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RSD #17 Announces Teachers/Staff of the Year for 2020-21

Submitted by Pamela Hensel.

District Staff member of the Year

Since joining RSD17 in 2019, Ronnie Ellison has brought an incredibly friendly attitude to the Information Technology department.  His dedication to assisting the students and staff members of the district is exemplary.  Giving 100% and doing everything necessary to find the correct answer are everyday things for him.  Ronnie stands out to the staff members of the district for his friendly face and dedication to facilitating teaching and learning throughout the district.  This year saw a quick increase in technology due to the struggles of the pandemic.  We drastically increased the number of computers in student hands, as well as increased the load on our network and wireless systems.  Even with all of those drastic changes Ronnie was able to take the additional workload in stride and complete all of his tasks.  The Information Technology department is lucky to have Ronnie working hard for us every day supporting all of our students and staff.

Burr District Elementary School Staff Member of the Year

Alicia Seldzik serves as a regular education paraprofessional at Burr Elementary and is well deserving of the recognition of staff member of the year.  Alicia was asked to take on a new role this year and did not hesitate to jump right in!  She supports teachers and students in all 5 first grade classrooms and does so seamlessly.  Alicia is flexible, hardworking, professional, and positive.  She is always happy to offer her assistance to any teacher or student and seeks out opportunities to make teachers’ lives easier.  Whether it is making copies, assembling books, taking students on a movement break, or providing in class support and encouragement to struggling students, Alicia goes above and beyond to help the day run smoothly.  She has developed connections and relationships with all 80 first grade students and they light up when she enters the classroom.  Alicia knows just who needs some extra support or attention when she walks in a classroom and easily integrates into any lesson in progress without needing direction from the teacher.  She is a self-starter in every sense of the word and an extremely valuable member of the Burr community!

Burr District Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Kim Gray is as dedicated a teacher one can be without physically moving into the school!  She pours her heart into everything that she does for her students.  It is not uncommon for Kim to be the first person in the building in the morning and then to leave at the end of the day only to go home and review the latest research on teaching, edit and revise her Bitmoji or Google Classroom, and create resources so her online students can feel prepared and fully engaged.  Some of us wonder when she ever sleeps!

This year has been a true test of a teacher’s ability to adapt and problem solve and Kim has not only adapted but also excelled in thinking outside the box to meet the needs of students both in her classroom and online.  Her remote students would tell you that they feel fully a part of the classroom, receive individualized attention, and feel fully supported while learning from home.  Kim has high expectations for her students and is always willing to put in the extra time and effort to help everyone succeed.  Knowing that they have her support, Kim’s student’s strive to meet her expectations, often surprising themselves with what they have accomplished.  They feel confident taking risks, working hard, and persevering knowing that Kim is always in their corner as a cheerleader and support.

As a colleague, Kim is collaborative, knowledgeable, supportive, and caring.  She is never one to create something new and exciting for her students without sharing it with her grade level colleagues.  If Kim finds a resource to support one of her students, you better believe you will find a copy of it on your desk in case you want to use it as well.  Kim always makes sure that her colleagues feel cared for and valued both as professionals and as people.

Killingworth Elementary School Staff Member of the Year

I am honored to introduce Randi LaPierre as the Killingworth Elementary School Staff member of the Year.  Having had the pleasure of working with Randi for a few years now, I know firsthand that she is a highly valued and well respected member of the KES community.

Randi loves children and she is able to connect and build rapport immediately, with even the most challenging students.  Some of the students Randi works with have difficulty with the language to communicate their wants, needs, and fears, yet Randi is able to decipher all of this and stay a step ahead.  Randi takes a great deal of initiative and is able to demonstrate creative problem solving to meet the ever changing behavioral, academic, and emotional needs of her students.  Randi is an incredibly hard worker, it is not uncommon to see her working well beyond the school day to support her students with creative materials and lesson plans, she even created a vacuum with a friendly face on it to help a student who had a fear of vacuums.

I would like to share a few comments her colleagues have written about her:

  1. Her soothing voice and gentle soul is a beacon for many students at KES
  2. We truly have a child whisperer at KES
  3. When I see her interacting with her students, I continue to be in awe of her superior skills and incredible devotion to her students.

Killingworth Elementary School Teacher of the Year

It is a pleasure to introduce Becky Viens as the Killingworth Elementary School Teacher of the Year.  I have had the honor of working with Becky for over 8 years now, as she has been both a kindergarten teacher and first grade teacher.  I knew from my very first interaction with her that we were lucky to have her as part of the KES family.

Becky believes in every child and strives to teach each and every one at their individual levels.  She takes time to form strong relationships with her students and lets each child know that they are respected and cared for.  She demonstrates this from the moment they arrive in the morning with a personal greeting, fist bump, or question about their life outside of school.  Throughout the day, she engages children in rigorous instruction that incorporates their individual needs and interests.  She makes the extra effort daily during school hours and beyond the school day.

