New Jersey Department of Education

County Teachers of the Year 2023-2024

County Teacher of the Year Virtual Award Ceremony

Atlantic County

Erin Sharpe

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Science Teacher at Cedar Creek High School in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District

Erin Sharpe has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stockton University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Rowan University. She has a passion for learning and for helping young adults find success through science. Her current teaching assignments include Honors Marine and Wildlife Management and Sustainability Internship, where she focuses on data collection and utilization to encourage students to make sustainable choices. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she has been an educator onboard the research vessel Atlantis, and fosters and brings her family's Seeing Eye puppies to school. Erin is a valued adviser of Cedar Creek's Sustainable Jersey for School’s Green Team and Class Councils. She has founded school clubs such as the Shore Bowl, High School Ball Hockey, and Creek Anglers. She encourages service and giving back to the community as displayed by her Seeing Eye puppy, Kent, who she brings to school twice a week. She has twenty-two years of volunteer service with Rutgers University’s Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County 4-H Clubs and The New Jersey 4-H Equine Communications team. Erin is probably best known for what she gives of herself, and that giving of herself every day is what puts her all over the school building. She looks at every day as an opportunity to help someone else.


Bergen County

Gary Whitehead

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

Gary Whitehead earned a master’s degree in English from Iowa State University, and a master’s degree in teaching English and a bachelor’s degree in English from Rhode Island College. He has taught at Tenafly High School for twenty-six years, where he has advised both the newspaper and the literary journal, positions which have helped him empower students to find their writing voices, spark their creativity, learn to love literature, and develop leadership skills. Gary is a recipient of the Princeton University Distinguished Secondary School Teaching Award. Also a practicing poet, he has published four books of poetry, including A Glossary of Chickens, which was selected for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets and published by Princeton University Press. His writing has won many awards, including a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and his poetry has been published widely, most notably in The New Yorker. His dual career as a writer and teacher has helped him infuse his lessons with real-world teaching moments, which have inspired students at every level.


Burlington County

Nicola Recla Fischer

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Kindergarten Teacher at Captain James Lawrence Elementary School in the Burlington City School District

Nicola Recla Fischer earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Grand Canyon University and a bachelor's degree in sociology and education from Georgian Court University. Throughout her twenty-six-year tenure as a kindergarten teacher in the Burlington City School District she has profoundly impacted student success. She establishes a sense of community in her classroom that inspires pride, confidence, and risk-taking through exciting and differentiated instruction. She was the Captain James Lawrence School’s Teacher of the Year three times and Burlington City’s 2023 District Teacher of the Year. She received a Women’s History citation from the Burlington City Mayor and Common Council and was also selected as one of 181 New Jersey Exemplary Educators. Nicola is the unit leader for her grade level, has led professional development workshops on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion, sits on numerous committees, and is an active Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) member. She makes learning come to life in a safe, nurturing environment with high expectations. Her enthusiasm and dedication as an educator, ability to inspire others, and community involvement are contagious.


Camden County

Ron Smith

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Environmental Science Educator at Haddonfield Memorial High School in the Haddonfield School District

For over two decades Ron Smith has led the environmental education program for the Haddonfield School District. With Pinelands Preservation Alliance, he established the Life Science Field Training Institute, a week-long program that trains teachers in field study methods. He is the Director of the Drexel University Environmental Science Leadership Academy for high school students, a program that brings together students from across the country to study field-based environmental science in preparation for university study and professional careers in science. Ron is an environmental science educator, naturalist and community science project leader from Merchantville, New Jersey. With 30 years of Project and Place-Based Learning experience, he leads community science adventures for children and adults alike. Collaborating with various conservation organizations and scientists from universities and state agencies, he has initiated community science projects ranging from Horseshoe Crab Rescues to Frog Surveys. He documented and shared these projects in his book “Adventures in Community Science” published by Schiffer Publishing. Ron’s class is one of discoveries and experience. The activities he designs in the classroom are matched with field work making the education an emersion in true science practice.


Cape May County

Alison Curvan

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3rd Grade Teacher, Dennis Twp. Elementary School, Dennis Twp. School District

Alison Curvan is a graduate of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey where she holds bachelor degrees in education and psychology. She serves as the membership chair, PRIDE co-chair, and secretary of her local teachers’ association. Alison believes that community involvement is vital to the success of a school. As her school’s public information liaison and community engagement coordinator, she strives to provide opportunities for students, families, and district stakeholders to connect in meaningful ways. She has helped coordinate a wide variety of school events, community service projects, and after school programs for students. Alison helped create the Dream Like Drew organization, which promotes inclusive practices, and provides financial assistance to families of children with disabilities. She is an advocate of social and emotional education, and she is professionally driven by the belief that all children deserve equitable opportunities in and out of the classroom.


