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For immediate release: May 29, 2003
Contact: Eric Quiñones, (609) 258-5748, quinones@princeton.edu

Princeton honors secondary school teachers

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton University will honor four outstanding New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2003 Commencement on Tuesday, June 3.

This year's honorees are: Michael Corcoran of William L. Dickinson High School, Jersey City; Alan Feldman of Perth Amboy High School, Perth Amboy; Ernest Read III of Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High School, Perth Amboy; and Gary Whitehead of Tenafly High School, Tenafly.

"The remarkable achievements of these four teachers represent the exceptional quality of teaching in New Jersey's classrooms. Our profession should be proud of these fine teachers, who were chosen from among 80 outstanding nominees from public and private schools across the state," said John Webb, director of Princeton's Program in Teacher Preparation, which administers the awards.

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

The staff of the Program in Teacher Preparation selected 14 finalists, each of whom was visited at work by an observer. Finalists were selected by a committee chaired by Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel and including Webb, two Princeton professors and two external education professionals.

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:

Michael Corcoran

After becoming director of the science research program at Dickinson High School in 1992, Michael Corcoran fought to shatter the perception among students -- and some faculty -- that coming from the Jersey City public school was an inherent disadvantage.

Corcoran has since transformed a promising but underachieving program into a powerhouse that has excelled in local, state and national competitions. This year, two of his students won the $100,000 team prize in the Siemens Westinghouse Competition, the nation's most prestigious high school science contest.

"Mr. Corcoran is a glimmer of hope in a sometimes gloomy school district," said Juliet Girard, who won the Westinghouse award with fellow senior Roshan Prabhu for their project, "Identification and High Resolution Mapping of Flowering Time Genes in Rice."

Corcoran, who has taught at Dickinson High for 14 years and has been in the Jersey City public school system since 1974, implemented major changes to strengthen the research program after his first science fair as the group's director.

"We did finally destroy the 'myth' that our mediocre performance was due to issues outside our control," he said. "Perhaps the greatest outcome was that a team of just over 30 high school students set into motion a program which has become a legacy and compels us to question what we have done and find ways to improve on it."

Barbara Baletti, a guidance counselor at Dickinson High, noted that Corcoran has created relationships with universities, medical facilities and the corporate world to enhance the science program. "He has provided a rich, stimulating and protected environment for bright and hopeful inner-city students to do innovative and exciting science research amidst the turmoil and trauma of [a] big urban high school," Baletti said.

Students cited Corcoran's intense dedication to helping them succeed, which even included driving a group to a science competition in six inches of snow when school was closed and buses were not operating.

"His lessons go far beyond the scientific method," Girard said. "I can honestly say that he has changed my life for the better and truly earned the title of mentor."

Corcoran is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island and earned a master's degree in medical anthropology from New School University, where he is now a doctoral candidate. He was named Hudson County teacher of the year in 1994 and 2001.

Alan Feldman

Challenging oneself to learn is a value that Alan Feldman strives to instill not only in his students, but also in his colleagues at Perth Amboy High School and around the nation.

Feldman was the 2002-03 teacher of the year at Perth Amboy High, where he has taught psychology -- his passion -- as well as history and math since 1987. In 1994, he was honored by the American Psychological Association as the national high school psychology teacher of the year.

Feldman's talents also have benefited his peers at Perth Amboy High, where he has presented numerous staff development programs and assisted school administrators with suggestions and activities to improve instruction, said Bruce Kovacs, the school's supervisor of humanities. He also is involved in a number of national educational activities, including serving as one of three high school teachers on the Advanced Placement test development committee for psychology.

In developing his own lesson plans, Feldman borrows from the most current, cutting-edge research in psychology to create innovative experiments and lessons, setting an example for students who have left his classes inspired to continue striving for knowledge.

"Mr. Feldman has shown me, and countless other students, that success in this world doesn't have anything to do with bank statements or job titles. Instead, it is directly related to how much energy … you put into what you do and how well you share your gifts and abilities with others," said former student Natasha Silber.

