roles. She is a member of her school’s Pandemic Team, and she mentors’ colleagues in creating a thriving digital learning environment. She is also a Google Certified Educator, and her lessons are brought to life through the research and incorporation of constantly evolving virtual learning tools. Most importantly, Kristen advocates for disability awareness, inclusion, and representation. As a life-long wheelchair user, she teaches by example with her unique perspective on life, learning and perseverance. She is professionally driven to empower students of all abilities with the skills and strategies needed to achieve success.


Gloucester County

Lisa Dolby

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English & Special Education Teacher at Delsea High School in the Delsea Regional School District

Lisa Dolby holds a bachelor’s degree in English with secondary education and special education endorsements from Rowan University. She also holds a master’s degree in teaching, learning, and curriculum from Drexel University. Lisa supports her district colleagues as both a technology mentor and instructional coach. Her students have participated in multiple service learning and community-based projects. Recently, her 18 to 21-year-old Transitions students placed in the top five in a tri-state competition, hosted by EverFi, Firstrust Bank, and the Philadelphia Eagles, where they earned funding for their school-based enterprise. In 2014, Lisa founded Delsea's Fairy Godmother fundraising program to help disadvantaged students cover the cost of senior year activities including the prom and senior trip. She also serves as Renaissance Club advisor and Homecoming Coordinator. Lisa believes that knowledge breaks barriers and all students can succeed. It is what they can do that we should focus on, not what they cannot do.


Hudson County

Ariel Babcock

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Social Studies Teacher and Media Specialist at Weehawken High School in the Weehawken Township School District

Ariel Babcock earned her master’s degree from New Jersey City University in educational technology. In her time at Weehawken High School, she has taught a variety of social studies courses from inclusion and co-teaching classes to Advanced Placement history classes. Ariel’s classes are rigorous yet accessible, as she strives to make learning student-centered and culturally responsive. Her goal is to ensure that her students see themselves as part of the curriculum, regardless of their background, experiences, or abilities. She also works to ensure her students recognize their role and responsibility to the local and global community. Ariel is an integral member of Weehawken High School’s Future Ready Schools and Sustainable Jersey teams and has served as a teacher leader and as the school media specialist. She advises the school’s National Honor Society, Student Council, and Girls Who Code Club. She looks forward to continuing to grow as an educator and inspiring the innovators of tomorrow.


Hunterdon County

Brian Smith

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English Teacher at Delaware Valley Regional High School in the Delaware Valley Regional High School

Brian Smith received his bachelor’s degree in English education from the University of Delaware and his master’s degree in educational practice from Centenary University. He also recently became a Certified Journalism Educator through the Journalism Education Association. He has been teaching for the past thirteen years, eleven of them at his alma mater, Delaware Valley Regional High School. His students have earned some of the highest AP scores in the school's history, and several of his journalism students have written award-winning articles. He has also been the school's debate coach, drumline director and student newspaper advisor. His drumlines have won state and national championships, as well as having been invited to play at several New Jersey Devils hockey games. Brian believes that every student can achieve greatness as long as student voices are championed in the classroom. He demonstrates this in his classroom through his mantra, there are no wrong answers, only weak arguments.


Mercer County

Leigh Cline

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Second Grade Teacher at Parkway Elementary School in the Ewing Township School District

Leigh Cline graduated from The College of New Jersey with her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and psychology and her master’s degree in elementary education with supervisor and principal certifications. Leigh serves on various school and district committees and enjoys facilitating Title I events and clubs. She earned a Promising Practice Award from for a school-wide project with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen as well as several grants from the Ewing Public Education Foundation. When she is not teaching, advising an afterschool club, or serving as the local union secretary, Leigh can be found working with the New Jersey Alliance for Social Emotional and Character Development, her daughter’s school Parent Teacher Organization, or Mount Laurel Baseball. What defines Leigh as an extraordinary educator is her passion for learning about and making connections with her students, infusing social emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, and positive psychology in classroom, and her willingness to take on leadership roles.