Cumberland County

Betsy Harrison

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Music Teacher at Cumberland Regional High School in the Cumberland Regional High School District

Betsy Harrison holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from West Chester University and is a master’s degree candidate at Westminster Choir College. She has been the Vocal-Choral and Drama Director at Cumberland Regional High School (CRHS) for over twenty-five years where she conducts the choirs, teaches piano class and voice lessons, and directs the spring musical. She is the Tri-M Music Honor Society advisor and former department coordinator. Thanks to her tenure at CRHS she has been named Teacher of the Year 2023 and is listed in Who’s Who Among American High School Teachers and Who’s Who Among American Women. Over the years, she has appeared in numerous productions and has directed for Avalon Players, Cumberland Players, Ocean City Theatre Company, and Oakwood Summer Theatre. As a former Miss America local titleholder, she continues to volunteer by being an entertainer, emcee, judge, and the Executive Director of the Miss Cumberland County Pageant from 2002 to 2022. In Betsy’s classroom, music introduces cultures, develops skills, opens minds, empowers futures, and changes lives.


Essex County

Shamshadeen Mayers

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Social Science Teacher at Bloomfield High School in the Bloomfield School District

Shamshadeen Mayers earned his bachelor's degree in political science from Kean University, his master's degree in special education from Hunter College, and another master's degree in educational administration from Caldwell University. He began his fifteen-year career in the prestigious New York City Teaching Fellows Program as a special education elementary teacher. Upon completing this fellowship, he served as a middle school teacher at a charter school in Newark, New Jersey. In 2016, Shamshadeen returned to his alma mater, Bloomfield High School, and he currently teaches AP Comparative Government, and United States History I Honors. He is also the Mock Trial Team Coach and Red Cross Advisor at Bloomfield High School. In 2021, the New Jersey Council for Social Studies recognized him as Teacher of the Year for his ability to create experiential learning opportunities for his students. As a result, his students have worked with the New Jersey Community Development Corporation, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, and the National Park Service. Shamshadeen encourages his students’ habits of mind, develops their facility with skills, and motivates their academic participation with a classroom environment that is kind, patient, and supportive so students can meet the high expectations he sets for them.


Gloucester County

Phillip Neff

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Science Teacher at Paulsboro High Schooll in the Paulsboro School District

Dr. Phillip Neff graduated magna cum laude from with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s and doctoral degree in educational leadership all from Rowan University. He received his Comprehensive Science Education Certificate and began his career at Paulsboro High School in 1997 teaching physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, physical science, and anatomy and physiology with a wide range of students from special education through honors. He served as an administrator from 2004 to 2019 in positions that included assistant principal, principal, director of curriculum, and chief school administrator. In 2019, he returned to his roots in the classroom. He has served as the science department leader on the Annual School Planning Committee and will serve as the Science Department Chairperson in the 2023-24 school year. He has been a resident within his district for eighteen years, and his sons are students, athletes, and student council members at the high school where he teaches. Outside of the classroom, he attends school sporting events, concerts, and awards banquets. Also in his spare time, Dr. Neff educates the public around the East Coast as a Civil War living historian with his 15-year-old son. He and his son volunteer at numerous national and state parks and other historical sites including Gettysburg.


Hudson County

Jennifer Donnelly

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Science Teacher and Jose Marti STEM Academy in the Union City School District

Jennifer Donnelly graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Chestnut Hill College and another bachelor’s degree in Biology from Caldwell College. After college she worked in clinical research for Ortho Pharmaceuticals. She followed her heart and became a STEM educator twenty-eight years ago. She teaches Scientific Research, Advanced Topics Biology and AP Biology at the Jose Marti STEM Academy. Her research students have won numerous awards at national and international competitions such as Science Talent Search, Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, New Jersey Academy of Science, and The International Science and Engineering Fair. As a teacher leader she trains middle and elementary school teachers in scientific research, expanding the Union City Summer Research program to kindergarten to twelfth grade. Over the course of her career, she has received the following accolades: “Distinguished Educator" by the National Society of High School Scholars, Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, The Society for Science Grant Advocate cohort winner, and a three-time SAGE teaching award recipient. Jennifer is passionate about scientific research; it defines the work she does with her students and as a teacher leader.


