Colonial’s Rebecca Louise Vitelli named 2020 Delaware Teacher of the Year

An early childhood educator from the Colonial School District is Delaware’s 2020 State Teacher of the Year.

Governor John Carney made the announcement tonight at the annual banquet honoring the 20 district and charter teachers of the year at Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center in Dover.

Rebecca Louise Vitelli, who teaches prekindergarten  for the Colonial Early Education Program located at the Colwyck Center, now is Delaware’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year, a title she hopes will allow her to share her message about the importance of all children having access to quality early childhood education.

Vitelli, whose classes include a mix of students with disabilities and their typically developing peers, said all children are born with an innate drive and extraordinary ability to learn: “They have remarkable potential, which can be achieved by early intervention.”

Relationships drive that learning, especially in early childhood, she said. “Safety and security wire the brain to be able to learn. But when we feel connected, that’s when we’re willing to learn.”

Teachers must remain consciously present listeners and encouragers, Vitelli said. “Many of my students begin school without the ability to speak. However, this in no way means they have nothing to say. We teach children to express themselves in a multitude of ways. We show them that communication is powerful, and that others will listen and value what they have to share.”

In her application, Vitelli told the story of twin sisters with autism who entered Colonial’s early education program at age 3. On their last day at Colwyck as 6-year-olds, their mother reflected on their growth in Colonial’s program and Vitelli’s class in a note to her daughters that Vitelli shared: “Three years ago, we were told you would never talk, and you would always be trapped inside 1-year-old brains. Three years later, you have proved them wrong.”

Like these students, “children and their families need high-quality pre-K experiences, where love of learning and confidence can be nurtured to unlock their true potential,” Vitelli said.

Despite being early in her career, Vitelli has exceptional skills. Said one former administrator, retired special education coordinator Debra Nuss: “You sit mesmerized by her seemingly effortless abilities to facilitate children’s play within a carefully engineered, rich learning environment while individually addressing the complex needs of her students with great efficiency. Most of all, it is Rebecca’s heartfelt joy, sincere compassion and genuine love of children that make her classroom such an enchanting place to learn.”

Nuss said she remembers proofreading the first Individual Education Program (IEP) Vitelli wrote while working with her.

“I was astonished and overwhelmed. The preparation, the detail, the thoughtfulness and the accuracy of the IEP was superior to any other teacher’s IEP on my caseload. Rebecca’s talents are so completely instinctual and were revealed so naturally,” Nuss said.

Her principal shared a story about how Vitelli has built positive and lasting relationships with her students and families, extending her support to her children to outside of the school day. After one boy’s parents told Vitelli about their struggles with their son’s behavior at their church, Vitelli attended church with the family to provide guidance and support to his Sunday School teachers.

“It didn’t matter that it was the weekend, it didn’t matter that they practice a different religion, what mattered to her was that her student and his family needed her help and trusted her to support them,” Principal Katrina Daniels said.

Vitelli earned both of her degrees from the University of Delaware: Bachelor of Science in early childhood education and Master of Education in exceptional children and youth with a concentration in autism/severe disabilities.

She inherits from outgoing Teacher of the Year Dana Bowe the responsibility of representing all teachers in Delaware. She will address community groups, business leaders, legislators, and educational organizations to inform the public about the status of Delaware schools. She also will become Delaware’s candidate in the National Teacher of the Year Program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers sponsored by the Voya Foundation.

By action of the General Assembly, she will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 19 school district/charter candidates each will receive a personal grant of $2,000. All 20 teachers also received gifts from Advantech Incorporated and their district superintendents or charter principal.

Vitelli also will receive gifts from the Delaware Association of School Administrators, Delaware State Education Association  and Delaware School Boards Association;  State of Delaware Teacher of the Year commemorative plates from the Division of Motor Vehicles; a full doctorate program from University of Delaware and Wilmington University; graduate tuition from Delaware State University and Wesley College; a watch from the Delaware State Teachers of the Year Association; a 10-karat gold ring from Jostens; and lunch in Washington D.C. with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper.

This year’s celebration was sponsored in part by Voya Financial.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Those interested in arranging interviews or visits to Vitelli’s classroom on Wednesday should contact

Find information on all 20 nominees here.

