Frank Iannucci ’03 ’10 MA was completely unsuspecting when he walked into what he thought was a typical assembly on November 4 at West Orange (NJ) High School, where he has taught math and computer science for the past five years. “I was told representatives from the state would be talking about education and good educators,” he recalled. In attendance among the room full of teachers and students was Andy Smarick, state deputy education commissioner, and Michael Milken, co-founder of the Milken Foundation, which awards an annual national educator award.
When it became clear that a teacher in the room was about to receive the Milken award, Iannucci began looking around for colleagues he thought were shoo-ins for the prestigious honor. Instead, his name was announced. “I thought, ‘This can’t be happening,’ I stood up and walked up to the podium literally shaking,” he said.
It was clear to the audience listening to the accolades of Iannucci’s teaching career—including a 99 percent passing rate in all his classes; forming a chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, the National Mathematics Honor Society; and creating a student peer-mentoring program—that the recipient was well deserving.
“For a quarter-century, the Milken Family Foundation has highlighted the fact that the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the most important in-school factor in determining student achievement,” Smarick said at the ceremony. “I congratulate Mr. Iannucci for his dedication to student learning and student success…”
Since the award was established in 1985, more than 2,500 educators have been recognized for their accomplishments. New Jersey joined the program in 2002, and Iannucci is now one of 20 teachers from the state to receive the honor, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 award.
Before joining the West Orange school district, Iannucci, 33, taught at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Bloomfield and Ridgefield Park Junior/Senior High School. A native of Passaic and graduate of Paterson High School, Iannucci was attracted to the diversity at West Orange High School. Despite a more lucrative offer from another district, Iannucci chose West Orange. “I grew up with diversity and West Orange High School felt like home to me,” he said.
Iannucci’s love for teaching began as a computer teacher in an elementary school. “From that day on I fell in love with the kids,” he said. “I love watching the light bulb go on and watching the smile come across their faces when then get something.”
He says he’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received from his students upon receiving the award. “My inbox has been filled with letters from current and former students. It’s a great feeling to read a note from a student that says, ‘Congratulations Mr. I; you deserve it!’ ”
Iannucci says he knows the importance teacher support and guidance play in a student’s life because he received just that as a graduate student from Professor Eunice Grippaldi of the Department of Counseling and Educational Leadership. Grippaldi was Iannucci’s field experience teacher and he remembers when she came to observe him in the classroom.
“She said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen such positive, amazing teaching skills,’ and those were the most positive words any one ever said to me,” he said. “It made me want to strive even harder.”
And strive he has, helping West Orange receive Middle States accreditation in 2008, implementing a variety of clubs to aid student performance, and becoming program coordinator of the AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination) Program, which gives students with the determination and ability to become honor students the assistance they need to reach that goal.
“I genuinely love the students,” he said. “They have an amazing spirit; they just need someone to believe in them.”
In the spring, Iannucci will travel to Washington, D.C. to discuss current topics in education with members of Congress. “The [award] money will be gone in the blink of eye,” Iannucci said, “But the impact I can have on the educational system can last forever.”