Although Perth Amboy is considered one of the state's lower performing "special needs" school districts, Feldman fought to change the school's rule that only seniors were allowed to take AP courses. Not only can students now take AP courses as juniors, sophomores and even freshmen, but Perth Amboy High also has added AP classes in biology, computer science, calculus, U.S. government, German and French.

"I do not accept anything other than excellence from my students," Feldman said, "and [I] believe that self-esteem should be based on real achievement."

Feldman is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University and holds a master's degree in psychology from Teachers College at Columbia University.

Ernest Read III

At Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High School in Perth Amboy -- where students are trained in carpentry, plumbing, electronics and other careers -- it is a history teacher, Ernest Read III, who stands out as an inspiration for students and colleagues alike.

Read has taught at the school for 29 years. His tenure has produced awards such as teacher of the year at the school, district and county levels and a reputation as a mentor to both veteran and new teachers.

Joseph Colombo, superintendent of the Middlesex County vocational schools, described Read as a "master teacher" who delivers lessons with a combination of simulations, re-enactments and technology to keep students engaged.

"Mr. Read is an articulate individual who displays an infectious love for learning and teaching with a sincere concern for students and his fellow human beings," Colombo said.

"His highly effective teaching in an urban vocational school setting is where Ernie has truly distinguished himself," added Bruce Gyenes, a fellow history teacher.

After nearly three decades, Read remains focused on bringing new programs and ideas to his school. In 2000, Read won a Fulbright Memorial Fund award to spend three weeks in Japan learning about the country's educational system. After returning, he created Project Idea Exchange, which was designed to establish connections between American and Japanese students and educators. The effort has now expanded to include 25 countries.

Adolph Marrero, a former student, noted that Read made history exciting by tying it to current events -- particularly with his annual class trip to Washington, D.C. "It was something that many students eagerly anticipated all year. Not only was this a trip that focused on topics that we had covered in class, but also we had done something that would give us one of the fondest memories of our four years of high school," Marrero said.

"Every child needs to always be able to transform, to develop further, to improve and grow," Read said in describing his perspective on teaching. "Daily I encourage my students to mold themselves, to push forward, be willing to understand and recognize that failure is one of the steppingstones on the path to success."

Read holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in education from Rutgers University. He has been the student council adviser at Middlesex County Vocational for 29 years and varsity baseball coach for 19 years, and last year was chosen for Gov. James McGreevey's advisory committee on teaching.

Gary Whitehead

When students in Gary Whitehead's creative writing classes wonder about the life of a professional writer, they need to look no further for answers than the front of the room.

Whitehead, an English teacher at Tenafly High School since 1997, is an award-winning writer whose poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared in a wide range of publications. He also is the publisher of Defined Providence Press, which provides a forum for both new and established writers.

"Gary has done what many other writers have found impossible: He has continued to write, publish, win prizes and residencies, while also devoting himself to his teaching career," said Margaret Boyle, chair of the English department at Tenafly High. "His energy matches his talent as both a teacher and a writer."

Since arriving at the school, Whitehead has expanded the creative writing program; helped the student literary magazine, Omega, grow in size and quality; brought in other professional writers to meet and advise students; and, most importantly, helped his students become award-winning writers themselves. He also has integrated technology into his courses, including developing the school's first online class, which covers contemporary American poetry.

Former student Lisa Fleisher recalled that, after winning a grant to study and write in Ireland, Whitehead described to the class how images, people, animals and actions inspired his work there. "We were able to learn how to convert events in our daily lives into poetry, thinking critically about the things our senses picked up," Fleisher said. "He let students into his private life just enough to connect to his students as young adults, as people, and used that connection to teach us through his experience."

Whitehead has led his students on frequent field trips, ranging from short excursions to Broadway plays and art museums in New York to longer trips to England and Italy.

"The knowledge imparted by these experiences is invaluable -- both to my students and to me -- but even more significant are the bonds formed among all," he said. "It thrills me to know that I am a positive influence in the lives of young people, that my life work matters."

Whitehead holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in teaching from Rhode Island College, as well as a master's degree in English from Iowa State University.

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