This August, the New Jersey Department of Education named 21 educators County Teacher of the Year. Three Montclair State University alumnae were among the honorees: Kristen Hickman ’02 (Union County), Corrine Laurie ’06 MA (Somerset) and Amanda Szuhany Rhodes ’03 (Passaic). The winners were selected by a panel of educators who reviewed written applications and video submissions and conducted interviews with the top finalists. The honorees will serve as ambassadors for New Jersey’s public schools throughout the school year and will also compete for State Teacher of the Year in the fall.
Vincent C. Alfonso, Ph.D., inaugural interim dean for the College for Education and Engaged Learning remarked, “We are very proud of our alumni as they excel in their careers. This recognition is a testament to their dedication, passion, and commitment to education. All of us at The College for Education and Engaged Learning have no doubt that they will continue to inspire and educate future generations with the same excellence they have demonstrated in their field.”
We applaud our amazing alumnae and share their stories here:
Kristen Hickman ’02
STEAM Teacher at Roselle Park Middle School in the Roselle Park School District
Kristen Hickman ’02 earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Montclair State University, a master’s degree in the Education of Science from Walden University, and the Supervisor Certification from Montclair in 2016. Her teaching career spans 17 years and includes teaching as an adjunct professor at John Jay College in New York.
Reflecting on her time at Montclair, Hickman recalls, “Dr. Steven Koepp was an amazing professor from Montclair State University. While I was an undergrad I never thought about being a teacher; however, now that I am a teacher, he is the type of teacher I always strive to be. He was one of the most passionate and engaging teachers I have ever met. His teaching style and care for students is everything I hope to show my students.”
Currently, Hickman teaches various elective classes for Project Lead The Way (PLTW) at Roselle Park Middle School. Adopted in the 2020-2021 school year, this STEM curriculum program includes hands-on projects to better prepare students for career situations. One example of this, Hickman teaches a seventh-grade PLTW medical detective class where the adolescents act as doctors. They learn how to take vital signs and how to read medical journals to come up with treatment plans for medical problems. She also teaches a PLTW robotics class with the use of vex-cortex and VEX V-5 kits. The children serve as young engineers learning how to build different mechanisms with metallic parts while learning how to code as well.
As the co-advisor of the Technology Student Association (TSA), Hickman leads a group of students in an independent research course with projects entered into a state competition. This past year, the group participated in 14 TSA events, including projects where the pupils had to build a mechanical mouse-trap car, write and illustrate a children’s book on perseverance, and come up with ways to build a self-sustaining house without material like water or sewage.
Further leading the way for continued experiential STEM education, Hickman secured numerous grants to expand the STEM program for students to think beyond the classroom. This has included securing a 3-D printer and laser engraver.
Hickman remarked, “I was amazed and surprised when I won Union County Teacher of the Year. It is such a great honor to be able to represent and be a role model for all the teachers of Union County. As a teacher, every student inspires me to want to be the best I can be myself. As teachers, it is our role as educators to inspire our students for greatness; however, we fail to realize how much their learning inspires our teaching.”
Corinne Laurie ’06 MA
Health & Physical Education Teacher at North Plainfield Middle School in the North Plainfield School District
Corinne Laurie ’06 MA earned her bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall University and her master’s degree in Health Education from Montclair State University. She has dedicated 24 years to education and has taught at North Plainfield Middle School her entire career.
One Montclair professor had a profound influence on her work. Laurie explains, “I connected with Dr. Eva Goldfarb (a professor in the public health program) when I was an undergrad at Seton Hall. I went on to sign up for all of her professional development seminars and conferences during my first few years teaching. She was a huge part of my decision to attend Montclair State University for my master’s in health education. As far as I was concerned, she was the best and I wanted to learn from the best! All these years later, Dr. Goldfarb is still a huge part of WHY I teach, WHAT I teach, and HOW I teach!”
Trained as a health and physical education teacher, her background and experience have also allowed her to develop and teach other unique courses that focus on high school, college, and career readiness, as well as social and emotional learning. Laurie has been involved with several projects and initiatives that have positively impacted the district. She is part of North Plainfield’s New Teacher Induction program, serves as a professional learning committee (PLC) team leader, and is a member of the School-Based Planning Team, leading the School Opening Committee.
