“We always look fondly back at the teachers that were the toughest on us, because we realize they saw something in us as students that we didn’t see in ourselves at the time,” Weehawken School Superintendent Kevin McLellan said to the district’s three teachers of the year. “That’s a very special relationship.”
Daniel Webster School’s kindergarten teacher Laura Gagliostro, Roosevelt School’s third grade teacher Suzanne Dorsey, and tenth grade English teacher Michele Giorgio received commemorative plaques which will hang in the high school’s front hallway until Teacher Week in 2013 as a testament to what McLellan deemed their exemplary work with students and sensitivity to learning needs, and for setting the high learning standards the district has upheld for many years.
“We always look fondly back at the teachers that were the toughest on us, because we realize they saw something in us as students that we didn’t see in ourselves at that time.” – Kevin McLellan
“Here’s the best part,” Mayor Richard Turner said, and proceeded to ask the teachers, “How many more days left in the school year?” All of them answered with an immediate “24.”
“My kids think they’ll be done forever,” Gagliostro reported. “But then I tell them they have to come back and do it all over again next year.”
Setting state standards starts with kindergarten
You know a teacher must be dedicated if she has her own motto. In Gagliostro’s case, she headlines her 24-year career with “Keep the garden in kindergarten.” While many schools’ kindergarten classes last half a day, Weehawken’s runs a full day, which poses the challenge of holding students’ attention and finding the right balance between academics and fun, she said.
“I was born to do this,” Gagliostro insisted, exemplified by the fact that as she and her co-teachers waited in the superintendent’s office for the ceremony to begin, she sat grading a tall stack of homework. “It’s not all about flash cards and grades. It’s about providing a positive experience and instilling a love of learning in their early years that will carry them through.”
“Every year it’s a pleasure to honor those teachers who are elected by their peers,” Turner said as he stood in the high school’s Board of Education conference room. “Our children’s success starts at Webster, goes on to Roosevelt, and moves through to the high school.”
In early May, U.S. News ranked Weehawken High School 44th out of 389 high schools in the state, and 1,297th out of 21,776 in the nation in its Top Best High Schools lists.
“It takes an entire community to support public education,” McLellan continued, in reference to the ceremony’s attendance by Roosevelt School Principal Al Orrechio, Daniel Webster School Principal Anthony Colasurdo, Assistant Principal Steven Spinosa, Board of Education President Richard Barsa, and Mayor Turner. “With today’s requirements, we all know we can’t play catch-up in high school,” he added. “It’s in the elementary schools where we build that base product, and that’s why everybody is involved in this.”
Moving on up
A product of the Weehawken school system herself, Dorsey made the decision 14 years ago to reinvest the education she received and give back to the community that raised her. Many of her colleagues are also her former teachers.
“It’s great to be giving back, and I love this town,” she explained. “I come to school every day excited to begin, and I’m thankful for that.”
She began working in the business world but eventually decided she wanted a career she could really get behind, and not just a job. Both of her older brothers are teachers, so she followed the familial lead and jumped into a profession where, she said, she is able to make a difference and help someone every single day.
Third grade is no picnic for kids and the transition to the higher academic demands of times tables and cursive writing and the like can be difficult, Dorsey explained. So she tries to provide a safe, happy, and motivational environment to help smooth her students’ paths.
“I want to help them reach their potential and I see so much progress in my students between September and June,” Dorsey added. “This is definitely what I’m meant to be.”
Preparing for the real world
Giorgio loved Weehawken so much when she began teaching eight years ago, she decided to move to the town she taught in. She will soon receive her masters from Columbia University’s Teachers College and is inspired to be teaching English during a time when societal communication is quickly and constantly evolving from a technology standpoint.
“I enjoy teaching kids to feel empowered as they learn how to manipulate language,” Giorgio said. “It’s not just rote memorization anymore. They have to use research skills and analysis with a basis on literature as they decode the ever-present cultural propaganda.”
She also coaches the high school’s color guard team and entertains her love of journalism as she runs the school paper. She keeps things relevant by using the New York Times as an example of the sort of writing they can aspire to.
“I encourage my students to construct their own knowledge from the classroom experiences I provide them,” Giorgio explained. “I always knew I wanted to teach, and it’s exciting to be a part of the conversation as our world rapidly changes.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com