On Wednesday, June 8, Wagner College held its annual Distinguished Educator Awards program, honoring teachers and academic leaders who embody education excellence on Staten Island. The program was hosted by Carin Guarasci, director of New Educators at Wagner, a post-graduate workshop for those new to the teaching profession.
“Caring, curious, competent and committed teachers and school leaders who tie their work closely to the needs of their communities aren’t just valuable people — they are the very lifeblood of a healthy society,” Wagner College said in its call for nominations for the Distinguished Educator Awards. “Without such teachers, we inevitably falter. With them, our children thrive and a brighter, more prosperous future is secured for all.”
This year’s honorees were Lauren Rinaldi-Grimaldi, Helen Decker, Jeffrey Benjamin, John-Charles Kiernan, Jennifer Lauria, James Hickey, Paul Martuccio and Louis DeLuca.
Nominees had to be either Wagner College graduates, or educators living or working on Staten Island.
Watch this video of the complete awards ceremony:
A CSI graduate who earned her master’s degree in special education from Wagner College, Rinaldi-Grimaldi has taught at the Eden II School for Autistic Children on Staten Island since 1998. She was one of the “20 under 40” recognized in 2012 by the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, and in 2015 was given the Community Service Award from the Staten Island Not-For-Profit Association.
Poet and English teacher Helen Decker has taught at Susan E. Wagner High School on Staten Island since 1998, where she edits Athenaeum, the school’s literary magazine. She earned her doctorate from the CUNY Graduate Center for her research on poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Decker has won the NYC Poetry Teacher of the Year award, the Teacher Award from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Teacher of Excellence award from the United Federation of Teachers.
For more than 20 years, Jeff Benjamin has been a part of the New Dorp High School family, coaching the boys’ cross-country and track & field program and teaching social studies. He also works at Tottenville High School’s Young Adult Borough Center, helping at-risk students earn their high school diplomas. A strong supporter for many years of youth running programs on Staten Island, in 2014 Benjamin was named an “Unsung Hero” by the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame. A Susan E. Wagner High School alumnus, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CSI.
A graduate of Wagner College, Kiernan earned his master’s degree in school building leadership from St. John’s University. He began his education career as an English teacher at Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island, where he still coaches the varsity hockey team. He served as assistant principal of St. Adalbert School for a year before being named principal of Staten Island’s St. Charles School in 2013.
An associate professor of childhood education at Wagner College, Lauria came to Grymes Hill after teaching for 9 years in New York City’s public schools. She has been twice honored at Wagner with faculty excellence awards, for teaching and service. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall, her master’s from CSI and her education doctorate from St. John’s, with a concentration in teaching and learning styles. Lauria previously served as faculty adviser to Wagner’s education honor society chapter and is currently adviser to the college’s Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development chapter. Since 2007, she has been a trustee of the Staten Island Children’s Museum.
James Hickey earned his bachelor’s degree and his master’s in education from Wagner College, and his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Fordham. He began his career in education at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Staten Island, where he fulfilled a range of teaching and administrative functions, followed by a stint as a principal in Old Bridge, N.J.’s public schools, where he was named New Jersey Principal of the Year. He is currently headmaster of Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Mass. Hickey was previously honored by Wagner College with an Alumni Leadership Award.
No sooner had Paul Martuccio earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing from Regis University, while working for several Wall Street firms, than he began work on his master’s in education at Wagner College, followed by a master’s degree in school building leadership from Mercy College. He taught in a variety of roles for several years before becoming assistant principal at Staten Island’s P.S. 21, the Margaret P. Emery–Elm Park School. Since 2009, Martuccio has been principal of the Margaret L. Lindemayer School, P.S. 13, on Staten Island, where his efforts to help the school close achievement gaps won it the National Distinguished Title I School Award. Martuccio has also been honored with the St. John’s University Outstanding Administrator Award and the Louis P. DeSario Educator of the Year Award, given by United Activities Unlimited.
Lou DeLuca has been the CEO of United Activities Unlimited, a multipurpose nonprofit human services organization on Staten Island, for more than a quarter century. His three education degrees — Wagner bachelor’s, NYU master’s, California Coast University doctorate — prepared him to be a powerful advocate for education. His career, combined with far too many community activities to list, have won DeLuca numerous honors, including two awards from the Wagner College Alumni Association and an Educator of the Year award from Wagner’s DaVinci Society.