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VIDEO: Teachers of the Year 2020

Livingston Public School District has announced its 2019-2020 Teachers of the Year and Educational Services Professional of the Year. Teachers of the Year are chosen for the honor by their colleagues; the Educational Services Professional of the Year is chosen by administrators.

This year’s honorees are Susan Fjeldal (Burnet Hill), Erica Faro (Collins), Anne Matienzo (Harrison), Pia Bauer (Hillside), Richard Darst (MPE), Heather Cohen (Riker Hill), Christina Ness (MPMS), Michele Downey (HMS), William Peklo (LHS), and Lori Perez (Educational Support Professional of the Year). 

The traditional Teacher of the Year ceremony was cancelled when school facilities had to close. Let's take a moment to applaud these awesome educators! Check out the video to learn more about why this year's honorees love their profession! 


BURNET HILL: Susan Fjeldal       

Susan Fjeldal, a second grade teacher at Burnet Hill Elementary School, has been teaching in Livingston for two decades. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Kean University and a Master of Science degree in technology from Ramapo College.

Fjeldal says that it is difficult for her to sum up why she loves teaching. She explained, “For me, teaching has been and continues to be all about the small moments that can happen in a day.  It’s watching a child smile across the room when you say something funny, or when I witness a child be kind to another friend just because or when you can actually watch them grow as a learner and as a person, knowing you had something to do with it.  They show an excitement for learning that is so infectious, as a teacher you just can’t help but feel excited, too.”

She also expressed that her coworkers have had a significant impact on her teaching career. “It’s not only the students, that impact me every day but my colleagues as well.  I get to learn from some of the best teachers and people who have shaped me into the teacher I am today.  Not only are they my coworkers, I am proud to call many of them, family! 


COLLINS: Erica Faro

“I love that I come to work to teach children while all day they are teaching me.  Every day they teach me how to listen better and to see things in different ways. They are the ones pushing me to find new ways to lead them,” said Erica Faro, a second grade teacher who is celebrating her 14th year at Collins Elementary School.

Before joining LPS, she taught for four years at PS 9 -The Renaissance School of Music and Art in Manhattan. There she taught in both Gifted and Talented and Inclusion programs for kindergarten and first grade.

Faro holds a Bachelor of Science degree in human ecology from Ohio State University, and a masters degree in elementary education from Hunter College.

“I love getting to know each child. I love discovering who they are, what their strengths are, and where their interests lie. I love figuring out what their needs are and meeting them where they are at so that I can guide them to the next level and beyond. I love watching a child grow not only academically, but emotionally and socially,” said Faro.  


HARRISON: Anne Matienzo

Anne Matienzo currently teaches K-3 resource room and provides in-class support for third grade math at Harrison Elementary School. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Wesley College and a master’s degree in special education from the College of St. Elizabeth. Before joining the staff of LPS 20 years ago, she taught at The Allegra School which serves children who have autism.

She has held a few different positions in the district over the last two decades. She worked as a second grade teacher at Collins Elementary School, a third grade teacher at Harrison Elementary School, and also served part time as a behaviorist for five years when her daughters were young.

She says that trying to figure out what she wanted to do “when she grew up” was never a question. Inspired by her grandmother, who was a kindergarten teacher, she hit the ground running as soon as she graduated college. 

 “I love seeing that spark as a student learns to read, or that lightbulb go off as I use my toolbox full of tricks to help a struggling student understand a concept in math.  Teaching is more than teaching a child to read and write. I pride myself on making sure every single child that enters my room knows they are important,” she said. “They need to know that we believe in them. Self-esteem is truly so important!  A quote that sums up my teaching career thus far is, ‘Each day teachers come to school ready to tackle a job that is critically important, extraordinarily complex, often joyful, and at times heartbreaking.’  In essence, teachers help others to become their best selves and I can think of no more important work.”



Pia Bauer, who has been teaching in Livingston for eight years, is a K-2 reading interventionist at Hillside Elementary School. She previously taught kindergarten and first grades, and K-5 special education. Before joining LPS, she taught first grade in Wayne.

She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education from the University of Delaware, and a master of arts degree in reading from Montclair State University.

“Each day, as a teacher, presents the opportunity to positively impact students. I love teaching because I am able to build a strong rapport with my students and watch them grow, as both readers and writers,” she said. “One of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher is knowing that I can make a difference in students’ lives through fostering a love of learning and creating an environment where they feel happy, safe, and valued. I still remember the dedicated and caring teachers in my life, who I try to emulate to this day. I strive to be the same kind of teacher.”



