New RPS Teachers
New RPS Teachers
Posted on 09/30/2021
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This year, the District welcomed thirty new educators into the New Teacher Induction Program. Over the course of four years on the path to tenure, it is the goal of the District to provide sufficient support to develop excellent teachers who will be committed to the best interests of our students while growing into teacher-leaders who will advance the district's mission and vision. Each year of the program focuses on the development of a specific set of skills and dispositions commensurate with the teacher's level of experience in Ridgewood.

Get to Know Our New Teachers

Elizabeth Barnard, K-2 LLD Teacher, Hawes Elementary School

 Barnard My name is Elizabeth Barnard, and I am the K-2 LLD teacher at Hawes Elementary School. I have always been passionate about teaching and working with kids. I grew up in Ridgewood, and it is a dream come true to be working in the community! 

Amy Bernard-Mason, Latin Teacher, Ridgewood High School

Bernard-Mason I am excited to be starting my 17th year teaching Latin at Ridgewood. I was previously at Voorhees High School, but the Ridgewood language program has such a strong reputation that I was happy to join the team here. Latin has been a place where I have always felt a sense of belonging, and I look forward to passing that along to a new group of students. In addition to teaching, I'm involved in the National Latin Exam, American Classical League, and am working on an M.Ed. in learning design and technology.

Justine Capolongo, RISe Special Education Teacher, Benjamin Franklin Middle School

Capolongo This is my sixth year of teaching, and I’m excited to begin my journey with the RISe program at BF. Along with education being a fulfilling career, I became an educator in honor of my late grandfather who encouraged patience and compassion. When I’m not at school, I’m typically at the lake or hiking with my two dogs, Lenny and Hank. 

Natalie Cardillo, Music Teacher, Ridgewood High School

Cardillo My name is Ms. Cardillo, and I am the new Choir Director of Ridgewood High School! I moved to the area from Baltimore, Maryland and am very excited to be back in the classroom and hear so many voices singing together again. When I was in high school, I had a fabulous choir teacher named Mr. Ehrlich who helped me find my passion for teaching and studying music. I hope to help my students develop a lifelong appreciation of music and continue making music professionally or just for fun. The RHS Music Department looks forward to performing for you this year!

Christa Darakjy, Science Teacher, Ridgewood High School

Darakjy My name is Christa Darakjy (pronounced duh-rock-G), and I teach 9th-grade biology. In my free time, I enjoy reading, running, and traveling. As a lifelong Bergen County resident, I am very excited to join the Ridgewood team! 

Kristen DeCroix, Fifth-Grade Teacher, Ridge Elementary School

DeCroix This is my 18th year teaching 5th Grade. I taught in Brookline, MA for the past 17 years. I am excited to join the 5th-grade team and the Ridgewood community. I have heard so many great things about Ridgewood Schools and am so happy to be part of the team!

Mary DeNunzio, Library Media Specialist, Travell Elementary School

DeNunzio I obtained my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science about ten years ago.  Since then, I have worked as both a school and public librarian with a focus on children's literature and infusing technology into library programs.  I have always had a love of reading and books and I look forward to passing that on to the students of Ridgewood. 

Grace DiModugno, Special Education Teacher, George Washington Middle School

DiModugno My name is Grace DiModugno. I am a first-year teacher and am thrilled to be starting my career in Ridgewood. I graduated from William Paterson University with a double major in English Literature and Education, a minor in special education, a concentration in middle school, and a concentration in math. I am a Ridgewood alumna, and I attended Orchard, GW, and RHS.  I love school and have always wanted to be a teacher! 

Deanna Dino, Fourth-Grade Teacher, Orchard Elementary School

Dino My name is Deanna Dino, and I have been teaching for 18 years.  I am extremely excited and proud to be a new 4th-grade teacher at Orchard.  I became a teacher because to me there is nothing better than to watch someone succeed, overcome any obstacles, and help their confidence grow. 

Emily Downs, Art Teacher, Benjamin Franklin Middle School

Downs I have been working in the Ridgewood Village School District for the past 8 years. I have been a substitute teacher, aide, permanent substitute, and now I've added art teacher (in the RISE/SAIL program) to the list. I have a BS in Fashion Design from Jefferson University, formerly known as Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. I went back to Montclair State University for my teaching certificate in art K-12 many years after a career in hat designing. Two of my three children have graduated from RHS, and my youngest is currently a junior there. I have a deep connection to Ridgewood and its families, and I’m proud to call it my home.