Hunterdon County

Gargi Adhikari

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Special Education Teacher at Holland Brook School in the Readington Township School District

Gargi Adhikari has a bachelor’s degree in geography with a concentration in earth science and environmental science from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in special education high-incidence disability from Kean University. As a Teacher of Students with Disabilities, her assignments included teaching second through fifth-grade inclusion and pull-out resource room teaching. She has also taught preschool autism classes utilizing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach/Discrete Trial. She helps write lesson plans for the team, shares advice on scientific discourse, and discovers new technologies that the team can use in their classrooms. Gargi is a national presenter and she presented at the New Jersey Council for Exceptional Children Spring conferences. She is an elected member of the National Science Teaching Association’s Special Needs Advisory Board and was appointed to serve as the Chairperson on the Board. She serves on the State of New Jersey Department of Education’s Elementary Science Advisory Committee working on the fifth-grade state science assessment. At the district level she is part of the Social Awareness Strategic Planning Committee, District Green Committee, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative, and the School Climate Committee. She has shown leadership within the school community by leading a Postcard Project sponsored by the Club for the Future. The project gave students the opportunity to dream of what it would be like to live in outer space in the future and also think of our planet’s future. She takes time to listen to her students, collaborate with teachers, and keep her students engaged and interested.


Mercer County

Yulieth Le

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4th Grade Teacher at Lawrence Intermediate School in the Lawrence Township Public Schools

Yulieth Le earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Rider University. She has been teaching 4th grade at Lawrence Intermediate School for the past seven years. Yulieth strives to be a kind and compassionate teacher. She creates a positive and nurturing classroom environment where students are encouraged to challenge themselves and take risks.Yulieth is dedicated to helping students grow and develop as learners.

Yulieth has established herself as a teacher leader in her district by volunteering on multiple committees and by piloting new programs. Yulieth is currently her local union’s corresponding secretary. Yulieth, in conjunction with the Lawrence Township Education Association, started a “Latinos Unidos” program at Lawrence Intermediate School. The program helps bridge the communication gap between her school and Spanish-speaking families in the community. Yulieth has been awarded several classroom grants by the Lawrence Township Education Foundation. These include hands-on experiences for students, flexible seating options, and inclusive and diverse books for her classroom library. Yulieth is committed to creating an environment where all students and families feel respected and welcomed.


Middlesex County

Julie Mercier

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English Language Arts Teacher at North Brunswick Township High School in the North Brunswick Township School District

Julie Mercier's career began in Brooklyn, New York, twenty-five years ago as a reading and writing teacher for at-risk youth. In New York City, she learned how to write grants, work on comprehensive school reform, and obtained two master’s degrees. Along with balancing life as a mom of two daughters, she became a cross country and track coach, created a strong English freshmen academy squad, and evolved into an independent educational college advisor, going forty for forty on senior college acceptances last year. Julie's strength lies within her ability to mentor novice staff members, as well as guide her students in her Tomorrow's Teachers program. Julie is also known to assist in her community through volunteer service. Julie is an active part of the Somerset Moms Group and works with her daughters to provide assistance to the community when needed. During one of many storms that happened to cause flooding in Somerset, Julie organized a food train for varying individuals who were struggling after losing power and dealing with the effects of a flooded home. She can ignite the spark within the next generation, as her energy, encouragement, and honesty compel these individuals to believe in themselves. Once a student "belongs to Ms. Merc" they are never without a lifelong mentor.


Monmouth County

Joseph Nappi

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Social Studies Teacher at Monmouth Regional High School in the Monmouth Regional School District

Joseph Nappi received his bachelor’s degree in history from Rowan University and has been teaching Holocaust, Genocide and Modern Humanity as well as United States History at Monmouth Regional High School for eighteen years. He also serves as the Key Club Advisor, a member of the Equity Council, and the chair of the Monmouth Helping Its Own Charitable committee which he co-founded. Since taking over the Holocaust Class, he has taken over six hundred students to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. where he has been honored to serve as a Museum Teacher Fellow since 2019. He is also an Alfred Lerner Fellow with the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, a member of the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (CHHANGE), and serves as his district's liaison to the Diversity Council at Kean University. Joe’s work in challenging his students to "Be the Change" they wish to see in the world has seen his students pursue a variety of philanthropic endeavors, taking on problems both local and global. His students have pursued campaigns to end human trafficking, infuse Holocaust and Genocide education in curricula nationwide, and raise money for refugee resettlement in the United States, just to name a few.


