And the winner is … Meet the N.J. Teacher of the Year

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This year’s New Jersey Teacher of the Year winner is Angel Santiago, a fifth-grade teacher in the Gloucester Township in Camden County who says he wants to advocate for more racial diversity in the state’s teachers.

Santiago was named the winner at Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting, which was held virtually via live online video.

An emotional Santiago accepted the award from his classroom at Loring Flemming Elementary School.

“When I’m asked what I do for a living, I’ve never been more proud to say that I teach,” he said, giving a shoutout to all of his fellow New Jersey educators finding new ways to teach during the coronavirus pandemic.

Santiago, one of a small number of male Latino elementary school teachers in New Jersey, said he grew up in Vineland in an overcrowded house with his grandmother, cousins and a mother working multiple jobs while going to community college. He was drawn to teaching and ended up being a fifth grade teacher.

The married father of one also leads an after-school club, called Young People of Character, where students of different backgrounds and nationalities come together to do community service projects.

He said he plans to advocate for more diversity in New Jersey’s public school workforce. While more than half of New Jersey public school students are non-white, only about 16 percent of teachers, administrators and staff were people of color last year, according to state statistics.

“Black and brown boys and girls can grow up to be teachers, like me,” he said.

The Teacher of the Year award comes with a new leased car, a $500 clothing allowance, a laptop, a gold ring, a video projector and other perks. The program is sponsored by the New Jersey Education Association, the Educational Testing Service and the New Jersey School Boards Association.

The teacher of the year gets a six-month sabbatical, funded by the Education Testing Service, to work with the state Department of Education. The winner usually gives presentations around the state and attends national conferences. But much of that work will likely be done virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.

Santiago will also be a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year award.

In previous years, the New Jersey winner, along with Teacher of the Year recipients from other states, has taken trip to Washington, D.C., to meet the president. It’s unclear if that will happen this school year.

Last year’s New Jersey winner was Jennifer Skomial, a career and technical education teacher at Morris County School of Technology. Due to the pandemic, Skomial modified her plan to make in-person speeches and presentations at schools in the spring and focused on helping teachers create “Learning Live” video lessons that aired on NJTV for students learning at home.

This year’s recipient was selected from the 21 County Teacher of the Year winners. The other 2020-2021 New Jersey Teachers of the Year for the counties are:

— Atlantic: Phillip Pallitto, a fifth- and sixth-grade English language arts teacher and arts integration specialist at Jordan Road School in the Somers Point School District.

— Bergen: Megan Williams, a high school French teacher at Tenafly High School.

— Burlington: Michael Dunlea, a third-grade teacher at Tabernacle Elementary School in the Tabernacle Township School District.

— Cape May: Rachel Krementz, a teacher of special education in the fifth and sixth grades at Ocean Academy in Cape May County Special Services.

— Cumberland: Kristina Messina, a teacher of grades K-5 at Mount Pleasant Elementary School in the Millville School District.

— Essex: David Coster, a teacher of math and technology at Cedar Grove High School.

— Gloucester: Jami Centrella, an elementary-level teacher of English language arts at Caroline L. Reutter School in the Township of Franklin Public Schools.

— Hudson: Alicia Vilas, a fourth-grade teacher at Dr. Maya Angelou Elementary School (PS #20) in the Jersey City School District.

— Hunterdon: Angela Mikula, an arts education specialist at the Delaware Township School in the Delaware Township School District.

— Mercer: Jessica Merz, a teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and a teacher of American Sign Language at the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf, located in Trenton.

— Middlesex: Jaclyn Terebetski, a teacher of business and technology at Carteret High School.

— Monmouth: Christina Gauss, a high school Spanish teacher at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School.

— Morris: Christopher Butchko, a teacher of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Montville Township High School.

— Ocean: Lucia Giavatto-DiLeo, a teacher of Spanish and French at Manchester Township High School.

— Passaic: Megan Graziano, a teacher of biological sciences at Clifton High School.

— Salem: Michelle Williams, a teacher of biological sciences and Advanced Placement Environmental Science at Woodstown High School in the Woodstown-Pilesgrove School District.

— Somerset: Micki Cobos, a teacher of English as a second language (ESL) at Somerville High School.

— Sussex: Meghan Radimer, a teacher of physical education and health at Stillwater Township School in the Stillwater School District.

— Union: Jamie Warner, a teacher of social studies at Orange Avenue School in the Cranford School District.

—Warren: Courtney Kopf, a teacher of life sciences and the anti-bullying specialist at Belvidere High School.

This is the 51st year of New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year program. Local school districts also chose teachers of the year for each school around the state.

The state Teacher of the Year is chosen by a panel of representatives from state school organizations, the teachers’ union, state officials and last year’s winner.

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Kelly Heyboer may be reached at [email protected]


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