Instructional Designer does ‘whatever it takes’ for students, colleagues to succeed
Chesterfield County Public Schools’ 2022 Teacher of the Year knew that she and her teacher colleagues were in for a very different experience as students returned to instruction last fall during the middle of an international pandemic. Many teachers, students, and parents were confused and unsure about how to navigate this new educational landscape, she noted.
“All summer, I worked to create documents, start-ups, and how-to guides and videos for staff and also for students and their families,” the first-year instructional designer said. “I collaborated with my administration and other colleagues to come up with ways to make technology less intimidating (and dare I say, fun?) for all stakeholders. I was on a mission to make teachers love Canvas [the school division’s learning management system], so that they could pack a powerful punch with their lessons and keep their students engaged and invested in their education.”
In a year where instructional technology has been critical to student success, Clover Hill Elementary School Instructional Designer Raegen Dinelli has been selected as Chesterfield County Public Schools’ 2022 Teacher of the year. Dinelli, a former fifth-grade teacher who has been at Clover Hill Elementary since 2006, also was selected as the school division’s 2022 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
“My philosophy of teaching has always been ‘whatever it takes,’ ” Dinelli said. “I’ve always believed that teachers and students could do anything, and this year we were really put to the test. Now I believe that teachers and students can do ‘virtually’ anything!”
“Raegen exemplifies the outstanding work done by our teaching staff during this most challenging school year,” Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said. “She assisted teachers with learning new ways of reaching students to teach them. She was creative, inventive, and resourceful, helping make the transition as easy as possible for all teachers and students at Clover Hill. And, as Principal Karyn Anderson notes, this outstanding work continues daily.”
Clover Hill Elementary colleagues praised Dinelli for researching and employing instructional methods that intrigued and inspired teachers, staff, and students. She supported and collaborated with colleagues to transform classroom
instruction. Dinelli taught every staff member how to use Canvas, and she helped create every staff member’s homepage for students, parents, and other stakeholders to access while everyone was a part of virtual learning. She recorded numerous clear, accessible videos for staff to learn how to use the multiple new technologies necessary to teach students in a virtual world.
“Mrs. Dinelli answered everyone’s continuous questions,” said Cari Malakoff, a school counselor of Clover Hill Elementary. “And she did so with a positive, welcoming attitude.”
“In July, I stepped into the role of Instructional Designer, which was the best move I could have made, but by far the scariest move I could have made. Especially in the year of a global pandemic,” Dinelli said. “My dad always told me to never get too comfortable and to always be willing to take a risk, so that’s exactly what I did. I found out that I got this job right before Memorial Day weekend last May and from that moment on, I was determined that I would do everything I could to better serve students and staff at my school.” Dinelli now will compete for Region I Teacher of the Year honors.
Potocko is a sixth-grade math teacher at Robious Middle, where she has worked since 2017.
Her Teacher of the Year application illustrated a strong connection with students. Potocko also has been involved in schoolwork related to Positive Behavior Intervention Services that helped develop proactive circles, where students are able to express their thoughts and feelings. Academically, Potocko designed and implemented a project-based learning exercise focused on achieving mathematics competency with decimal operations by budgeting, learning about the needs of the community by examining costs, and experiencing opportunities to help the community by donating items and volunteering. A math lesson about the taught students about the costs of a “free education” helped demonstrate to her students a need to help underserved communities. This work built understanding, empathy and kindness.
A teacher colleague, Katherine Herceg, wrote of Potocko, a 29-year veteran of teaching: “Despite her vast classroom experience, though, Suzanne continually reflects on her practice and modifies it year after year. She continually pursues the ‘perfect’ lesson, always in an effort to improve her students’ understanding. … I have learned so much about the
importance of ‘relentlessly pursuing’ our students and simply not allowing any one of them to give up.”
Longworth is a science teacher at Thomas Dale, where she has worked since 1997.
A true experimental scientist at heart, Longworth believes that students learn best by doing. Her Teacher of the Year application illustrated a strong commitment to students. “My students, current and past, are always in my thoughts,” Longworth wrote. “They are the reason every missing assignment or failed grade makes me re-evaluate and reconsider my teaching practice each and every day, each and every year.”
Her principal, Dr. Chris Jones, noted: “Words cannot express how much Tracy Longworth means to Thomas Dale High School. For more than 20 years, she has poured her heart and soul into our students, faculty and staff, and our entire school community. This year, she has elevated her impact even more. … Her desire to dream big is an inspiration and has set the examples for us all to follow.”