Middlesex County

Leana Malinowsky

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Second Grade Teacher at Private Nicholas Minue School in the Carteret School District

With degrees from Kean University in special education, English, and curriculum and instruction, Leana Malinowsky is a certified elementary classroom teacher, special educator, and reading specialist. She engages her students through differentiated instruction, access to high quality literature, and a commitment to best practices through a cross curricular framework. Colleagues describe her as a source of inspiration, support, and motivation. Professional service is at the heart of her commitment to education. She serves on multiple grade-level, building and district-level committees to develop curriculum, support students, and address climate within her school. Leana continues her professional development and leadership through organizations including Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education, from which she received the Regional Chapter Counselor Award. Leana continues to publish, present, and serve as a guest speaker as she shares her knowledge, love of learning and literacy with educators at all stages of their careers. She strives to make a difference in the lives of her students by developing a love of reading and lifelong learning.


Monmouth County

Kimberly Grigoli

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Kindergarten Teacher at Spring Lake Heights Elementary School in the Spring Lake Heights School District

Kimberly Grigoli earned a bachelor’s degree from Stockton University and a master’s degree from Walden University. She taught fourth grade at the Matawan Aberdeen School District where she was the recipient of two Education Foundation Grants. She served as Director of Elementary Programming at Lakehouse Music Academy in Asbury Park. Kimberly is currently a kindergarten teacher at Spring Lake Heights Elementary School where she shares her love and passion for music and learning with her students. She consistently creates an environment where all students feel welcome, safe, and supported. Kimberly has been recognized three times as Tools of the Mind Kindergarten Teacher of the Month. She believes in the importance of creating a relationship with the community, works closely with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and is a member of her school’s Strategic Planning Committee. She also believes in the importance of embracing student diversity by focusing on their social-emotional learning and differentiating instruction to meet varying needs.


Morris County

Andrea Ritacco

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Business Education Teacher at Whippany Park High School in the Hanover Park Regional High School District

Andrea Ritacco graduated from Villanova University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and is also a graduate of the New Pathways to Teaching program. She has been teaching business education at Whippany Park High School since receiving her certification thirteen years ago. She takes great pride in knowing that she is giving her students the tools they need to be successful in high school and beyond. Andrea serves on several school committees but finds the most joy in those that celebrate student achievements such as the Underclassmen Awards Committee and the selection committee for Whippany Park’s Student of the Month and “Character Counts'' awards. Andrea is also the Business Education Department Coordinator and the adviser of the school’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, where in the past eight years, she has mentored three state-level officers and several national competitors including one national champion. Andrea is passionate about business and helping her students discover their future career paths and strives to serve as a role model for young women who are considering a career in business.


Ocean County

Christine Girtain

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Science Teacher & Director of Authentic Science Research at Toms River High School North & South in the Toms River Regional School District

Christine Girtain has a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in education from The College of New Jersey and a master’s in earth science instruction and curriculum from Kean University. She student taught in Lancaster, England, and at Trenton Central High School. She has been teaching science for 28 years including Earth Science, Biology, and Authentic Science Research. Christine has been recognized twice as her school’s Teacher of the Year. She is the New Jersey science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) Pathways 2019 STEM Teacher of the Year and a 2021 New Jersey state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Partnering with the Army and Navy, Christine is building an equitable K-12 STEM Pipeline to help students find their STEM identities. Her research students develop their educational plans. She has taken students to do research in Costa Rica and on educational tours in Europe. Christine is a national presenter and advocate for increasing agricultural literacy working with Nourish the Future, the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board, the Beef Checkoff, and The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. .


Passaic County

Emily Blumberg

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Science Teacher at Passaic Preparatory Academy in the Passaic School District

Emily Blumberg received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and master’s degree in physical sciences education from Rutgers University. As the first female physics teacher in Passaic, it is Emily’s goal to make science more inclusive for all students. She empowers her students to see themselves as capable science learners by designing student centered, inquiry based curricular materials for her school district. Emily believes that teaching is a journey of continuous improvement and is constantly seeking out opportunities to further develop her teaching practice. This has led her to become a Knowles Fellow, a JerseyCAN Teacher Leadership Policy Fellow, and a National High Magnetic Field Lab Research Experience for Teachers Fellow. She founded and now leads an Observation Club at her school where teachers collaborate to support each other and improve their practice. The confidence and growth of her students is a testament to her ability to engage all students in learning.


