Jeffry Peneston, a 25-year earth science teacher at Liverpool High School, has been named 2011 New York State Teacher of the Year.
"Jeff has motivated his students to succeed with a variety of field experiences and hands-on science exploration," said Regent Anthony Bottar, who represents the Syracuse area on the state education policy-making board. "He is a collaborative teacher who has generously shared his expertise with colleagues and mentored many student teachers."
Peneston was introduced to the Board of Regents at their September meeting as a lifelong learner who takes part in extensive professional development, including a seven-week National Science Foundation Polar Trek to Antarctica for hands-on research in 2008. Peneston made the most of his experience, sharing his voyage via a series of webcasts and lessons that enabled his students to follow his activities and learn through this unique opportunity.
Bottar cited Peneston's community involvement and activities, serving as long-time summer program director and natural history educator director for Camp Talooli in Penneleville. He also has had leadership roles for the American Camp Association, Chorus and Drama Organization, Marching Band and Color Guard Booster Groups and Science Fairs.
Peneston poignantly described his view of teaching: "Today, teachers across New York state feel unprecedented and growing pressures from a howling storm of simultaneous and often conflicting demands," Peneston told the Regents. "We respond to a global economic downturn, school budget cuts, staff reductions, high stakes testing and the increasing use of technology inside and outside the classroom."
Yet ironically, at a time when technology has enabled people to communicate instantly and constantly, Peneston noted studies show the current generation of children has less contact with and understanding of the natural world than any generation in the history of the species."
To combat this, he urged teachers to "take kids outside into nature. Give them reason to play, experiment and explore."
The Regents also honored last year's Teacher of the Year, Valley Central math teacher Debbie Calvino and four finalists for the 2011 honor. The four finalists are:
• Michael Elliot, a social studies teacher in grades 7 and 8 at North Albany Academy in Albany;
• Michael Jeziorslo, a social studies teacher at Commack High School;
• Jodi Sobczak, a first-grade teacher at Brocton Elementary School; and
• Martha Strever, an eighth-grade math and computer science teacher at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira congratulated the honorees and thanked the Regents for making room on their agenda for Peneston and Calvino to share their throughts.
After all these years of Teacher of the Year receptions and ceremonies, this has been the most meaningful, Neira said. "It's been most gratifying to have you listen to the voice of practitioners," she said.
The State Teacher of the Year Program is co-sponsored by numerous state education groups, including NYSUT. Applications are available in the fall. Call State Ed at 518-486-6042 or go to www.highered.nysed.gov/kiap/ted/toty/.