And the Teachers of the Year Are…
By Annette McLoughlin
Every spring, one teacher floats to the top of Rye City Schools’ talent pool of outstanding faculty through the District’s Teacher of the Year award. Candidates are nominated by peers and the standout educator is determined by the Board of Education, administration, faculty, and staff, parent organization presidents; and high school class officers. As per the Superintendent’s directive, a nominee should be considered “an exceptionally skilled and dedicated tenured teacher; be respected and admired by students, peers, parents, and the public; serve an active and useful role in the community as well as in the school; be poised, articulate, energetic, even-tempered; and possess superior ability to inspire students of all backgrounds and competencies to learn.”
Because our District has such a deep well of talent, there are many candidates and, occasionally, the award is bestowed on more than one exceptional teacher. This was such a year and the recipients for 2019 are Kristen Warner from Rye High and Patrizia Guzzo from Osborn Elementary.
Kristen Warner, a much-admired member of the Social Studies department, teaches AP US Government and Politics and AP Psychology. She grew up in Ridgewood, N.J., and landed in Rye via Yale, where she earned a B.A. in History, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where she received a master’s in Teaching and Curriculum in 1995.
With an Ivy League pedigree, Warner had her pick of careers, but followed her heart. “I grew up in a family of teachers (grandparents, mom, uncle), so I always admired teachers and appreciated their contributions to society.”
Her peers are effusive when describing her qualities. Sue Dickson, a longtime RHS Guidance counselor, said, “Bright, engaging, and equally invested in both her subject matter and her students, Kristen brings her positive energy to everything in which she takes part. “Patient, kind, and a wonderful communicator, she is able to reach everyone. If there are challenges, Kristen thinks outside the box to figure out new and different approaches to be effective.”
Her enthusiasm for her profession and compassion for her students allows her to make deep connections and inspire her peers. Fellow History teacher Sara Charles describes her as the “heart and soul of Rye High School” citing her “empathy, dedication, and passion for her students and colleagues” as exemplary. “Kristen is a tireless advocate for the importance of taking learning outside the classroom. The fact that so many students reach out to her to advise their clubs, speaks to Kristen’s approachability, as well as the respect students have for her.”
Colleague Kate Dowling sums up the many accolades bestowed on Warner. “I am honored to work with Kristen. Watching her make judgment calls, navigate emotions, and approach her profession with passion, inspires me and all of my Social Studies colleagues, day in and day out. Everything she does at Rye High, she does with a full heart. We are lucky to have her.”
The path to teaching for Patrizia Guzzo, a shining star at Osborn, was slightly indirect. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science from Mercy College, she worked for five years in the fashion industry before pivoting to the career she refers to as her “true passion”. She returned to Mercy for her master’s degree in teaching and embarked on this new path via Italy for a two-and-a-half-year stint of teaching English language classes. Once back on this side of the Atlantic, she returned to Westchester (she grew up in Sleepy Hollow) to begin the foundation of her elementary teaching career and worked through various leave-replacement assignments throughout the area before the District had the good sense to offer her a full-time position teaching kindergarten.
Ms. Guzzo’s strengths as an educator stem from her passion for her profession. As one nomination letter put it, “Teaching is not just a job for Patrizia Guzzo – it’s a calling. And we are so fortunate that she is answering that call in the Rye City School District.” This passion fuels her drive to turn children into lifelong learners. “I strongly believe that when my students know and feel that I am their number one fan they will begin to take risks and the ‘need to learn’ will become a ‘want to learn’ for them,” she explains.
Fellow Osborn kindergarten teacher Dana King is a witness to Ms. Guzzo’s boundless creative energy. “She loves her students and finds the best ways to reach them. She builds their love for learning by being consistent and creative.” Ms. King added, “Patrizia is the most dedicated teacher — constantly planning, prepping, and revising her ideas for her classroom.”
Colleague Stacy Coyne, who spent last year in the classroom with her as a co-teacher, witnessed this force of nature first-hand. “Patrizia plans the most creative and engaging lessons; watching her with her students was uplifting, exciting, and inspirational. She demanded the best work from the children and they not only flourished in her class, they absolutely adored her as well.”
Perhaps the most telling compliment is one from a student, as told through a delighted parent. “It has taken no time at all to realize how wonderful she is, and my son often tries to bring her home to live with us.”