The South Huntington Teacher of the Year Presentation was held on Wednesday, January 26th at Walt Whitman’s Performing Arts Center. The annual tradition was highly anticipated, especially after last year’s fully virtual event. Family, friends, and the community were thrilled to join in acknowledging this year’s outstanding teachers.
The seven teachers recognized at this year’s celebration are marked as individuals who have gone above and beyond during one of the most challenging times in education. Board of Education President, Nicholas Ciappetta, spoke of the efforts and dedication of these educators in saying, “The value of the teaching profession and the impact of an individual teacher has never been questioned, but it was highlighted and reinforced when our schools shut down and education became virtual. The last two years have challenged us all in so many ways, but adversity, rather than normalcy, is what makes us grow and become that much stronger.”
Opening the evening of celebration was the singing of the National Anthem by Julianne Meijer, and a special performance by Walt Whitman High School singers Kaitlyn Allen, Alexa Beaubrun, and Hannah Albert with piano accompaniment, Victoria Fiorelli. Emceed by Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Joseph Centamore, this was a memorable and meaningful evening as the South Huntington Board of Education and the district’s administrators gave well-deserved recognition and praise to their top teachers. Joining the Board of Education and administration in honoring our Teachers of the Year were Legislator Tom Donnolly and Senator James Gaughran.
Congratulations to each of our building’s 2021-2022 Teachers of the Year!
Noreen Scileppi - Countrywood and South Huntington School District’s Teacher of the Year: Noreen has been a speech and language teacher in South Huntington since 2000. She is currently the "lead teacher'' for our after school Friendship Project, as well as was an active member of our SBM team, helping to brainstorm and bring to fruition several school-wide SEL programs for the improvement of our school community. Ms. Scileppi is a member of our building BEST team and on a regular basis contributes thoughts and suggestions as we brainstorm ways to assist teachers in helping their neediest students.
Gina Tinucci - Walt Whitman High School’s Teacher of the Year: While her competence in the arts and her complete control of her subject matter is proficient, her main focus is always on her students, not only those who intrinsically possess a love of the arts but also, those who struggle with self-confidence and find their way through the craft inspired in her classroom. Always wearing a smile, Ms. Tinucci is a positive force within the school building. Her approachability and her ability to listen make people feel safe, a character trait that has become so important in recent, very difficult, emotional times.
Jennifer Hohner - Stimson Middle School’s Teacher of the Year: A consummate professional, Ms. Hohner is devoted to providing meaningful and compassionate instruction, deeply appreciated by her colleagues, and one of the hardest working educators in our district.” If you attended this year’s Homecoming Parade, you may have noticed Jennifer’s Stimson yearbook photo on the “Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat” Stimson float as an alumna. Fortunately for South Huntington, Jennifer returned to Walt Whitman High School as an English Teacher in 1999.
Kelly Zisel - Silas Wood’s Teacher of the Year: Mrs. Kelly Zisel has been a teacher in South Huntington for 23 years. She has taught at Birchwood, Countrywood, and for the past 5 years at Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center. She is a well-rounded, positive role model to all students that cross her path. Mrs. Zisel is always prepared and embeds humor, laughter, and real life experiences into all of her lessons. She has the capacity to reach learners at all levels and with varied strengths and learning styles. Mrs. Zisel is a leader who inspires, motivates, excites, and understands her students. She looks at the "whole-child" with a sense of understanding and compassion holds them to high expectations, and encourages them to always do their best.
Denise Ortiz- Maplewood’s Teacher of the Year: Mrs. Denise Ortiz has been an educator here in South Huntington for the past 20 years. Throughout her years she has been known by her colleagues and students as someone who is greatly dedicated to her craft and always willing to do whatever is necessary for the needs of her students. When a student enters Mrs. Ortiz's classroom, they not only become her student, but also part of her family. This is most evident in the countless number of students who can be found coming back to Maplewood years after graduation just to say "thank you" to her.
Jill Hewlett - Birchwood’s Teacher of the Year: Jill Hewlett is an enthusiastic, hard-working, selfless teacher, friend, and coworker. She always puts her students and coworkers ahead of herself. Jill's students are so lucky to have her as a teacher. She puts 110% into her job and makes sure that every student gets what he or she needs. One look at the students' faces when Jill is teaching and it is apparent that she has them hooked into a love of learning. The entire Birchwood staff is blessed to work with Jill. She goes out of her way to help any member of the staff who might need it. Her wealth of knowledge in education along with being tech-savvy make her a huge asset to the teaching community. She is able to build confidence in even the most technically challenged person.
Dina Groe - Oakwood’s Teacher of the Year: Ms. Groe is a shining example of dedication and is a natural educator. Dina commits herself to excellence and to being a positive role model for her students. Ms. Groe develops positive relationships with her students so she can better understand each and every child who walks through her classroom door and provide them with the love and support they need. Her high expectations allow students to see themselves as capable and the drivers of their learning. Ms. Groe has an optimistic outlook and is always smiling, just like her students!
Kindergarten teacher Dina Groe was surprised with a heartfelt speech from Oakwood Principal Dr. Annie Michaelian, alongside (back left to right) Deputy Superintendent Dr. Joseph Centamore, BOE Vice President Laura Carey, BOE President Nicholas Ciappetta, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Vito D’Elia.
Birchwood Principal Mr. Anthony Ciccarelli shared a creatively and well-spoken speech in honor of the Disney loving reading teacher, Ms. Jill Hewlett.
Maplewood’s new Principal, Mr. William Hender, had the honor of presenting his school building’s Teacher of the Year, Ms. Denise Ortiz. The dual-language teacher was humbled to receive this recognition from her colleagues, administrators, and the Board of Education.
Principal Mr. Stephen Toto was thrilled to present Ms. Kelly Zisel as Silas Wood’s Teacher of the Year, and her sixth-grade students were equally as excited to witness the recognition.
As one of his final tasks as Stimson’s Principal before fulfilling his new position at JKAO, Ed Smith proudly presents the middle school’s Teacher of the Year, Ms. Jennifer Hohner.
Principal Mr. Ken Costa proudly presents Gina Tinucci as Walt Whitman’s Teacher of the Year alongside Deputy Superintendent Dr. Joseph Centamore, BOE Vice President Laura Carey, BOE President Nicholas Ciapetta, and Superintendent Dr. Vito D’Elia.
Ms. Noreen Scileppi, who has been a Speech and Language specialist in South Huntington for over 20 years, was recognized as this year’s District-wide Teacher of the Year. Her dedication and unwavering compassion, especially during the pandemic, make her an invaluable asset to the Countrywood family and South Huntington community.