Salem County

Erika Knorr

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Kindergarten Teacher at Elmer Elementary School in the Pittsgrove Township School District

Erika Knorr graduated Magna Cum Laude from Rowan University in 2012 with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, special education, and American studies. For the past nine years she taught kindergarten; eight of those years being in a special education setting. Erika holds the position as grade-level chair where she is a liaison between the staff and administration and is also the union representative for her school. She serves on many committees to help ensure that her students are receiving the best education, allowing all learners to thrive and succeed. Erika developed her grade level report cards, wrote, and launched new curriculums, is the Title I Extended Day Coordinator, and advocates for all students on the Intervention and Referral Services team. What defines her as an extraordinary educator is her ability to build relationships with every student that enters her classroom. In her spare time, Erika can be found supporting and cheering on her students at various events, showing them that relationships go well beyond the walls of the classroom.


Somerset County

Ian Evans

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English Teacher at Hillsborough Middle School in the Hillsborough Township School District

Ian Evans earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and his master’s degree from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. He has ten years of teaching experience, all of which have been at Hillsborough Middle School teaching seventh grade literacy. His passion for teaching stems from connecting to his students on an individual basis, letting them know he is invested in their lives. Ian is a regular participant in his school’s mentoring program and has run two extracurricular activities: Writers House, a creative writing workshop, and HMS Club for an Anti-Racist and Equitable School, a social activism club dedicated to discussing current events and addressing issues of inequity in the local community. In addition to his work with students, Ian has presented staff training on bystander intervention in his district and was also a presenter at the 2021 New Jersey Department of Education Statewide Equity Conference. His best attributes are his reflective practice, thoughtfulness, willingness to listen, and creativity.


Sussex County

Christine O’Brien-Mase

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Art and Photography Teacher at Sparta High School in the Sparta Township School District

Christine O’Brien-Mase, a graduate of Sparta High School, went to New York University for their set design program and University of the Arts in Philadelphia for her bachelor’s degree in photography and art therapy. She has a master’s degree in teaching and is presently pursuing a post baccalaureate degree from Kean University in Teaching the Holocaust and Prejudice Reduction. She was the recipient of The Studio Award and considered the ‘up and coming’ photographer of Philadelphia. She worked in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, and taught at the Boys and Girls Club of Hoboken. She then moved to Sussex County, continued to follow her passion for art and photography, and taught at Sussex County Community College and Centenary University. Her students have earned honors and awards such as first place in the New Jersey State Fair, first place in the New Jersey Teen Arts Festival, second place in the Congressional Institute Art Competition, and were featured in the National Art Honor Society Student Exhibit and Nikon Forum. In 2021, all her Advanced Placement students received fives’s and one student earned a perfect score. She helps her students understand that being creative is needed for their futures.


Union County

Candice Testa

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First Grade Teacher at William J. McGinn Elementary School in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District

Candice Testa graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Scranton and a master’s degree from Rutgers University. For the past 20 years, she has influenced the lives and guided the learning of hundreds of elementary students. Her dedication to her profession can be seen each day, where she regularly encourages and meets the needs of all levels of learners in her first-grade class. As a teacher leader, Candice supports her colleagues where her door is always open to veteran and young teachers alike. She serves as the President of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Education Association where she has molded a tight-knit community of educators and staff who recognize their best interests will be met during the school year and beyond. Candice is a recipient of the Building Teacher Leader Capacity Grant Project, awarded by Kean University, in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE). Advocating for her students has been her drive and knowing that she played a part in their success over the last two decades is her greatest accomplishment.


Warren County

Daryl Detrick

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Computer Science Teacher at Warren Hills Regional High School in the Warren Hills Regional School District

Daryl Detrick earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in civil and environmental engineering. After a short career as an engineer, he started teaching at Warren Hills High School via alternate route certification. Daryl believes that one of his most important roles as a high school educator is to prepare students for life beyond high school, socially, emotionally and academically. He works hard to create an inclusive and inviting environment that helps open doors of opportunity for all students. He has developed a robust computer science program and club Computer Science at Warren Hills in which students have won many awards for women in computing and cybersecurity, including the nationally recognized Girls Coding with Girls program. Daryl has helped lead computer science advocacy in New Jersey since 2012 as CS4NJ Director, Computer Science Teachers Association of New Jersey past-president & co-founder, Garden State Cyber co-chair, and Governor’s Computer Science Advisory Board member. He is actively involved with Warren County Habitat for Humanity, Pedals for Progress and Washington Township Trails Committee. He has won the National Center for Women & Information Technology New Jersey Educator Award, Computer Science Teachers Association National Educator and Advocacy Awards and is a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow.


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