Westampton Educator Honored as N.J. Teacher of the Year

October 5, 2011

WESTAMPTON — Jeanne DelColle spent one recent summer vacation in Mongolia without internet, television or even running water.

For her, that simply meant more material to bring back to her job as a social studies teacher at the Burlington County Institute of Technology.

"History is not just names and dates and figures," said DelColle, who spoke about Mongolia’s people and culture with her students after the trip. "You need to get to know people, to know history."

DelColle, a 15-year educator who has taught at the vocational high school in Westampton since 2003, was honored today for her hands-on teaching approach when she was named New Jersey Teacher of the Year for 2011-12.

DelColle, 40, whose principal described her as a "real-life female Indiana Jones," was praised for "going beyond the textbook" to bring history alive by sharing experiences from her travels to archaeological digs and environmental projects in such places as Jordan, Mongolia and Belize. She was honored at a meeting of the state Board of Education in Trenton.

"I’m trying to wrap my head around all of it," said DelColle, who learned about the award two weeks ago when she was pulled out of her classroom to a meeting with Principal Joseph Venuto — only to find acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf calling.

"I try to help my students find their voice, bring them out of their shell," she said. "I ask them a lot, ‘what do you think?’... I encourage my students to dream big."

DelColle’s work has earned her other accolades and honors. She was named 2010 Teacher of the Year by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and Burlington County Outstanding Woman of the Year for Education.

Rutgers University history professor Clement Price said she is "emblematic of what we should be looking for in our teachers."

DelColle will have the chance to impact other teachers this year: She was named to the Christie administration’s Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee which will help develop a new statewide teacher evaluation system.

She will also spend six months on sabbatical, starting in January, working with the state Department of Education on special projects, giving presentations around the state and participating in national activities, including meeting President Obama.

The Teacher of the Year award was selected and administered by the Department of Education but sponsored by four organizations and companies that provided prizes to DelColle. Among them are Educational Testing Service, which will sponsor the sabbatical; the New Jersey Education Association, which pays for a rental car for her to use while traveling; the financial institution, ING, which will give $5,000 to help offset travel expenses; and SMART technologies.