Hopewell Valley school district recognizes educators of the year

Hopewell Valley Regional School district office signage in Pennington.

The Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education recognized school district teachers who are the Governor’s Educators of the Year for 2020-21.

Through a press release the district made the announcement on March 15.

Bear Tavern Elementary School’s Educator of the Year is Betsy Finnegan.

According to the statement, Finnegan is one of the most dependable and thoughtful individuals and can always solve a problem with grace and kindness, making everyone feel valued and special. She is a uniter, who can garner support for any project, who has the innate ability to lead people, while not being afraid to roll up her sleeves and work.

Some of Finnegan’s nominators pointed out that, “She is dedicated to the Bear Tavern community in every way imaginable. There is no one more deserving of this award,” and “Mrs. Finnegan cares about our school, our students and our community. She goes above and beyond the classroom by helping wherever she is needed in our school.”

Vikki Obst is Hopewell Elementary School’s recipient of the Governor’s Teacher Award.

Obst is a technology teacher who has worked nonstop during the pandemic. She has the desire and ability to connect with the entire school population on a regular basis to not only educate her students, but provide them with a daily reminder of how much she cares for each and every one of them, according to the statement. 

Stony Brook Elementary School announced Khara Levy as the 2020-21 Governor’s Educator of the Year award recipient.

Levy is a graduate of Rider University’s School of Education and first joined the HVRSD staff in 2004. She stepped away from the classroom to be home with her children in 2008. In 2013 there was an opening at Stony Brook and Levy was ready to return. In the eight years since her return, Levy has continued to shine among the staff, according to the statement. 

Ashton Sands, from Toll Gate Grammar School, is the school’s 2020-2021 award winner. 

Sands came to Hopewell Valley in 2012 and began her career as a paraprofessional in the IPI classroom, working with the youngest special education students and as a Kindergarten extension teacher. She has since fulfilled a wide variety of assignments within the department including in-class resource, resource room and special class, according to the statement.

Sands became the head high school cheerleading coach in 2017.

The comments from parents and staff speak to Sands caring and nurturing manner which is why she has been so successful this year as Toll Gate’s first PEECH teacher, according to the statement.  

Math can often be a difficult subject for students, but Timberlane Middle School’s Tammy Pegrem approaches instruction in a way that students not only learn the concepts, but develop confidence, according to the statement. 

As one student said in the nomination, “She is an excellent math teacher and a great person. She has taught us to always try our best and always helps when we need it. She makes math fun.”

Beyond math instruction, Pegrem plays an integral role in helping sixth grade students adjust to a new school. Her patient, kind and caring manner helps make her students instantly feel comfortable as they learn to navigate middle school. according to the statement.

Carolyn McGrath, a talented visual arts educator at Hopewell Valley Central High School (HVCHS), has had a positive impact on thousands of students during her time at HVCHS. She encourages the individual development of her students by enabling them to relate art to the world around them, according to the statement.

From drawing portraits of animals to raising money for an animal shelter, to creating tapestry pieces in the style of artists in other countries, McGrath is adept at creating projects that allow her students to make meaningful connections between the curriculum and more global concepts, according to the statement.

McGrath’s passion for education extends beyond the classroom through her involvement in student activities such as the Photography Club, the Re-Imagine Club, and SPECTRUM; she is described as “having an open door and an open heart to whatever need may arise,” according to the statement. 

The district also recognized support professionals of the year.

Melina Guarino is a paraprofessional in the autism program at Bear Tavern Elementary and has been with the district since 2018. She is an incredibly hard worker, who is not afraid to put her all into every task that she does, according to the statement.

Stanley (“Ken”) Bialota has been with the district for 26 years serving as a tradesperson/carpenter in the Maintenance Department. Bialota ensures building structures are safe and secure for the school community. Bialota went above and beyond this past summer, working diligently to produce all of the PPE that is found in district schools and classrooms, according to the statement.

Jason Bowers is also a member of the Maintenance Department, and has been with the district since 2006. Bowers started as a groundskeeper, taking pride in the beautification of schools’ grounds, before moving to the Maintenance Department, according to the statement.

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