Richard Darst has been with LPS for 13 years. He currently teaches fifth grade English Language Arts (ELA) at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School.

Darst began his career in Akron, Ohio and continued it in the New York City public school system. From there, he moved on to Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School before joining the staff of LPS.

He holds a master’s degree in elementary administration.

“I love teaching because I enjoy the relationships that form between myself and my students,” he stated. “I enjoy the sense of community created in a classroom. I also love that I have continued to learn long past my formal education. Being a teacher allows me to be creative.”


RIKER HILL: Heather Cohen

Currently a teacher of first grade at Riker Hill School, Heather Cohen has also taught second grade and in the resource room.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Florida and Master of Arts degree from New York University. This marks her 24th year teaching in Livingston. She notes that she grew up in town and feels proud to still reside in Livingston with her family.

Cohen says that there are countless reasons why she loves teaching. She elaborated, “I love the ‘aha’ moment my students have when something clicks or especially when they learn how to read.  I love interacting with students and getting to know them over ten months.  I love revising my plans each year to meet the needs of the class. This keeps each year of teaching new and exciting. I love celebrating my students’ accomplishments each week and seeing their faces light up when they receive a compliment. Teaching is a collaborative effort that promotes teamwork where everyone works together to help students succeed.  We are role models for our students.”


MPMS: Christina Ness

Christina Ness joined LPS in 2005 and currently teaches in the resource room and provides in-class support for math and science at Mt. Pleasant Middle School. She also teaches in the district’s extended school year program during the summer.

Ness earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rowan University and a master’s degree in education, with a specialization in Integrating Technology into the Classroom.

Her position at MPMS is actually her first official teaching job! However, she has had the pleasure of working in a variety of classrooms whether it was for student teaching, volunteering, or a summer school position. Her experiences range from vocational settings to private out-of-district placements. 

Ness says that the following Chinese Proverb sums up why she loves teaching: "A child's life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark."

She concluded, “I want to be a person that leaves a positive mark in a child's life and helps them to see all the potential that they possess.” 


HMS: Michele Downey

Michele Downey joined LPS in 2008; this marks her 12th year in the district. She has taught both seventh and eighth grade math at Heritage Middle School. She currently teaches eighth grade algebra and prealgebra. She previously taught special education in Millburn Middle School for four years.

Downey earned Bachelor of Science degree in industrial management from Carnegie Mellon University. She holds a Master of Arts degree in teaching from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Prior to becoming a teacher, she was a human resources manager for a national property casualty insurance company.

“I love working with children. They are interesting, surprising, fun and pure, and they keep me on my toes. Every day is different, and I get to constantly learn new things not just for my students but also from my students,” she said. “It is so exciting to be able to share my passions when teaching my students something new, deepening their understanding or making connections, and especially guiding a struggling student to a personal success.  I always tell my students that teachers' favorite sound is the one their students make when they have an ‘aha’ moment.  It's humbling and deeply rewarding to be in a role that impacts young lives and their futures.”  


LHS: William Peklo

William Peklo is a special education teacher in the Math Department at Livingston High School. Before joining the staff at LHS eight years ago, he taught at Dunellen High School for six years.

He holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Kean University. 

“When I was younger, I was actually not a good student.  I had some great teachers who really connected with me and helped me out,” said Peklo on why he loves his profession. “I try to be that kind of teacher for my students, and I love when I'm able to make a real difference.”

He noted that he is “very flattered to have even been considered for this award as we have so many great teachers here.”  Also, 2019 was quite a good year for Peklo on a personal level  - he got engaged!



Educational technology coach Lori Perez is this year’s Educational Services Professional of Year. In her position, which is based at Livingston High School, she provides educational technology instruction and support to LPS staff members. In addition, she serves as the advisor of the LHS National Honor Society.

Perez joined LPS in 2001. Before becoming an educational technology coach, she taught US History I and II and AP European History at LHS. Previously, she taught English as a Foreign Language in Daegu, South Korea, as well as Social Studies at Kinnelon High School and Pompton Lakes High School.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Rutgers University and Master of Arts degree in history from Indiana University. She is also an ISTE Certified and Google Certified Educator.

“As technology changes, teaching changes.  I have always enjoyed finding creative ways to reach my students. Now, it is my greatest privilege to be able to support LPS teachers as they learn the best ways to integrate technology in their classes,” she said.