Kate Finnegan, Guidance Counselor, Somerville Elementary School

Finnegan This is Ms. Finnegan's 16th year in education. Prior to joining Ridgewood as Somerville's Guidance Counselor, she was a special education teacher for grades 5-8. She is excited to use her classroom knowledge within the areas of school counseling.

Drew Forgash, Social Studies Teacher, Ridgewood High School 

Forgash I'm originally from central New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in History and Spanish, and later an M.A. in Social Studies Education. While completing my undergraduate education, I was fortunate enough to study abroad for a semester at the University of Valencia in Valencia, Spain. My love of travel and learning about different cultures directly influenced my decision to become a history teacher. I am very excited to be teaching at Ridgewood High School, and I am looking forward to experiencing all of the opportunities that the district has to offer.

Jeanne Gao, School Nurse, Hawes Elementary School

Gao My name is Jeanne Gao, and I have lived in Ridgewood for 15 years. Having sent both my now-adult children to Ridgewood schools, I am delighted to work for this school district that has served my family well. Following my first career was as a social worker working with adults with mental illness, I went back to school to get my B.S.N from William Paterson University. After working as a substitute nurse in Ridgewood for the last five years, I am very excited to work at Hawes Elementary School as a full-time school nurse.

Erica Hoff, Education Specialist, Orchard Elementary School 

Hoff I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in elementary school! Instilling a lifelong love for learning within my students and having an impact on their lives is why I became a teacher. I am elated to be part of the RPS community. Ridgewood is a phenomenal school district that aligns with my philosophy of who I am as a teacher. I am committed to creating a positive and safe community in which each individual can discover and develop his or her potential.

Christina Jannone, Health and Physical Education Teacher, Ridgewood High School

Jannone My name is Ms. Jannone, and I am a health and physical education teacher at RHS. I am also the freshman girls volleyball coach here at RHS. I grew up in Clinton, NJ and went to college at East Stroudsburg University in 2019. I have always loved wellness and have been a huge advocate for health education for K-12 so naturally teaching health and PE was easy for me! I am so excited to be a part of such an incredible community and school district. 

Sarah Junta, Second-Grade Teacher, Willard Elementary School

Junta I have always known that I wanted to become an elementary school teacher from an early was never a question of which profession I’d pursue. That is why I am beyond excited to join the Ridgewood Public Schools staff. I look forward to building positive relationships with my students, colleagues, and the Ridgewood community as a whole!

Alexandra Kowalski, Second-Grade Teacher, Somerville Elementary School

Kowalski I have been dreaming of the day that I would have my own classroom since I was in Kindergarten myself! I attended Montclair State University and received a BA in Family Science and Human Development with a concentration in Elementary Education K-6, along with a minor in Psychology. Teaching is such a passion of mine because I truly view it as the most important job in the world. As educators, we are shaping the future of our world, and, in my opinion, there is nothing more impactful. My goal is to make each and every student that comes through my classroom feel supported, confident, and ready to take on the world. I strive to leave a lasting impression on my students as so many of my teachers did for me!

Christina Lim, Third-Grade Teacher, Travell Elementary School

Lim My name is Christina Lim, and I am excited to join the RPS community as a teacher.  My decision to enter the field of education is a direct result of having amazing teachers in the past. As education opened many doors for me, I decided that education was a doorway where I could affect the lives of many students who experienced similar challenges as I faced. To this day, I know that every student who walks through my classroom door deserves to feel safe and loved.

Alyssa Locker, Social Worker, Somerville Elementary School

Locker I am so excited to be part of the Ridgewood School District and look forward to a great school year! Prior to Ridgewood, I was a social worker in a middle school for the last 6 years. My goal this year is to create a warm and welcoming environment for students to learn and grow.

Marissa Madison, Special Education Teacher, Orchard Elementary School

Madison My name is Marissa Madison, and I teach Special Education at Orchard Elementary School. I became a teacher because I wanted to provide the same amazing experiences to children that I had in school. When I think about why I became a teacher, I first think about all of the teachers I had as a student. The teachers that I remember the best and who made the most impact on me are the ones who not only taught me the material but taught in a way that made learning exciting. I became a teacher with that mindset as my goal; I try my best to find a way to make every topic exciting and fun. I couldn't be more thrilled and fortunate to get to do that every day in the RPS community!

Melissa Miller, Guidance Counselor, Travell Elementary School

Miller My name is Melissa Miller, and I am the new school counselor at Travell Elementary School. After teaching middle school mathematics for the past 12 years, I felt it was time for me to alter the way I was able to reach students. As an elementary school counselor, I believe I will be able to make a greater difference in a greater number of children. I hope that by meeting them at this early stage, I will be able to provide them with all of the tools they will need to successfully navigate the challenges that lie ahead. I could not be more excited for the opportunity to do so in the Ridgewood Public Schools community, whose well-earned and outstanding reputation for pride and achievement precedes itself.

