Northampton Public Schools Superintendent Blog

The Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards 2011-2012

Posted on: March 16, 2012

Once again, it is time to announce the four winners of The Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards for Northampton Public Schools.  I felt like a member of the sweepstakes crew as we visited the award winning teachers in their classrooms to announce that they had won and present them with flowers and details of how they were chosen.  We were met with cheers from students, emotional reactions from the teachers and shared heartfelt nominations that celebrate the dedication and enthusiasm found in each of our winners.  It was, without a doubt, the best way to begin my day on Thursday.  Below, you will find the criteria for selection, the gifts that each teacher will receive from local sponsors, including The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and the nomination for each of the winning teachers.  Please join me in congratulating them on their award.  Keep up the great work!

Brian Salzer, Ed.S.


The Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards Criteria

• Nominee must be certified by the state of  Massachusetts as a teacher

• Demonstrates Professionalism through:

°       Excellence in teaching and working practices

°       His/Her own professional development

°       Good attendance on the job

°       His/Her demonstration of collaboration and cooperation

°       Other areas deemed reasonable by the selection team

• Reaches above and beyond the classroom and school walls

  • Community Outreach related to education
  • Volunteer activity — formal and informal related to education

• Is respected by peers, students, and parents

• Demonstrates enthusiasm

Each teacher will receive $500, an engraved plaque, three month membership to a local YMCA, grants for coursework and recognition at a banquet to honor the nominees.

Superintendent Salzer and Janis Totty

Superintendent Salzer and Janis Totty

Janis Totty:  Physical Education Teacher

Jackson Street Elementary School

Ms. Totty is an outstanding teacher of physical education.  She continually pursues professional development opportunities in her field and is currently enrolled in a 2nd masters program in adventure education at Plymouth State University (she already possesses a masters in P.E.) to enhance her practice and understanding of physical education and wellness.  Her attendance at school is excellent.  She has been a long-time member of the Jackson St. School Council and is viewed as a leader in our school because she views her subject as a part of the whole in the “big picture” of students’ education.  She integrates her work with students into all disciplines in the elementary curriculum.  She has been a part of Northampton Education Foundation grant program that weave movement, music and physical education together for students.  Two examples of these projects are a residency with Cirkus Smirkus and with Marge Bruchac and Native American Theater, Song and Dance.  Most recently Ms. Totty has collaborated with Families with Power, a community empowerment project for families of color in The Kime Project, in its 2nd year of funding from NEF.  This project incorporates self-defense, martial arts and self esteem building for the children and adults.  She also teaches a course in martial arts in our school’s Extended Enrichment After-School program.

Ms. Totty is a beloved member of the JSS faculty, respected and admired by her peers and by all students and their families.  Her passion is her work with students in guiding, coaxing, supporting, nurturing and motivating them to do their personal (physical and mental) best whatever that may be.  She is a tremendous role model for this.  She walks or rides her bike to school every day from the far side of Northampton.  She is the picture of health and fitness.  She is a regular participant in our school’s “Walking School Bus” leading students to walk to school rather than be driven in their parents’ cars.  She participates FULLY in all the lessons she conducts – she is not a PE teacher to sit on the sidelines!  Ms. Totty is a published poet, incorporating language into her practice.  She initiated monthly “Movement Meditations” in which the entire student body and school staff gathers in the gym to move and breathe and develop mindfulness skills in regulating emotions and feelings.  She has given special 5th grade graduation speeches/messages to our students, much to their and their parents’ complete delight.  Ms. Totty inspires all to reach their potential.  She is, quite simply, one of the finest teachers we have had the privilege of teaching our children.

Quote from parent:  Ms. Totty has been a calm and steady presence at school both in the gym and outside of the gym.  I have been impressed by her communication skills, professionalism and her friendly personality.  Also, I am aware of how my child is always pleased to see her when we are on the bike path or around the school.  He has benefited from being involved in her Peaceful Warriors after-school program and is enjoying it.  We feel luck to have her at JSS and appreciate how she contributes to the sense of community.

Principal Margie Riddle, MaryBeth O'Connor, Superintendent Salzer

Principal Margie Riddle, MaryBeth O'Connor, Superintendent Salzer

MaryBeth O’Connor:  Title 1 Math and Reading Teacher


MaryBeth O’Connor has served as our Title 1 Math and Reading Teacher since January 2010.  In that short time she has become an incredibly effective and valued member of our teaching staff.  She has figured out how to support students in both mathematics and reading while holding only a part-time position.  She has configured the position herself including developing the pre and post tests required for Title 1, managing a very complex schedule, and working collaboratively with every teacher in the building.  Within two weeks of her arrival she was working with children having accomplished all the testing and review required.  Mrs. O’Connor always develops a warm and supportive relationship with our teachers, who often speak about what a difference she has made in such a short time.  Children love being in her classes, and parents speak very highly of her and their children’s progress under her guidance.