Laurie forms and cultivates lasting relationships with her students. A testament to this, she was recognized in her school district’s Top Ten Program and as the high school valedictorian’s most influential teacher. Many former students return years later to speak with her classes about how they applied the skills and concepts taught in her classes to their personal lives and their success.
Laurie is forever evolving and developing methods and strategies to reach all students, always addressing the variety of backgrounds and needs of the student population. She remarked, “what inspires me in my daily work is my personal belief that every single day is an opportunity to have a positive lasting impact on a young person’s life.”
“Ms. Laurie is the epitome of what a teacher should be,” shared Middle School Principal Robert Lake. “Her ability to quickly foster trusting relationships with her students has allowed her to impact countless students who have attended NPMS over the last twenty years. Many of these relationships still exist, and those former students regularly return to share the impact she had on them.”
“For me,” Laurie states, “having been named Somerset County Teacher of the Year is not only a special recognition of my commitment to education, and devotion to my students – it is also a celebration of the entire North Plainfield school community! We all work tirelessly to provide for our kids!”
Amanda Szuhany Rhodes ’03
5th Grade Teacher at School 11 in the Clifton School District
Amanda Szuhany Rhodes ’03 graduated from Montclair State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in human ecology and a concentration in early childhood education. Currently a 5th grade teacher at School 11 in the Clifton School District, she models leadership in and out of the classroom by serving on several curriculum development committees and mentoring new teachers.
Rhodes credits Montclair State University with setting her up for success. “The curriculum and courses offered at Montclair prepared me to teach the whole child. My coursework included child development courses, child psychology courses, and teaching classes that focused on critical thinking and creating engaging lessons. While at Montclair, I was encouraged to build strong relationships with my students and learned how to create lessons that inspire my students to think critically not only in the classroom but also in the real world.”
Rhodes’ accomplishments include launching a school-wide framework that supports expectations by providing learning opportunities, leading monthly school-wide celebratory events, piloting a school-wide online incentive reward program and assessing data to recognize and address specific needs within the school. Additionally, she established comprehensive communication protocols between all team members, faculty, students, and families and managed building initiatives and funding for Positive Behavior Support in Schools (PBSIS).
Throughout her seven-year tenure at Clifton Public Schools, Rhodes has also served on several curriculum committees. As a member of the Math Curriculum Committee, she developed supplemental interactive, technology-based teaching activities and lesson plans for the district’s fifth-grade teachers. While serving on the Science Curriculum Committee, Rhodes evaluated and selected a new district science curriculum and collaboratively created a unique accompanying pacing and curriculum guide, extension activities, benchmarks, and study guides while supporting related professional development and implementation.
As a mentor to a non-tenured first-year educator, Rhodes actively monitored the full implementation of district programs and curriculum in weekly meetings throughout the school year. She advocated for her colleague to ensure she received optimized professional learning opportunities and instructional support from colleagues, district coaches, content area supervisors and school administration. Rhodes partnered with district math and ELA coaches to provide robust on-site professional development coaching opportunities for her mentee.
As coach of the school’s Positive Behavior Support in Schools Team, she works to support student and teacher success by creating positive, predictable, equitable and safe learning environments. “As a teacher, it is my goal to build a classroom where my students feel valued and respected each day not just by me but by their peers… I truly believe that students who enjoy learning are the most successful and I work diligently to create lessons with my students’ interests in mind that engage them in meaningful learning that is enjoyable. It is my hope that all of my students know that they are important to me and enjoy their time in my classroom.”
Dr. Danny A. Robertozzi, superintendent of schools, commented, “Amanda Rhodes is an exceptional teacher who has made substantial contributions to our district and school. She is a leader who has brought positivity, innovation, and excellence to her work. Her work in PBSIS, mentorship, and curriculum committees exemplifies the spirit of this honorable recognition. I am thrilled that she has been named Passaic County Governor’s Teacher of the Year.”
Governor Phil Murphy commented in an article published by Clifton Public Schools, “I applaud the commitment and professionalism of each of the 21 County Teachers of the Year,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “If you want to know why New Jersey’s public schools are rated as among the best in the nation, look no further than these 21 exemplars of the kind of quality teaching that takes place in every school throughout our state.”