Liz Nam, Guidance Counselor, Hawes Elementary School

Nam A guidance counselor can help with the many factors that affect a student's readiness and ability to learn.  By nurturing their social and emotional development, I hope to encourage students onto a successful path.  I am excited to join Hawes School and be part of a staff and community that is so dedicated to the growth and well-being of its students!

Justin Oh, Health & Physical Education Teacher, Somerville Elementary School

Oh My name is Justin Oh, and I am the new PE teacher at Somerville Elementary School! I love being a PE teacher because it gives me an opportunity to share with students my passion for physical activity! Not only do I enjoy teaching students the importance of being active, but also implementing important life skills that can be applied outside of the classroom! I am excited to be a part of the Ridgewood community and do my part to ensure these students get the best environment possible to grow as individuals!

Meagan Papapietro, Guidance Counselor, Benjamin Franklin Middle School

Papapietro I became a counselor because I believe in child advocacy and helping students through their individual and unique challenges. My goal is to listen, instill hope, and inspire my students to be empowered, caring, and mindful individuals. I am so excited to be part of the Ridgewood community and am looking forward to a great year ahead! 

Jennifer Raphaels, Social Studies Teacher, Ridgewood High School

Raphaels Jennifer Raphaels earned her B.A. in Economics and Ed.M. in Social Studies Education from Rutgers University. After 12 years as a high school social studies teacher and 3 years as the Social Studies Supervisor in Bernards Township, she decided to return to her first love...teaching economics. She is thrilled to join the Ridgewood High School Social Studies Department as the new AP Economics teacher. Mrs. Raphaels' credits as economics educator include membership on the College Board's AP Macro Instructional Development Team, service as an AP Macro Exam grader, and AP Micro Course Lead in the production of the 2021 AP Micro digital exams. She has produced a variety of instructional resources for both students and teachers, including economics lessons for the AP Live and AP Daily instructional video program and review resources for several AP Economics textbooks.

Beth Calamia Scheckel, Latin Teacher, Benjamin Franklin Middle School

Calamia-Scheckel Ever since elementary school, I would lose myself in the ancient Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I feel lucky to have been able to study Classics in college and graduate school, study abroad in Rome, lead a class of students to Greece, and teach all kinds of classes related to the ancient world. My middle school/high school Latin teacher still inspires me, and I hope to do the same with my RPS students.

Laura Vargo, Guidance Counselor, Ridgewood High School

Vargo I’m a Bergen County native and attended The College of New Jersey for my undergraduate degree and earned my Master’s in School Counseling at Montclair State University. I have been working as a school counselor and helping students with the college application process for over six years. In my free time, I love watching sports (go Yankees!), walking my dogs, and cooking. I also enjoy traveling and learning new skills; I recently started playing tennis and had a great time at the U.S. Open this past summer. I am passionate about my role as a school counselor because it is my goal to promote a supportive environment where students feel confident and connected to their school community.

Vanessa Veenstra, First-Grade Teacher, Orchard Elementary School

Veenstra My name is Vanessa Veenstra, and I am so thrilled to be a part of the RPS community. I had the opportunity to be a maternity leave replacement at Orchard School in the past, and I knew I was at a special school and in a special community. When I saw that I would have the opportunity to come back to Orchard, I knew I was joining a school community where everyone was so supportive and welcoming. I am very excited to be starting as a first-grade teacher at Orchard, and I am looking forward to seeing all the ways that I can grow as a teacher at Ridgewood Public Schools!

William Veres, STEPSS Teacher, Special Programs, RPS

Veres My name is Mr. Veres. One of my passions in life besides my family and being in the great outdoors is my career in special education. Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher. There have been teachers in my family, and I always respected the field. I always knew that I would have a career as a teacher, but I never knew that my life’s journey would lead me into the field of special education. Very few things bring me the joy I feel when I see students overcome struggles that they have and are able to generalize and apply learned skills across all aspects of their lives.

Rae Wine, PERL Special Education Teacher, Somerville Elementary School

Wine My name is Rae Wine, and I am the PERL (Program for Emotional Regulation Learning) teacher in Somerville. I became a special educator almost seven years ago to help students of all abilities empower themselves as learners in their own unique ways. I could not be more excited to join the Ridgewood community, as I have heard that it is the best of the best! I am looking forward to learning more and more about this wonderful community and how it works together to support one another!