A $25,000 Surprise for West Orange Math Teacher

Nic Corbett | The Star-Ledger
11/04/11

About eight years ago, Frank Iannucci gave up a budding career in the IT industry because he wasn't happy.

"I'm a firm believer in 'money doesn't buy happiness,' " he said. "Sitting behind a desk, not really talking to anybody, not being able to interact with people, it wasn't for me. It wasn't for my personality."

But teaching, and connecting with kids, now that was the perfect fit.

Today, the 33-year-old math teacher at West Orange High School was rewarded for his dedication to this less lucrative career in education with a $25,000 no-strings-attached, cash prize.

Before this morning's assembly at the high school, the only thing most students and faculty knew was that they would be celebrating the school’s accomplishments. Sitting with students a few rows from the front, Iannucci was clearly in shock when his name was announced as the recipient of the Milken Educator Award.

As the crowd roared, Iannucci covered his face with his hands.

"I don’t think I’ve shaken this much since I first started teaching and had to stand in front of a bunch of high school kids," Iannucci said after coming to the microphone.

Principal Arthur Alloggiamento said Iannucci is a great teacher because he makes an extra effort to try to connect with his students. Ninety-nine percent of his students pass his classes, and 96 percent go on to college.

"He has that rapport with them," he said. "You just feel the energy. He gets them motivated. He gets them laughing. He gets them interested in learning."

Jerhard Evangelista, 17, a senior, said having Iannucci as his algebra teacher freshman year helped him succeed in high school.

 

"He was someone you could go talk to when you needed him, especially with help, and he also motivated you to keep pushing throughout the year, " Evangelista said.

Iannucci said he strives to find ways for his students to apply their skills in the real world. Taking inspiration from the show "Numb3rs," in which an FBI mathematician uses equations to solve crimes, Iannucci once made up a kidnapping scenario and had his students solve a puzzle using algebra concepts to figure out which room in the high school he was being held.

Michael Milken, the former junk bond king-turned-philanthropist and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, said his organization wanted to reward teachers financially, instead of a simple pat on the back, to show that going into the profession isn’t a vow of poverty. Educators are the most important people in the community, he said, but they are rarely recognized.

Iannucci said he’s considering putting the money toward his $78,000 in student loan debt. He attended Seton Hall University, then graduated from Montclair State University with a degree in computer science. He later earned a master’s in educational leadership from Montclair State.

Among his other duties, Iannucci works with the district’s technology department to develop an online learning program. When he became a supervisor in the math department, Alloggiamento said, he made the unusual request to keep teaching advanced placement computer science and two sections of Java to students.

"Believe it or not, they’re the reason why I get up in the morning," Iannucci said. "They're the reason why I come here. They're the reason why I work very hard. I do everything for them."

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