November/December 2021 Issue
October 25, 2021

Cuba-Rushford agriculture teacher Carly Santangelo takes top teaching honors

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
teacher of the year
Caption: Photo by Dana Fournier.

It’s shortly before 8 p.m. and across an open field from a small farmhouse set back from the road on the outskirts of this rural Western New York town, a bright sun is sinking fast, ending another busy day for Carly Santangelo — but not just yet. There’s still a herd of bleating goats inside a barn at the end of a dirt driveway that needs tending.

Tending to the herd: It’s the same way Santangelo begins each morning, before sunrise, prior to heading off for the day to Cuba-Rushford Central School where she teaches agriculture to middle and high school students.

“Carly is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. But I think what’s most important is she lives the life; Carly’s authentic,” said Michael Johnson, a Cuba-Rushford technology teacher who Santangelo considers a mentor.

There’s a rich history of dairy and cheese production in Cuba, and soon Santangelo’s goat farm, which she runs with her husband, will also include a creamery. But cream’s not all that rises to the top in Cuba these days. So, too, has Carly Santangelo, named by the State Education Department as New York State’s 2022 Teacher of the Year.

A nine-year classroom veteran, Santangelo’s lessons span the concepts of environmental stewardship, agricultural sustainability and community building. With a focus on preparing students for the workforce, she also aims to develop in her students a sense of community through initiatives such as volunteering at the local food bank and teaching elementary school students and area businesses about the value of composting.

Santangelo said she wants her students to realize the impact they can make on the greater good.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said Santangelo’s commitment to not only her students but also her community underscores the very mission of the union movement.

“Carly represents the very best qualities that our members possess: Dedication, mastery of craft, and a sincere belief in community,” Pallotta said. “Cuba is a town made up of working families and Carly is dedicated to improving the lives of everyone who lives there. We’re privileged to call her a NYSUT member.”

Katie Ralston, Cuba-Rushford Central School 6–12 principal, said Santangelo “is a teacher who knows no limits” and whose impact “extends well beyond the four walls of her classroom.”

Take, for instance, the World Foods and Diversity program she founded with Joseph Franzen, a Cuba-Rushford history teacher. Now in its first year, the course helps students understand how gender, race, history and other global issues relate to the food we eat.

“Food’s something we all connect with,” Santangelo said. “Giving kids the opportunity to have their hands in the soil and produce their own food empowers them. It gives them a point of connection to people who they might not have had a connection to before.”

Santangelo also works to expose all students to fields traditionally viewed as male-oriented, such as welding. Doing so, she said, helps break down gender-based barriers and stereotypes.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango said key to Santangelo’s success is that she “recognizes the power of trial and error as part of the learning process.”

“Carly not only meets students where they are when they arrive in her classroom,” DiBrango said, “she helps take them to new heights. That is very inspiring.”

“We have to view our school as an extension of our community,” Santangelo said. “Learning takes place in the classroom but learning also takes place when we allow our students to take what they have learned and apply it elsewhere.”


Also recognized by the State Education Department as 2022 Teacher of the Year finalists are: Amber Chandler, Frontier Central Teachers Association; Jeanne Lance, Watervliet Teachers Association; Heather McCutcheon, Herkimer Faculty Association; and Lynn Sajdak, Hamburg Teachers Association.