SJ’s Top Teachers

For the third year in a row, SJ Magazine asked students to tell us which teachers have made a positive impact in their lives. Hundreds and hundreds of entries flooded our office, each with a unique account of how local educators are encouraging, challenging and inspiring our kids on a daily basis. The many contest submissions are proof positive that SJ is lucky to have so many outstanding educators who are helping our kids excel both in and out of the classroom.



Mrs. Colleen Girgenti

James H. Johnson Elementary School, Cherry Hill

Nominated by Catherine Williams, 3rd grade

Mrs. Girgenti is a great teacher because she loves her job and she lets us know that she cares about us. Mrs. Girgenti is always happy and smiling, which makes us happy too. When we’re away on break, she sends us emails to let us know she misses us.

When you’re in Mrs. Girgenti’s class, you really want to learn. She’s very patient and makes sure we understand things before moving on. She encourages us and inspires us to do our best and makes us feel like we’re doing a great job.

Mrs. Girgenti focuses on the good things. For example, she has a “gotcha jar” in the classroom. If she sees you being good, like helping someone else or working quietly, she writes down your name and good deed and puts it in the jar. On each Friday, she picks four names out and those people get a prize from the prize box.

She treats everyone with respect and makes you want to be your best self. You become a better person by being around her. I’m very lucky to have Mrs. Girgenti as my teacher.




Tom Culleny & Julian ConnertonMr. Tom Culleny

Egg Harbor City Community School, Egg Harbor City

Nominated by Julian Connerton, 7th grade

Mr. Culleny is a top teacher! He makes everything we need to learn fun and interesting. Mr. Culleny finds ways to teach his lessons while making them easy to understand. He teaches us about science through poetry and stories sometimes. That is mad cool! You know a lot of teachers think kids only have to be respectful, but not Mr. Culleny. He respects his students and so we respect him back. That’s how it’s supposed to work in life, my parents tell me. He has a good relationship with my parents and lets them know when my brother or I are not doing the best job he thinks we can. Sometimes we don’t like that, but we know he does it because he cares about us. All the kids in school like him because he is so cool and a really nice guy.

Over the summer, we found out our mom has breast cancer. Mr. Culleny always asks my brother and I how she is doing. We appreciate that because some days it is hard for us to be in school because we are worried about her. He lets us call her if we want to check on her. Tell me that isn’t an awesome teacher.



Jackie DeCola & Alex DudleyMrs. Jackie DeCola

Kingston Elementary School, Cherry Hill

Nominated by Alex Dudley, 5th grade

We had just moved into Cherry Hill the weekend before school started. On my first day of fourth grade, I knew one person…my sister, Kayla. I walked into the school not knowing anyone, not knowing where to go or who I was about to meet. And then I met my teacher, Mrs. DeCola, the person who has influenced me the most in the two years I have been attending Kingston Elementary.

Mrs. DeCola was the best teacher ever. Being in a new school and with new people, Mrs. DeCola put my mind at ease and brought me out of my shell. She helped me make new friends and become a better person. She taught us that there was always room to have fun, even while learning. Mrs. DeCola helped all of us realize there is an independent and smart person inside all of us. She pushed us to the limits without making us doubt ourselves.

Mrs. DeCola was the first teacher in my new school and the teacher that had the biggest impact on me. Putting me at ease that first day helped me become the student that I am today. My love for learning, especially math, is in fact due to meeting my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. DeCola.



Matthew Ordog & Kristen KerstetterMr. Matthew Ordog

Delran High School, Delran

Nominated by Kristen Kerstetter, 9th grade

Talk about world history…how about family history? My world history teacher comes from a long line of teachers. His mom, dad, uncle, aunt, brother and even his fiancé are all teachers. Adding together the years of experience, it comes out to over 100 years of teaching. No wonder he became a teacher; it’s in his genes. I’m sure being raised in a teaching environment made his career choice a no-brainer.

Mr. Ordog has changed my thoughts on history. During the mere 42 minutes of class, I learn and grasp so much information about history. His enthusiasm, attitude and simple interaction with his students make it so easy and enjoyable to learn. A man once said, “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” Next year, I may not remember every lesson plan he taught me, but I will remember his bubbly personality, his corny jokes and his youthfulness. Since I want to become a social studies teacher, Mr. Ordog is a great role model. His upbeat sense of humor keeps his students amused, attentive and interested in what he has to say. Mr. Ordog is the type of teacher I aspire to be. I can only hope my students feel the same respect and appreciate for me as much as I have for him.



Adam Rutkowski & Ollie FrankMr. Adam Rutkowski

Haines 6th Grade Center, Medford

Nominated by Ollie Frank, 6th grade

You never know what is going to happen when you walk through the door of Mr. Rutkowski’s classroom, but one thing is for sure: we always have a good time. Whether talking about China or Egypt, it’s always interesting. He doesn’t just teach the subject, he acts it out in many ways. One day, he compared a Tootsie Pop to China’s geography while we experienced the different layers of the Tootsie Pop. Another time, he tried to pass off Oreos as his wife’s home-baked cookies in an effort to teach plagiarism. We ate the Oreos anyway! During the Qin Dynasty lesson, he taught legalism by making us live it. He chased the class down the hallway with a yardstick to emphasize its harsh punishment. I much prefer Daoism – Mr. Rutkowski was extra nice then! Mr. Rutkowski’s class is living example of social studies. I will always remember what I learned because he teaches it in such a fun and memorable way that sticks in your head.