As several of her colleagues have stated, “Becky displays a high level of professionalism, she is willing to try something new and give honest feedback.  She is a team player who is collaborative and knowledgeable.  Becky is a lifelong learner, reflective of her own teaching and never settles, instead she pushes herself to do the best job she can.”

Haddam Killingworth Intermediate School Staff Member of the Year

HKIS is proud to announce Cindy Fetteroll, our school secretary, as our Outstanding Staff Member of the Year.  As one of her nominators put it, “I can’t imagine the job description for Cindy’s position, because she seems to do it all.  Her commitment to her job extends beyond her workday.  I’ve received emails from her late at night and over the weekend.  Whether it’s for a staff member, parent or student, Cindy is readily willing to assist and problem solve.”

That same person concluded, “Cindy makes my day just a little brighter each morning when she takes a moment to greet me.  She makes our building employees all feel welcomed and appreciated.  She is kind and generous with her time and advice.  Our school is a better place because of Cindy.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Sadly, I’ve had less than two years to work with Cindy.  She has been invaluable to our school and to me.  Any success that we have had as we built HKIS together is in no small part due to her efforts and who she is.  Cindy is retiring this year, and I joked with my wife the other night that I feel like the search for a replacement is like trying to interview someone to be a spouse.  Cindy, are you sure you don’t want to stay together… for the sake of the children???

I will miss you.  Our school will miss you.  This is not a consolation prize.  You deserve this recognition, this year, and probably every year you have worked in RSD 17.  Congratulations as our Outstanding Staff Member 0f 2021. 

Haddam Killingworth Intermediate School Teacher of the Year/RSD #17 Teacher of the Year

This summer, when I was creating the duty schedule for the teachers, I thought about how many more parents would be driving their children to school for drop off and how much stress they and the kids might be under.  I wanted to make sure that the first face that they saw exuded the joy and excitement that we hope every child has when he enters our school.  There was only one person for that job:  our school counselor Wendy Scoppa.  And now, as we are slowly coming out of a time of anxiety and needing to reconnect, we are putting Wendy Scoppa out in front of our whole district as Regional School District 17’s 2021 Outstanding Teacher of the Year.  As one of her nominators said, “Wendy represents what school SHOULD be!  The laughter and joy she brings to not only the students but also the staff is what made me want to nominate her.  In the most trying year for all of us, she has been the light that we all need.”

Wendy and I often deal with students when they are not at their best.  Often their behaviors would try the most patient soul.  We have to problem solve and figure out what they need to be successful.  But almost every conversation ends with, “But I love that guy.”  We laugh and I tell her that she says that about every child she has ever met.  Wendy truly does represent what we all want to be like as teachers.

This year Wendy went from half-time to full time.  Thank goodness!  This year we definitely needed more love in our lives.  We changed the way we taught our social and emotional curriculum, giving her time to be one on one with each class to teach the children coping and decision making skills and empathy.  The children returned the love she gave them, and through her efforts and the efforts of our other staff, our young school has found an identity:  as we conclude our school pledge every morning, “We are Cougars, and the best people we can be.”  When Dr. Hageman came during our first inside assembly last week to announce Wendy as our teacher of the year, the children spontaneously started a chant, “Miss Scoppa! Miss Scoppa!”

We have a student that I have known for a long time.  Perhaps you know someone like him:  he greets morning by hefting it onto his shoulders like a longshoreman and bearing its burden.  He slowly gets out of the car, head down, and begins his plod into school.  Wendy is on the lookout.  She dances over to him.  Yes, really dances.  Leaping and skipping.  “Good morning!”she says, and you know there is a huge smile on her face.  “Good morning Mrs. Scoppa,” he responds.  Under the mask, I can tell a smile might be peeking out.  We are all having an easier time bearing this year because of Wendy Scoppa.  She truly is our 2021 Outstanding Teacher of the Year.

Haddam Killingworth Middle School Staff Member of the Year

Without Allen Sansalone, our building would not have been able to open this year. When I think back to last summer and what we were tasked to do in terms of implementing physical distancing, it was overwhelming. However, Allen saw what we needed and he made it happen – This included installing sanitizer dispensers all over the building, equipping each room with cleaning supplies, moving furniture, replacing water for the new water coolers, blocking water fountains with tape, adding “dots and spots” for social distancing.  Allen measured all of our rooms and spaces and took time to arrange and re-arrange desks in order to figure out how to keep us physically safe – this included moving half of the desks into storage while we operated our hybrid model in September and then moving that half back in over a weekend to open with our full-in model on the following Monday –

Allen is described as “always doing his job with a smile and sense of humor – responding to any call or email in a timely manner.”  Throughout the year, as he always has, Allen took care of the “little things” for staff – such as fixing a broken wheel on a teacher cart or stopping a filing cabinet from vibrating.

And to any problem, Allen brings an innovative solution – usually this requires figuring out how to make one of my ideas work within the fire code, however, one problem this year was to figure out how to clean 84 tables plus 66 desks in a less than 5-minute transition between lunch waves – as always, he came through, creating his own version of a table swiffer.