Find a photo of Vitelli here.


Alison May
(302) 735-4006

State to name 2020 Delaware Teacher of the Year

Twenty of the state’s top teachers will be honored at a banquet next month, when one of them will be named Delaware’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

The winner will be announced at the annual award dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Dover. Funding for the award ceremony is made in part by a grant from Voya Financial. The program begins at 6 p.m. with the announcement coming at the end of the night.

The candidates were nominated by their districts or the charter network during the 2019 calendar year because of their superior ability to inspire students with a love of learning, exemplary demonstration of professional traits and strong sense of dedication and devotion to teaching.

Each nominee submitted a detailed online application exemplifying his or her teaching philosophy. Five Delaware Department of Education staff members independently evaluate each application. A former state Teacher of the Year and a member of the department staff also visit each candidate’s classroom to observe his or her teaching. Taking into consideration the ratings from the application review and classroom observation as well as a recorded presentation by the nominees, another independent panel of non-department judges then selects the one teacher who will serve as the 2020 Delaware Teacher of the Year.

The teacher chosen to become the State Teacher of the Year will become Delaware’s nominee in the national program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with the Voya Foundation.

By action of the General Assembly, the Delaware Teacher of the Year will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of his or her students, as well as a personal grant of $3,000. Additionally, all nominees will receive a $2,000 grant from the state.

The 2020 District/Charter Teachers of the Year are:

District/Charters: Name, School, Content area

Appoquinimink: Stephen Landry, Appoquinimink High, mathematics
Brandywine:Lauren Conrad, Concord High, music (vocal)
Caesar Rodney: Sabra Collins, Caesar Rodney High, physical education
Cape Henlopen: Brennan Clarke, Shields Elementary, English as a second language
Capital: Erica N. Richard, East Dover Elementary, K-4 mathematics specialist
Charters: Kayla Sweet, Kuumba Academy, 6th grade mathematics
Christina: Lindsey Muldoon, Shue Medill Middle, 8th grade English language arts
Colonial: Rebecca Louise Vitelli, Colonial Early Education Program, Prekindergarten
Delmar: Donna Huston, Delmar High, English language arts
Indian River: Arthur Henry, Millsboro Middle, music (band)
Lake Forest: Christina Hughes-Gallo, Lake Forest High, social studies
Laurel: Donna Sava, Laurel Elementary, 1st grade
Milford: Jaime Hill, Morris Early Childhood Center, kindergarten
NCCVT: Anthony Webb, Delcastle High, mathematics
POLYTECH: Nick Post, POLYTECH High, electrical trades technology
Red Clay Consolidated: Richard F. Weaver III, AI duPont High, music (band)
Seaford: Laura Burke, Central Elementary, 3rd grade
Smyrna: Denise Balcerak, Sunnyside Elementary, kindergarten
Sussex Tech: Dontez Collins, Sussex Tech High, mathematics
Woodbridge: Stephanie Vodvarka, Phillis Wheatley Elementary, 4th grade

Photos of the teachers are available online here.

Media contact: Alison May,, 302-735-4006

2020 district/charter Teachers of the Year named

Twenty Delaware teachers are finalists to be named Delaware’s 2020 State Teacher of the Year.

Selected from among the 9,000 public school teachers in the state, the candidates were nominated by their districts or the Delaware Charter School Network because of their ability to inspire students with a love of learning, demonstration of professional traits and devotion to teaching. Already leaders among the colleagues in their buildings, each now has assumed a role representing educators in their districts or the charter network. In October, one will take over the state title from 2019 Delaware Teacher of the Year Dana Bowe, a special education teacher at West Seaford Elementary in the Seaford School District.

