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English teacher receives MA top honor, Fall River, Swansea, Brockton, Boston, Springfield educators also honored



Photo courtesy of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School

BOSTON – An English language arts teacher received the 2023 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year on Tuesday along with other educators receiving finalist and semifinalist honors.

The winner, Danielle “Dani” Charbonneau, teaches at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Charbonneau is also program coordinator for the high school’s alternative program, a program designed to engage students who were not thriving in the traditional high school structure.

The Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Program is the state’s top award for educators and annually recognizes excellence in teaching across the Commonwealth through the selection of a teacher who exemplifies the dedication, commitment and positive contributions of educators statewide.

Charbonneau is the first Martha’s Vineyard teacher to become Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. She is the 61st recipient of this award.

Charbonneau is in her 18th year of teaching and her seventh year of teaching English language arts with the high school’s alternative program, which is called Project Vine. She was hired in 2016 and worked with administrators, colleagues and students to restructure the alternative classes into an all-voluntary program that aims to increase student engagement in school and in the larger community to reduce chronic absenteeism and drop-out rates. Due to the program’s success, there is a waitlist for acceptance.

Project Vine’s small staff commits to both the academic day and the extra activities the program holds throughout the year. Those include a “Chopped for Charity” fundraiser in which teams participate in a cook-off to benefit the Island Food Pantry, and, separately, an annual technology-free retreat.

In the classroom, Charbonneau carefully builds relationships with her students, some of whom she teaches for four years. She learns what they are interested in and builds on that, adjusting her teaching to include material that will keep them engaged.

In addition to her work in the classroom, Charbonneau has been co-advisor to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance since 2018. Additionally, she is a member of the school’s Race-Equity and Cultural Proficiency Group, which in 2020 helped create lessons in response to the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests. Topics included media literacy, overlooked events in American history, and spotting bias in statistics.

Before joining Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Charbonneau taught at Plymouth North High School in Plymouth, and prior to that at Westfield High School in New Jersey. During the summer, she volunteers with Camp Fatima of New Jersey, a free summer camp for children with significant disabilities.

“Ms. Charbonneau and her colleagues in Project Vine offer an important option for Martha’s Vineyard’s high school students,” said Education Secretary James Peyser. “She has made a welcoming space for students to learn in the classroom and in the community.”

“Ms. Charbonneau knows that learning starts with a student,” said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley. “Her commitment to adapting school to students’ needs has prepared her students for success in the classroom and beyond.”

“Through a creative, dynamic, and enterprising approach to educating, Charbonneau has built classroom spaces where students can thrive,” said Senator Julian Cyr. “I am sincerely grateful to Ms. Charbonneau and her Project Vine colleagues for their dedicated, thoughtful, and engaging work.”

“I would like to congratulate Ms. Charbonneau on this well-deserved honor,” said Representative Dylan A. Fernandes. “Her dedication and commitment to her students is commendable, and we are extremely fortunate to have such an exemplary educator in our district.”

The selection process for the 2023 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year began in January of 2022 with a call for nominations from administrators, teacher, students, parents, and others. An initial review of each nominated teacher’s application led to the selection of 12 semifinalists, who then submitted additional supporting material. Five finalists were selected and interviewed by a panel that included past Massachusetts Teachers of the Year. That panel then recommended two candidates to Commissioner Riley.

In addition to Charbonneau, the finalists for this year’s award were:

-Shakeeda Bartee, an English teacher at UP Academy Boston;
-Sally Kim, a math teacher at John F. Kennedy Middle School, Springfield Public Schools;
-Jessica Lander, who teaches history and social studies to English learners at Lowell High School, Lowell Public Schools; and Veronica Rowlinson, an English teacher at Somerville High School, Somerville Public Schools.

The semifinalists were:
-William Guerra, science teacher at Lunenburg Middle-High School, Lunenburg Public Schools;
-Samantha McKee, second grade teacher at Atlantis Charter School in Fall River;
-Sandra Kozatek, special education reading specialist in Swansea Public Schools;
-Marissa Ramos, English teacher at Forest Park Middle School, Springfield Public Schools;
-Doug Scott, technology and engineering teacher at Hopkinton High School, Hopkinton Public Schools;
-Shannon Sheldon, fifth grade teacher at Gilmore Elementary School, Brockton Public Schools; and
-Jedediyah Williams, math and computer science teacher at Nantucket High School, Nantucket Public Schools.

“We are all incredibly proud of Ms. Charbonneau and excited to see her recognized for her support of our students and the school community. Dani is a wonderful colleague who builds strong relationships with our students and staff and is representative of the hard work and dedication of all MVYPS staff in our care of our Island’s children,” said Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent Richard M. Smith. “We are also very proud of the work that our students are doing in Project Vine and all of our MVYPS students in their efforts in our classrooms and our community.”

“Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School has an amazing team of educators,” said Principal Sara Dingledy. “Ms. Charbonneau is a wonderful representative of our school, and it’s a pleasure to see her recognized this way.”

Danielle Charbonneau holds a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Harvard University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine.

“There is immeasurable value in public education, but we need to be dynamic to be relevant. Students have every right to expect that they will encounter and explore new ideas, that they will experience joy and that they will be rewarded for their attendance with real accomplishment that has value to them,” Ms. Charbonneau wrote in her application. “We need to look closely at how to best help this very precarious generation, be honest with ourselves about what is working and what just preserves the status-quo, and be bold enough to make the changes that need to happen in our classrooms and in our schools.”

At the end of April, Charbonneau travelled to Washington representing the State of Massachusetts at 2023 Teacher of the Year.
According to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Charbonneau was able to speak at a town-hall style meeting with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, giving voice to some of the concerns students asked her to discuss, as well as talking about the success of the alternative model at MVRHS.

Charbonneau, a graduate of Falmouth High School, lives in Osterville with her wife and family.

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