Most of Allen’s work happens “behind the scenes” yet it is vital to our operation.

All of these tasks that Allen took on this year were in addition to the work he typically does to keep our school running smoothly. It is with great appreciation that I recognize Allen Sansalone as the HKMS Staff Member of the Year.

Haddam Killingworth Middle School Teacher of the Year

As I thought about what I wanted to say this evening, I got stuck on how to capture the essence of our teacher of the year. First I thought I’d focus on the incredible relationships Beth Gagliardi builds with her students and how she gets to know them inside and out. Then I thought I should speak about her meticulous and intentional instruction and the lead she takes with curriculum planning. I thought about how I should share that she has great expectations for herself, her students and her colleagues and that her presence lifts up those around her. I also thought about sharing that she is, without a doubt, one of the most efficient people I have ever met. So efficient that, there is a rumor that she can magically stop time.

Where I landed, however, and what I really want to talk about is her love. Beth Gagliardi’s love of her work, of her students, of her colleagues, and of the HK community as a whole is what drives her to be incredible every day and strive to get it right. Beth’s love of all of these things exudes from her –  she cannot contain it.  And as her love is spread, one cannot help but be drawn into her positivity and enthusiasm.

Students flock to her, colleagues listen to her, the community leans on her – all because she loves them and will work for them, doing whatever is needed in the moment.

Love is what makes Beth Gagliardi the HKMS Teacher of the Year.

Haddam Killingworth High School Staff Member of the Year

I am very happy to introduce Jim Kane as Haddam Killingworth High School’s Staff member of the year.  Jim was a rock star this past year!  When the world turned upside down and we needed to plan a covid-safe graduation from scratch, Jim Kane was a critical team member in helping to deliver a celebration befitting our seniors.  As audio visual needs were a critical component of our drive-in movie style graduation, with live streaming and recording and sound acrobatics galore, Jim was pivotal in keeping us afloat. He was positive, creative, and always willing to try our crazy ideas — and was particularly skilled at not showing shock or horror on his face when I announced my next crazy idea. He never complained about the hours he put in, and the manual labor that went into the most difficult graduation I have ever had to pull off as a Principal.

Jim is always calm, pleasant, and easy to work with. He is asked to do many tasks that are probably not in his job description, but he does it with a smile, and meets with success. He is the ultimate team player, and can be seen behind the camera for all of our major events. Jim was instrumental in live streaming every home Varsity, JV and freshman basketball game this year. As Covid mitigating strategies prevented fans from attending, it was so important to families that they be able to see their student athletes play.  Not only did we stream all of the games, which was much more than typical in our league, the quality of our broadcast was also the best in the league. That is all because of Jim’s work ethic. Jim truly cares about the students of Haddam Killingworth. The high school students all know him, and hold him in high regard. Without Jim, the celebration stage in its many forms over the last year would have been dark. We are grateful and proud that Jim Kane is our Staff Member of the Year.

Haddam Killingworth High School Teacher of the Year

It is my pleasure to introduce Kelly Brown as Haddam Killingworth High School’s Teacher of the Year.  A sixteen-year veteran of our special education department, Kelly has always been “all in” for students both by way of academic support and instruction as well as through emotional and behavioral intervention. Kelly is a master teacher, particularly skilled at finding the magic key to unlocking mastery for each individual student she serves.  She is a warm demander, developing strong bonds with her kids and encouraging them daily while holding each accountable for their best performance. Her ability to make strong and lasting connections with students and families is unparalleled.  Over the last 14 months, Kelly has taken hybrid learning in stride and works to ensure all of our students have the same opportunities available to them whether they are full in, full remote or somewhere in between.  She is our go to for math support, regardless of whether the student in need is in her class or on her caseload.

In addition to her unwavering commitment to kids, Kelly is a great mentor to newer staff and a role model for all of us. She answers every question with patience, and is always willing to help all teachers with her expertise in instructional strategies to help accommodate the needs of students. She can often literally solve what appears to be a complex problem in minutes. Given her strong leadership in the building, Kelly became the Department Head for the Special Education team two years ago. Despite the significantly increased workload that comes with her leadership position, Kelly continues to take on additional responsibilities around the building. This includes, but is not limited to being our golf coach, a class advisor, TEAM mentor and HKEA representative.  When faced with being short a staff member due to an unanticipated retirement, without hesitation, Kelly devised a plan to cover classes, including taking on an additional teaching responsibility herself. One of the best examples of her teacher leadership was last June when Kelly helped organize and reorganize and reorganize and reorganize our graduation celebration which finally came to fruition in July – an event still celebrated by the students and families it touched.

Kelly is an integral part of the close knit HKHS team. This year more than ever we have needed to lean on and trust one another; our team leans on and trusts Kelly — I lean on and trust Kelly. I couldn’t be happier that she is our Teacher of the Year.

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