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Point Pleasant Borough's Teachers of the Year

Research has proven that nothing has a more profound or lasting effect on student achievement than the quality of their teachers. As the architects of student Teachers of the Yearachievement, educators have the capacity to transform and enrich their students‘ lives, positively impacting lifetime outcomes. Unfortunately, teachers rarely receive the recognition and praise they deserve for the vital role they serve in the development of an advanced, well-educated society.

The Point Pleasant Borough School District believes that teachers’ efforts should be regularly recognized and applauded.  At a time when teachers are once again, the focus of negative political rhetoric, acknowledging the contributions made by exceptional teachers every day, both in- and out- of the classroom, has become increasingly important.

“An ongoing commitment to recognizing exemplary teaching contributes to the Point Pleasant Borough School District’s positive culture, boosting morale and helping to motivate and inspire our staff to achieve their personal best,“ said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith. “Our district’s teachers regularly capture the attention of various local recognition programs and have also been honored - with increasing frequency – by numerous regional and national programs.”

According to the Superintendent, over the past several years, district educators have earned a number of prestigious awards, like the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, Princeton University’s Distinguished Teacher Award, the Masonic Fraternity’s New Jersey’s Educator of the Year Award, and New Jersey’s Exemplary Elementary and Secondary Educator Awards. 

“These awards honor our district and serve as a testament to the superior quality of our schools’ education professionals,” said the Superintendent.

On Feb. 26, the list of recent awards granted to Point Pleasant Borough educators grew by four as Superintendent Smith, along with his fellow Central Administrators, made the rounds to the district’s four schools to announce the recipients of the 2016 Ocean County Teacher of the Special Recognition Award, presenting each of the shocked recipients with a bouquet of flowers commemorating their selection for the prestigious award.

For their outstanding efforts on behalf of the students of Point Pleasant Borough, Dave Johnson from Point Pleasant Borough High School, Jennifer Fitzgerald from Memorial Middle School, Kathleen Gronert from Nellie Bennett Elementary School and Mim DeSomma from Ocean Road Elementary School were named the district’s 2016 Teachers of the Special Recognition.

The Teacher of the Year Program was established with the goal of highlighting the rewards of teaching, as well as the important services outside the classroom environment that lead to student success. 

The criteria for selection include, the use of innovative instructional techniques & methods; the ability to inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn; skill and dedication as an educator; and the ability to foster excellence in education by ongoing contributions to the improvement of student learning and the learning environment.

“The Educator of the Year program provides an excellent opportunity for school systems and their communities to recognize exemplary teaching,” said Superintendent Smith. “We are so fortunate that there are so many exceptional teachers in our district, although, each year, it becomes increasingly more difficult to narrow it down to just one winner per school as the list of nominees continues to grow.”

Initially nominated by parents and fellow staff members, the Teachers of Special Recognition are selected by a panel of district administrators, teachers, parents and community members.

In making their selection, the committee identified four educators whose use of creativity, innovation and efficiency in the classroom improves student achievement by fostering a learning-focused environment.

Teacher of the Year Dave JohnsonAfter 13 years spent working in the business world, Point Pleasant Borough High School Class of 1985 grad Dave Johnson decided he needed a change. With a Bachelor of Science in Management Science and Marketing from Kean University and an MBA in marketing from Montclair State, Johnson went back to school to pursue a post-baccalaureate alternate route to teaching, graduating with his teaching certification from Jersey City University in 2005. That same year, Mr. Johnson returned to his alma mater to accept a position in Point Pleasant Borough High School’s Business Education department.

For the past 11 years, Mr. Johnson has drawn upon his extensive educational and professional history to teach Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Personal Finance, and AP Economics to the students at Point Pleasant Borough High School, attributing his success as a teacher to his practice of the ACDC Leadership© style of teaching.

“ACDC, an acronym for Active Learning, Cooperative Learning, Discovery Learning and Community, is a hands-on, student-centered teaching philosophy” he said.  “It’s implementation has helped facilitate a culture of student engagement in my classroom and has made me a more successful teacher.”

Throughout his teaching career, Mr. Johnson has also sought to improve the school climate, a goal he’s accomplished through his role as Universal Team Leader for the Be On Point character education initiative.

“In the four years since the Be On Point program was introduced there has been a significant reduction in the number disciplinary referrals, while positive behaviors, including student attendance, have increased,” he said.  “Further, a relationship established with the Ladacin Network has helped forge a bond between our respective student bodies and has created a more inclusive learning environment.”

Memorial Middle School Teacher of the Year Jennifer Fitzgerald’s love of teaching is hereditary.Teacher of the Year Jennifer Fitzgerald

“My love for teaching was instilled at an early age by my father, an incredible teacher,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald, an eighth grade math teacher. “He always told me that the best teachers have passion for what they are teaching and compassion for those they are teaching.”

Mrs. Fitzgerald – or Mrs. Fitz as her students affectionately refer to her – earned a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary and Middle School Mathematics from University of Delaware. She continued her education at Montclair State, earning her master’s in Middle Grades Mathematics.

After two years in the Franklin Lakes School District, Fitzgerald relocated to the Jersey Shore, accepting a position at Memorial Middle School in 2004.

“From day one, Memorial has been like a second home to me, filled with amazing teachers and fantastic students,” she said. “I have grown as a teacher throughout my time in Point Pleasant by learning from the best of the best.”

“Throughout her teaching career, Mrs. Fitzgerald has distinguished herself as an exemplary educator and leader. She serves not only as eighth grade team leader, but also as member of the School Improvement Panel, and co-chair of the Academically Talented Committee. She’s also the eighth grade team leader for the school’s Ocean County Math League team and has recently become a Google Certified Educator.

“My goal beyond teaching my students Algebra 1 is to motivate, challenge, and inspire them,” she said. “Their enthusiasm, creative-thinking, and excitement for learning inspires me each and every day.”

Teacher of the Year Kathleen GronertNellie F. Bennett Elementary School teacher Kathleen Gronert’s teaching career has spanned more than three decades and on two continents.

A 1984 graduate of Boston College, Mrs. Gronert’s first teaching assignment was in Spain first at the American School of Madrid and then at the Colegio Agaiva, a start-up American school in Cambre. She returned to the United State in 1986, promptly interviewing for a new position at Nellie F. Bennett, which required candidates to have a Spanish background. Gronert was hired, and she started working at the school the following week, where she has remained ever since.

Over the past 30 years, Mrs. Gronert has spent 10 years teaching basic skills, nine years teaching first grade, and is currently in her eleventh year as a second grade teacher.

“Teaching is a very passionate profession,” she said. “I, like most teachers become very attached to my students and take my job seriously. It's this passion and love for my students that drives me to continue to better myself and do what is in their best interest at all times. I am rewarded every day with seeing my students grow, learn, and be kind to each other.”Teacher of the Year Mim DeSomma

The rewards of teaching have also proven irresistible for Ocean Road Elementary School special education teacher Mim DeSomma, who after a 14-year hiatus during which she was a stay-at-home mom to her five children, returned to the teaching profession recommencing her career at Ocean Road School nine years ago.

“There is nothing more rewarding for me than to see my students’ faces light up when they accomplish a goal and are beaming with pride,” she said.  “While I feel honored to play a small role in educating our students, I am even more grateful for the lessons my students have taught me about perseverance, determination, and unconditional love.”

“Teachers of Special Recognition are dedicated, inspiring, and committed to making a difference – in short, they are like these four exemplary educators,” said Superintendent Smith. “I offer my wholehearted congratulations to each of them for this outstanding achievement.”