Morris County

Robin Meyh

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Health & Physical Education Teacher at Mendham High School in the West Morris Regional School District (recently retired)

Robin Meyh earned her bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and a master’s degree in health education from The College of New Jersey. During her thirty-five years at Mendham High School, she has taught all levels of physical education and health education. In addition to teaching, she boasts seventy seasons of coaching as the head coach of both the field hockey and girls’ lacrosse teams. Robin was integral in the development, implementation, and growth of the Adventure Challenge course which has been an exemplary model for local schools to replicate. To further enhance the adventure experience, she helped create the Peer Adventure Lead Student (PALS) program which allows upperclassmen leadership opportunities to facilitate and guide underclassmen. She has led her department through countless transitions of curriculum, supervision, and development and uses her years of experience, strong leadership skills, and calm voice of reason in even the most challenging situations. Colleagues describe her as an extraordinary educator with a natural ability to motivate her students, lead by example, and collaborate with others.


Ocean County

Jaclyn Potochar

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English Language Arts & Science Teacher at Lake Riviera Middle School in the Brick Township School District

Jaclyn Potochar holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and psychology, and a master’s degree in psychological counseling from Monmouth University. She has been teaching at Lake Riviera Middle School for fifteen years. She has been assigned a very diverse cohort of students because of her skills at relationship building, her pedagogy, and her skill in meeting the individual needs of all of her students. By any metric you choose, all of her students are successful. The attendance of her students is better than the school average which speaks to her ability to excite and engage her students. Her assessment scores are the highest at her grade level. Disciplinary referrals are virtually non-existent which speaks to her relationship building. She also has more parent requests than any other seventh grade teacher which speaks to the reputation she has in the community. Jaclyn is a unit leader who assists administration in planning and ensuring an effective work environment for staff and students. She is often requested as a professional development presenter for school-based initiatives. She is an active member of the School Improvement Panel, Climate Team, and National Junior Honor Society Council. She believes the most important element in her teaching style is creating a classroom culture of acceptance, hard work, and respect, as these ultimately lead to academic success.


Passaic County

Amanda Rhodes

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5th Grade Teacher at School 11 in the Clifton School District

Amanda Rhodes graduated from Montclair State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in human ecology and a concentration in early childhood education. She has been a fifth-grade teacher at School 11 in Clifton for the past seven years. She models leadership in and out of the classroom by serving on several curriculum development committees and mentoring new teachers. Amanda is also the coach of the school's Positive Behavior Support in Schools Team, where she works to support student and teacher success by creating positive, predictable, equitable and safe learning environments. She believes in the importance of creating a classroom community where her students are celebrated, loved, and respected. She knows that students who enjoy learning are successful, and she works to challenge her students daily with experiences that are meaningful, engaging, and funAmanda Rhodes graduated from Montclair State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in human ecology and a concentration in early childhood education. She has been a fifth-grade teacher at School 11 in Clifton for the past seven years. She models leadership in and out of the classroom by serving on several curriculum development committees and mentoring new teachers. For the last four years, she has held the position of Universal Team Coach for the school’s Positive Behavior, Interventions, and Supports program where Amanda was integral in developing the framework that defines her school’s four expectations of being RARE (Respectful, Attentive, Responsible, and Enthusiastic) that the students and staff embody. Amanda is also the coach of the school's Positive Behavior Support in Schools Team, where she works to support student and teacher success by creating positive, predictable, equitable and safe learning environments. She believes in the importance of creating a classroom community where her students are celebrated, loved, and respected. She knows that students who enjoy learning are successful, and she works to challenge her students daily with experiences that are meaningful, engaging, and fun.


Salem County

Andrea Wendell

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Science Teacher at Pittsgrove Township Middle School in the Pittsgrove Township School District

Andrea Wendell earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and elementary education from Drew University. Her passion for service before self-led her to her first teaching assignment in 1998, in Cameroon, Africa, with the American Peace Corps. While there, she gained valuable insight into the importance of community in raising and educating children. Her love of travel took her backpacking through Africa and trekking through four continents, providing her with real-world experiences that she incorporates into her daily teaching. She later earned her Teacher of the Handicapped certification and began teaching in Vineland, New Jersey. In 2005, she began teaching in Pittsgrove. She teaches fifth- to eighth-grade science and is the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Medical Detectives instructor. She actively encourages after-school learning through the school's science club, where her students participate in hands-on experiences to explore the wonders of STEM. Additionally, she oversees the school’s production studio, providing students with a creative outlet for filming and editing to enhance the school's positive climate. As a member of the school improvement committee and a teacher mentor in her school, Andrea continues to support her fellow educators and work towards creating an optimal learning environment for all her students.