The 2020 District/Charter Teachers of the Year are:

District/Charters       Name                                     School                                   Content area

Appoquinimink           Stephen Landry                   Appoquinimink High             Mathematics

Brandywine               Lauren Conrad                     Concord High                       Music (vocal)

Caesar Rodney         Sabra Collins                        Caesar Rodney High          Physical education

Cape Henlopen          Brennan Clarke                    Shields Elementary             English as a second language

Capital                       Erica Richard                        East Dover Elementary       K-4 mathematics specialist

Charters                     Kayla Sweet                          Kuumba Academy               6th grade mathematics

Christina                    Lindsey Muldoon                 Shue Medill Middle              8th grade English language arts

Colonial                     Rebecca Vitelli                     Colwyck Center                    Prekindergarten

Delmar                       Donna Huston                      Delmar High                         English language arts

Indian River              Arthur Henry                         Millsboro Middle                   Music (band)

Lake Forest               Christina Hughes-Gallo      Lake Forest High                 Social studies

Laurel                         Donna Sava                          Laurel Elementary               1st grade

Milford                        Jaime Hill                              Morris Elementary               Kindergarten

NCCVT                      Anthony Webb                     Delcastle High                      Mathematics

POLYTECH              Nick Post                               POLYTECH High                 Electrical trades technology

Red Clay                   Richard Weaver                   AI duPont High                    Music (band)

Seaford                      Laura Burke                          Central Elementary              3rd grade

Smyrna                      Denise Balcerak                   Sunnyside Elementary       Kindergarten

Sussex Tech             Dontez Collins                      Sussex Tech High               Mathematics

Woodbridge              Stephanie Vodvarka            Wheatley Elementary          4th grade


Media contact: Alison May,, 302-735-4006

Delaware Teacher of the Year reflects on past year

Editor’s note: This Take Note guest post is written by Jinni Forcucci, a Sussex Technical High School English language arts teacher and the 2018 Delaware Teacher of the Year. (Photo credit: Shannon Marvel McNaught/Gatehouse Delaware.) 


My family and I live in Rehoboth Beach, DE, and spend each summer visiting our favorite spots along the Atlantic Ocean in Sussex County. Attracted to the tides, the waves, the calm and the consistency of the water’s presence, my sons, my husband and I use these spaces to laugh, to exercise, to commune and to reflect.

One of my most treasured memories of our time on the beach, however, occurred when my youngest son was about five or six. After spending almost an hour sitting on the jetty rocks, looking out over the horizon, Cooper made his way back to where my husband and I sat. My husband, always the consummate observer, could tell that Cooper had something on his mind, so he asked him what he’d been thinking about as he sat on those rocks overlooking the seascape. Through his bleached blond eyelashes, my kiddo looked at us and said, “You know that line where the sea meets the sky? I thought about what I’d find if I went there.”

This past year, as Delaware’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, I feel like I had the chance to visit the space my son imagined on that summer day: the space where inspiration and curiosity abound, where challenges and experiences prompt self-discovery and untapped strength, where sunrises offers a new opportunity to make a difference, and sunsets prompt the rest and reflection necessary to keep doing the important work that benefits the children in our schools and in our communities.

After overcoming the initial shock of being named DE STOY (and please know that I still struggle with imposter syndrome when in the company of so many exemplary educators in our state and from around the nation), I began my journey toward fearless leadership and increased advocacy. And while I’ve always valued and embraced these skills, employing them on a state-wide level was completely new. Former TOYs like Wendy Turner (2017), Sandra Hall (2016), and Megan Szabo (2015) were just a few of the teacher leaders who tried to ready me for the year in store. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for my first meeting held by the CCSSO – The Council of Chief State School Officers in California with the 2018 National Teachers of the Year cohort.

The whole experience was nutso. I’m serious. I was hanging with educational professionals who’d already written and published books, who’d led for racial equity on a national stage, whose impressive resumes made me feel like a Shetland pony in the Kentucky Derby. I had so much to learn from these compassionate, innovative, and gloriously welcoming hearts belonging to educators I now call dear friends and confidantes.

Exhausting and transformative, my time in California solidified what I already knew about this noble profession: teachers are total and absolute rock stars who need more resources and support to help students thrive, and ALL learners benefit when ALL perspectives are valued. Why, then, did I need to go to all the way to CA if I already understood the goals CCSSO was trying to fulfill? Because when one is truly valued, when professional development is housed at Google (that place is magical… for real), when collaboration results in a nation-wide push for equitable outcomes, when heartfelt tears and giggles, that can make your bones hurt, start and end each day, one feels like she just might be able to change the world. So, I came back to our state, and I was ready. Ready to lead DE schools in a direction that embraces culturally responsive teaching and implement strategies that deny institutionalized racism.