Mrs. O’Connor is expert in both mathematics and reading, and she constantly seeks to learn more and to improve her ability to reach children who are struggling in these subject areas. In reading, she uses many effective and creative approaches to engage struggling readers including Readers’ Theater which she makes available to families through a web site.  She also publishes a regular newsletter to the families of her students, including accessibly worded tips on helping children with reading at home.  We have been delighted to observe that about half of the students with whom she has worked in 2nd and 3rd grade achieve at grade level after only 1½  years working with her.  In math she co-teaches with teachers and manages this seamlessly, integrating her support within the classroom effectively throughout a lesson.  Although she has very limited actual planning time with teachers, they manage “on the fly” to collaborate effectively.  Mrs. O’Connor has taught on-line courses in inclusion and collaboration herself, yet she continues to seek out opportunities to learn more for her own practice.  She inspires her fellow teachers with her curiosity and enthusiasm for learning more and improving their practice.  She participates actively and enthusiastically in evening meetings with parents about math and in workshops, including over weekends, to learn more.

Mrs. O’Connor has been a very active participant in our community in support of public education.  In addition to being active in her own children’s PTO at a different school, she has been a regular volunteer in the classrooms of both of her children.  Her commitment to our public schools is evidenced by many years of very devoted service on the board of the Northampton Education Foundation where she has been tireless in raising money and supporting teachers through the small and endowment grant process.

It was not surprising to Principal Margie Riddle that Mrs. O’Connor’s colleagues at R.K.Finn Ryan Road Elementary School chose to nominate her this year.  She brings boundless energy, deep knowledge, and a “can do” attitude to the school every day.  Her knowledge of effective instruction in both math and reading is broad and deep, but she remains a genuine collaborator with every colleague all the time.  She truly delights in the pedagogical puzzles that confront us as school.  That delight is infectious.

Will Bangs:  Social Studies, English and Reading Teacher – Grade 6

Superintendent Salzer, Will Bangs, Principal Lesley Wilson

JFK Middle  School

Principal Lesley Wilson felt privileged to recommend Will Bangs for the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award.  Mr. Bangs demonstrates each day, the qualities this honor recognizes.  Mr. Bangs, a second year teacher, received the most nominations as the returning teacher selection of our committee.

Mr. Bangs teaches grade six social studies, English and reading.  In his mastery-based classroom, Mr. Bangs differentiates instruction for students, teaching and supporting each around individual learning styles and levels.  He has created a safe, supportive environment for students, engaging them in their academics with a variety of instructional and assessment strategies.  Mr. Bang’s classroom is interactive and hands-on.  He incorporates technology in nearly all his lessons.

To support his students and school community, Will actively participates on committees, in our after-school program and in professional development.  Mr. Bangs is participating in the Western MA Writing Project, he is a member of our Literacy Committee, and he is representing JFK on the District Technology Team.  Mr. Bangs has facilitated many activities in our after-school program, he chaperones dances, attends most school events, and he performed with his band in our School of Rock concert last year.

Mr. Bangs is truly deserving of this honor.  He demonstrates daily, the qualities of an outstanding educator.  Mr. Bangs is passionate about his teaching and is truly dedicated to his students and our school community.

Holly Graham:  English Teacher (First Year in Northampton)

Superintendent Salzer, Holly Graham, Principal Lesley Wilson

JFK Middle School

It is a privilege to nominate Holly Graham for the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award.  Ms. Graham was the overwhelming selection of the nominating committee.  Holly is a seventh grade English teacher on the Green Revolution Team.  She is an exceptional teacher.  She is passionate about teaching English, especially writing, and about working with middle school students.  She is energetic, enthusiastic and a great advocate for her students.  Her teaching practices include a differentiated approach to instruction and varied assessment methods for measuring student understanding.  She collaborates with her colleagues to provide interdisciplinary units for students.  Her students were thrilled to hear from the Department of the interior following receipt of their persuasive letters about White Nose Bat Syndrome.  Ms. Graham is also an integral member of her department, skilled at data analysis and curriculum development.

Ms. Graham works with students on most afternoons supporting their achievement and interest in writing.  Most recently she helped a group of seventh and eighth grade students participate in the Boston Globe Writing Contest.  Seven of our students were recognized with gold, silver and honorable mentions.  Ms. Graham regularly attends JFK events and has made many connections in the community on behalf of her students.  Ms. Graham has already made a difference at JFK with her contributions to her students, team, department, and our community as a whole.  She is truly deserving of this honor.

Congratulations to all the nominees and the hard work that each of our teachers puts forth both in and out of the classrooms.

3 Responses to "The Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards 2011-2012"

Congrats to all. A shout out to Ms. Totty and Marybeth!! Be proud.

As the father of Janis Totty I am deeply proud that she has been so honored. She works very hard and is devoted to her occupation. It is great to feel that her community appreciates her.

Huzzah for Ms. Graham! She taught me more about writing than any of my other teachers. She deserved this.

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