Kaitlin Tumulty & Erin O'BrienMs. Kaitlin Tumulty

Magowan Elementary School, Edgewater Park

Nominated by Erin O’Brien, 4th grade

This is the second year I am nominating Mrs. Tumulty to be SJ’s TOP TEACHER. Last year, she was my third grade teacher, and she really helped me with math. This year, she is my drama club teacher. She is very patient with all of us, and she finds ways to help us learn our parts. She is teaching us so much about putting on a show. She teaches us how to act, dance and sing. She even taught me how to fake cry. She is a wonderful actress and an amazing teacher. Ms. Tumulty does so much for the students of Magowan, and I hope she wins this year.



Donna Temmallo & Daniel AjayiMrs. Donna Temmallo

Radix Elementary School, Williamstown

Nominated by Daniel Ajayi, 4th grade

I have an amazing teacher, and her name is Mrs. Temmallo. There’s no teacher like or better than her. You have no clue how nice she is. In fact, you can interrupt her lesson 100 times before your name is on the board. She has 38 years of experience with students. She’s the best teacher ever. To prove it, once we had to learn about the different regions in New Jersey. She made it so fun. We watched movies about it, and she told us amazing facts like New Jersey has beaches and mountains unlike any other state. Did you know New Jersey once had glaciers all over it? Oh, I kinda stole that from her lesson. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is for every one reason you have to brag about having the best teacher ever, I’ve got 12.




Mark White & Emily PalubaMr. Mark White

Marlton Middle School, Marlton

Nominated by Emily Paluba, 6th grade

Music is my passion. It has been since fourth grade. There is one person who has really helped me accomplish my skills to be the best musician I can be. That person is Mr. Mark White, the wonderful, talented band instructor of Marlton Middle School.

When I see him almost every day, I smile and he smiles back. That’s the kind of person he is. When I practice in the band room, I play until I can’t feel my lips anymore. He opens the door and praises me. He tells me all the time how great I sound. They may be words to you, but to a musician, it means your talent is appreciated.

I’m human. Sometimes I don’t understand things. Mr. White is very patient and takes my whole lesson to explain. I really adore him for that.

I want to be a professional musician. I want to play for hundreds of people, expressing my feelings through music. Without Mr. White, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’ve wanted to do since fourth grade. He is making me become who I want. Mr. Mark White is making my dreams come true.



Stephanie Steinbeck & Stephen SussenMrs. Stephanie Steinbeck

Voorhees Middle School, Voorhees

Nominated by Stephen Sussen, 8th grade

With the help of my mom, I would like to recommend Mrs. Steinbeck for SJ’s TOP TEACHER. I am in the 8th grade at VMS and have had the pleasure of learning from Mrs. Steinbeck in her special education class for two years. She is a special teacher and wonderful person. She dedicates her time to her class just like they are her actual family. I never feel left out of any discussion, teaching group or learning session during the day. Mrs. Steinbeck takes the time to help figure out what is going on with me and my difficulties. She even finds projects for us that make learning fun. We go holiday shopping every year to learn how to deal with people outside of school and learn how to choose appropriate gifts for our family. It is a learning experience on money, sales tax and calculating change. Who knew math could be so fun!

Mrs. Steinbeck organizes clubs for the special ed kids to participate in, and she stays after school to make sure we participate too! Mrs. Steinbeck is the best a student could ask for in a teacher. Mrs. Steinbeck also has a team of teacher she works along with in my daily education, and they should not be forgotten. In the end, Mrs. Steinbeck and her team make all of us feel so special and the day is never boring. She exhibits the following important qualities: patience; understanding; the ability to explain things in unusual ways for all to understand; dedication; unwavering support for her students; willingness to help every student succeed, even if it’s a small success; and a passion for her job, which in the end really doesn’t seem like a job for Mrs. Steinbeck – it’s just a way of life.



Helen Iaconelli & Mohammed MannanMrs. Helen Iaconelli

Sovereign Avenue School, Atlantic City

Nominated by Mohammed Mannan, 6th grade

I believe my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Iaconelli, should be the winner! She is the best teacher I’ve ever had. Mrs. Iaconelli is honest, industrious and compassionate. Have you ever had a teacher who would stop everything just to come assist you? Well, that’s just what Mrs. Iaconelli does. She isn’t one of those teachers that just gives you a problem and expects you to know how to do it. She adjusts to all visual, auditory and tactile learners. Mrs. Iaconelli devotes all her time after school to helping students with their troubles and clarifying anything that has been misunderstood. She has a down-to-earth attitude that makes her very easy to get along with. She understands your problems and tries her hardest to fix them. Mrs. Iaconelli is hilarious and makes learning fun. She incorporates experiments and hands-on material into regular learning so we can enjoy ourselves while absorbing knowledge. She comes up with extraordinary ideas that help us learn more than we would by simply studying a textbook. To sum it up, Mrs. Iaconelli has been an inspiration to me. She hasn’t only helped me, but also every student who enters her classroom. Mrs. Iaconelli loves what she does and that’s what makes her so special.



Kate DeSantis & Alyssa KellyMrs. Kate DeSantis

Lenape High School, Medford

Nominated by Alyssa Kelly, 10th grade

I was lucky enough to have Mrs. DeSantis as my honors biology teacher my freshman year at Lenape. I was really nervous to start biology class because I had never really loved science. After having Mrs. DeSantis, that changed. Biology was my favorite class, and I really felt like I learned a lot. Mrs. DeSantis made science class fun. She didn’t just lecture during class, she let us do fun labs and really got us involved.

Mrs. DeSantis truly cares about all of her students, and I think that is one of the reasons she is such a great teacher. She wants all her students to be successful, and she will do anything it takes to help them. She even taught me skills that would be useful throughout my years in school, like good note-taking, study habits and test-taking. Mrs. DeSantis devotes her time and energy to helping kids learn, and it’s obvious she loves her job. I am so happy I had the opportunity to have Mrs. DeSantis as a teacher. I am even planning on taking genetics class my senior year because she is the teacher. She taught me so much about science and I look forward to learning even more!

April 2013
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