In my past 22 years as an English teacher, I’ve committed myself to cultural proficiency as I’ve devoted my days to listening and learning from the valuable voices in my classroom. Fostering an environment that encourages individual truths and communal acceptance, I rejoice when students deny and overcome, with tremendous strength, the pervasive biases that injure and often halt the progress of our Black and Brown children. And while we celebrate growth and progress, there is work to be done.

Supporting me each step of the way this year, DOE’s beloved and devoted TOY coordinator Chris Kenton graciously drove me all over the state as I spoke to pre-service teachers, worked with doctoral candidates, presented to the House and the Senate, trained with DOE staff, and advocated for necessary training in my own district. I’ve also had the indelible pleasure of learning from the influential and tireless commitments of racial equity leaders like Faye Blake, Jacques Bowe and Maria Stecker. Their vital contributions change lives, for they know that the equity lens is the tool that all district, building and teacher leaders must look through when dismantling the systems that have historically hurt our youth. And please know that if this lens is ignored, we will continue to blindly dismiss so many beautiful hearts and minds that have so very much to offer.

In October, I will attend the DE STOY banquet that names the next winner of this humbling award. I will offer advice to the blessed educator who is in for a life-changing year, and publicly thank the state for bestowing this incredible honor on me, a gal from Felton, DE who loves books and yoga and belly laughs. I will leave that banquet with my sons and my husband, knowing that it is my responsibility to help every child visit her/his version of Cooper’s horizon. And I will wake up the next morning, ready to learn and grow from the kiddos who await me in room 837.


For more information on the great things happening in schools across Delaware, sign up to receive Take Note: Education in the First State at Take Note is published the final Wednesday of each month.

2019 District/Charter Teachers of the Year named

Twenty Delaware teachers are finalists to be named Delaware’s 2019 State Teacher of the Year.

Selected from among the 9,000 public school teachers in the state, the candidates were nominated by their districts or the Delaware Charter School Network because of their ability to inspire students with a love of learning, demonstration of professional traits and devotion to teaching. Already leaders among the colleagues in their buildings, each now has assumed a role representing educators in their districts or the charter network. In October, one will take over the state title from 2018 Delaware Teacher of the Year Jinni Forcucci, an English language arts teacher at Sussex Technical School District’s Sussex Technical High School.


The 2019 District/Charter Teachers of the Year are:

  • Appoquinimink: Sara Anderson, Cedar Lane Elementary, grade 5 inclusion
  • Brandywine: Bonnie Yurkanin, Claymont Elementary, library media
  • Caesar Rodney: Ashlee Upp, Allen Frear Elementary, grade 3
  • Cape Henlopen: Robert Harrod, Cape Henlopen High, grade 9 biology
  • Capital: Joseph Fuller, Dover High, Intensive Learning Center math/science
  • Christina: Jennifer Montanez, Etta J. Wilson Elementary, grade 5
  • Colonial: Mark McKenzie, William Penn High, Grades 11-12 chemistry
  • Delmar: Michelle Howard, Delmar High, Grades 9-12 physical science/chemistry
  • Indian River: Courtney White, North Georgetown Elementary, grade 5
  • Lake Forest: Sara Bushey, Lake Forest North Elementary, grade 3
  • Laurel: Carly Carrier, Laurel Middle, grade 6 science
  • Milford: Veronica Evans, Milford Senior High, grades 10-12 U.S. government and politics/social studies
  • New Castle County Vo-Tech: Lindsay Hoeschel, Howard High School of Technology, grade 11 English language arts
  • POLYTECH: David Watson, POLYTECH High, engineering/calculus/physics
  • Red Clay Consolidated: Lia Zucchino, Evan G. Shortlidge Academy, grade 2
  • Seaford: Dana Bowe, West Seaford Elementary, K-2 special education
  • Smyrna: Virginia Hoye, Clayton Intermediate, grade 5 English language arts/social studies
  • Sussex Tech: Anthony Natoli, Sussex Technical High, grades 9 and 11 English language arts
  • Woodbridge:  Heather Kerrick, Woodbridge Early Childhood Education Center, grade 1 reading/social studies
  • Charter Network: Thomas Becker, MOT Charter High, grades 9-12 math

Media Contact: Alison May,, 302-735-4006