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For immediate release: May 30, 2001

Contact: Jennifer Greenstein, (609) 258-3601,

Princeton honors secondary school teachers

Princeton, N.J. -- Princeton University will honor four outstanding New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2001 Commencement June 5.

This year's honorees are: Andrew Dunn of Northern Highlands Regional High School, Allendale; Frank Heffernan of Chatham High School, Chatham; Staci Horne of Phillipsburg High School, Phillipsburg; Hilary Peterlin of Kinnelon High School, Kinnelon.

"It's very special to be able to honor the outstanding, yet often unacknowledged work that teachers at the secondary level do in their classrooms everyday," said John Webb, director of Princeton's Program in Teacher Preparation, which administers the awards. "This year we are truly proud to be recognizing four exceptional teachers who have given their love and their devotion to their students, their schools and communities, and to their profession."

Each teacher will receive $5,000 as well as $2,500 for his or her school library.

The four teachers were selected after an intensive review process, which began in October when the principals of every public, private and parochial secondary school in the state were invited to submit a nomination with supporting information from colleagues, students and the nominated teachers.

A selection committee consisting of Princeton's dean of the college, the director of the Program in Teacher Preparation, two Princeton professors and two outside education professionals chose about a dozen finalists, and an observer visited each finalist at work.

Princeton has honored secondary-school teachers since 1959. The University received an anonymous gift from an alumnus to establish the program.

Following is information about the honorees:

Andrew Dunn

On most days, Andrew Dunn can be found in his classroom at Northern Highlands Regional High School sitting in a circle with his English or journalism students, one leg flung over the other, shirt sleeves rolled up, hands propped behind his head &endash; an engaging figure who gently but doggedly is pushing his students to become better writers. His meticulous comments on students' papers, often nearly as long as the papers themselves, prod students to sharpen not just their writing, but also their thinking. "Problems in writing are symptoms of problems in thinking" is something of a motto for Dunn, who has been an English teacher at Northern Highlands since 1972.

Dunn pushes students to improve their work themselves. "He did not rewrite any of our troubled areas," said one former student, Christina Barkauskas. "Rather, he simply pointed those areas out and charged us with the task of figuring out the best ways to fix them."

Discussion among students flows easily in Dunn's classroom, and the expression of unconventional ideas is encouraged. His high expectations for his students breeds good work; students understand that only their best efforts are good enough for him.

Dunn also is known for his commitment to helping fellow teachers and taking on school-wide tasks. "Twenty-five years ago, Andy convinced the school board to buy the first school computer," said a former fellow teacher, Inger Foerster. "Then, out of sheer generosity and the fun of sharing what he had discovered, he trained our teachers to use it."

Dunn graduated from Colby College and received a master's degree from Colgate University. He was adviser for the school newspaper for 13 years and has won several awards, including the national Gold Key award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

Frank Heffernan

A model rocket kit was all Frank Heffernan needed to grab the attention of a group of students who thought science was boring. Heffernan, or "Heff," as he is known to his students, had asked the administration's permission to spend his lunch hour hanging out in the lab with the students, hoping to engage them in science. Soon the "Out to Launch Rocket Society" was chartered, and the students were meeting before and after school to assemble rockets, design launch pads and wire ignition devices.

The project "opened my eyes to the importance of making the subject matter relevant," said Heffernan, who has taught science since 1972.

That experience spurred him to design a class in aviation science that has enthralled students at Chatham High School for the last six years. By using intriguing real-world examples from aviation, Heffernan instructs students about physics, chemistry, meteorology, mathematics and physiology, as well as goal setting and career planning.

Former student Dave Smith praised Heffernan for his ability "to gauge the level of each individual and teach to that level. In his chemistry classes, where the majority of students did not have a strong background in physics or math, Mr. Heffernan would focus on describing the concepts in conversation form first."

"Heff" has showered the same individual attention on students he coaches on the cross-country and track teams. He made workouts easy enough to build students' confidence and tough enough for them to feel challenged.

Lori Gironda, a biology teacher at Chatham, said Heffernan has helped numerous students "find strengths in themselves that no one had ever bothered to look for in them before &endash; whether on the cross-country course, behind the flight simulator or in the chemistry classroom."

Heffernan has a bachelor's degree from Central Connecticut State University and master's degrees from Kean College and Trenton State College. He has been teaching at Chatham High School since 1988. He has received numerous awards, including the Northeast Teacher of the Year prize from the Aerospace Education Foundation in 1998 and the New Jersey Governor's Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1986.

Staci Horne

The courtyard at Phillipsburg High School was an overgrown wilderness until biology teacher Staci Horne initiated a project to transform it into an environmental habitat facility. Horne and a volunteer work force of students spent many hours in the evening and on weekends reconstructing the 5,000-square-foot courtyard. Today the space is an outdoor learning facility and a showpiece for the school, complete with a bird sanctuary, fishpond, shrubs and wild flowers.

Horne's work on the courtyard is emblematic of her teaching philosophy. She sees education as a lifelong process that takes place in a variety of environments and through life experiences. That's why she has taken students on a day-long sail aboard an oyster schooner and to environmental planning commission meetings.

Her students are not the only ones who benefit from these excursions: "My teaching experience has shown me that effective teachers must be as willing to learn and grow themselves as they expect their students to be," Horne said.

In the six years since she arrived at Phillipsburg High School to begin her teaching career, Horne has initiated a breakfast program and a school-wide recycling program, and serves as the school's webmaster. "She involves herself in the total life of the school and her students," said Principal George Chando.

Jan Dutt, science supervisor at the school, said, "I know of no other teacher with whom I have worked during more than 33 years in education who has been able to sustain such a high energy level."

Horne graduated from Pennsylvania State University and has master's degrees from East Stroudsburg University and Wilkes University. She is adviser to the National Honor Society at her school.

Hilary Peterlin

Hilary Peterlin teaches calculus wherever and whenever he needs to. For former student David Wasserstrum, that meant the sweaty confines of the Kinnelon High School gym.

"He knew that I was falling behind the rest of the class," Wasserstrum recalled, "so he joined me in my weight lifting. We spotted each other during bench presses, and in between the reps he explained how to test for convergent and divergent functions. There we were, both profusely sweating from physical exhaustion, as he explained the inner workings of calculus to me."

Nine years ago, Peterlin found a way to strengthen the school's interdisciplinary offerings &endash; and avoid teaching the same concepts twice &endash; by creating a combined advanced placement course in calculus and physics. To have enough time for the two-and-a-half-hour class, "Early Bird Physics/Calculus" started at 7 a.m., 40 minutes before the regular school day. Last year every student in the class who took one of the two AP calculus tests got a perfect score.

"No one sets a tone with more seriousness of purpose, all the while bringing joy to hard work," said Principal Sharon Toriello. She noted that Peterlin has been a teacher for 38 years, and spent all but three of those years at Kinnelon. "This man is still as fresh as a recent college graduate &endash; what a gift!"

Peterlin, or "Coach Petey," as he is known, also serves as head coach for the cross-country and track teams, where he has proved as talented at motivating students as in his classroom. Former student Brett Bovee said, "It is because of him that I now am intrigued by math and want to study it further in college. It is also because of him that I have come to love running marathons, and am not half-bad at running them either. His perseverance and energy have inspired me to accomplish more than I thought possible, both physically and intellectually."

Peterlin graduated from Wilkes College (now Wilkes University) and has a master's degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is adviser to the National Honor Society at his school, and was chairman of the math department for 25 years.