Somerset County

Corinne Laurie

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Health & Physical Education Teacherr at North Plainfield Middle School in the North Plainfield School District

Corinne Laurie earned her bachelor's degree from Seton Hall University and her master's degree from Montclair State University. She has dedicated twenty-four years to education and has taught at North Plainfield Middle School her entire career. Trained as a health and physical education teacher, her background and experience have also allowed her to develop and teach other unique courses that focus on high school, college and career readiness, as well as social and emotional learning. She has been involved with several projects and initiatives that have positively impacted her district. She is part of her district's New Teacher Induction program, serves as a professional learning committee (PLC) team leader, and is a member of the School-Based Planning Team, leading the School Opening Committee. Corinne forms and cultivates lasting relationships with her students. She was recognized in her school district's Top Ten Program and as the high school valedictorian's most influential teacher. Many former students return years later to speak with her classes about how they applied the skills and concepts taught in her classes to their personal lives and their success. She is forever evolving and developing methods and strategies to reach all students, always addressing the variety of backgrounds and needs of the student population.


Sussex County

Tara Scrittore

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Kindergarten Teacher at Hamburg School in the Hamburg School District

Tara Scrittore earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Albany and is a graduate of the Essex County Provisional Teacher Training Consortium. She has been teaching for seventeen years, all within the early childhood setting. Her passion for structured literacy and the Science of Reading has led her on a nearly completed journey to receive her Orton-Gillingham Associate Level Certification, which has directly impacted her students' success in the classroom. Students with language-based learning disorders, such as dyslexia, especially benefit from this instructional approach. She has served as a mentor teacher for new teachers in her district, a cooperating teacher for student teachers, she is a member of her school’s District Evaluation Advisory Committee and has worked part time as a content scoring leader for the nonprofit Educational Testing Service for the past sixteen years, helping to promote teacher licensure. Tara strongly believes that how you learn is as important as what you learn and is proud her classroom is a nurturing place for students to thrive.


Union County

Kristen Hickman

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STEAM Teacher at Roselle Park Middle School in the Roselle Park School District

Kristen Hickman earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Montclair State University and a master’s degree in the Education of Science from Walden University. She has been teaching for twenty years, including teaching as an adjunct professor at John Jay College in New York and as a middle school science and STEM teacher. She currently teaches Project Lead The Way (PLTW) at Roselle Park Middle School and has implemented other project-based learning across the district. She works closely with colleagues for cross-curricular opportunities for students to expand their learning. She works hard at integrating real-life lessons into the curriculum to keep students engaged and thinking, therefore, allowing a deeper understanding of the material. Kristen is the Co-Advisor of the Middle School Technology Student Association (TSA) program; the students have placed in multiple competitions and won the Spark STEM Innovation award in 2021. She has secured numerous grants to expand the STEM program for students to think beyond the classroom. She adapts every lesson to ensure every student knows they can be successful.


Warren County

Colleen Grzywacz

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Vocal Music Teacher at Hackettstown Middle School in the Hackettstown School District

Colleen Grzywacz earned her bachelor’s degree in music education with a vocal concentration from The College of New Jersey and a master’s degree in school counseling from Kean University. She has been a vocal music teacher for the past eighteen years. She taught at Eisenhower Intermediate School in Bridgewater, New Jersey for ten years before moving to Hackettstown Middle School. Her primary focus includes teaching choir to fifth through eighth grade students, some of whom have earned accolades on the county, regional, state, eastern, and national levels. When attending Colleen’s concerts, one sees a breadth of multicultural, interactive, and energized performances. Her enthusiasm for her school extends beyond the classroom and has led to projects such as talent show fundraisers, a Masked Singer competition, and a faculty lip dub video. In the community, her choirs perform at tree lighting ceremonies, baseball games, and parades. In 2022, she conducted the Morris Area Middle School Honor Choir and currently serves as the secretary of the Morris Area Choral Directors Association and manager of the New Jersey Elementary Honor Choir. Colleen’s primary goal is to not only expand her knowledge and understanding of educational theory and practice within the performing arts courses, but to enhance her classroom with hands-on instructional strategies for all of her students of varying levels and abilities.


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