Teacher & Paraeducator of the Year

Laura Vaida, Grade 6 Teacher at Hanmer School, as the 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year (TOY) and Antonio (Tony) Leone, Behavioral Specialist at WHS, as the 2020-2021 Paraeducator of the Year (POY) for Wethersfield Public Schools!

Laura Vaida is always willing to help students and staff members, but as a lifelong learner, she is also willing to ask for help. Mindset is something that Laura attributes as an important aspect in her classroom. Laura shared, “My students do well because they believe they can do well!”. Over Laura’s teaching career she has learned that helping students to develop a growth mindset, helping them set individual goals and helping them celebrate their successes is an integral part of her classroom success. Laura also has strong relationships with her students and works to understand physical and unseen barriers that may hinder student performance and she works collaboratively with other staff and parents to find a way to tap into her student’s potential.

Becky Weaver also nominated Laura and shared:

Laura is the heartbeat of the school. She is involved in all areas of the building and has relationships with colleagues from one wing to another, one team to the next. She knows her colleagues. She respects her colleagues. This makes her an integral member of the school’s leadership team and an exemplary model for leader-leader. Laura has the ability to ask difficult questions with an intent to help create possible solutions. She is invested in her school community and works diligently to help make appropriate improvements that benefit the students first and foremost.

Brandon Palma nominated Laura and shared:

Laura has done countless things to strengthen the teaching profession. In the two short years I have worked with Laura, she has consistently demonstrated what kind of impact she wants to place on the teaching profession. Last year, she was asked to be on the science committee, in which she worked to develop and structure a new curriculum that centered around the Next Generation Science Standards. Following that, she has played a prominent role and fully adapted the Leader-Leader model in her classroom and her professional lifestyle. She is consistently looking for ways to improve the building through the Leader-Leader model and committee. She has also gone back to graduate school during this school year to learn more about Social Emotional Learning. She is then taking those new ideas and skills and applying them directly to the SEL assessment committee that she was invited to join earlier this year. Laura is constantly looking for ways to improve herself and, in turn, strengthen the teaching profession as a whole.

Laura has had significant impacts on student achievement through multiple initiatives. She is constantly working to improve her overall student achievement and find creative ways to encourage and empower her students. We first see this through her Family Book Club which encourages reluctant readers and independent readers alike to come after school hours to participate in a round table discussion about books that they may not normally pick up in the classroom or library. Students who would rarely discuss in their student book clubs in class would bring up powerful and impactful ideas with the support of their family at this evening book club. It also allowed students to socialize with peers that they may not normally socialize with. We have also seen Laura’s impact on student achievement through her other after school program, Math Olympiad. Through this after school activity, students engage in increasingly challenging math problems and compete in a contest where points are awarded for solving these complex math problems. Laura is always looking for ways to improve student achievement, both in her classroom, as well as in the building as a whole. I believe she will continue to look for ways to impact student achievement until she retires from this career because she is someone who believes she is a lifelong learner and strives to improve herself every single day!

Laura's 16 year teaching career has brought her to schools in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Connecticut. She has called Hanmer home for the last 4 years where she teaches math and reading. Over the years, her growth mindset has set her on the path to completing a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and additional credits in Youth Development, Common Core Instruction, Library-Media Specialist Certification and she is currently enrolled in the Quinnipiac University, Social Emotional Language Certificate Program.

Laura is a dedicated teacher and she sets the bar according to each student’s potential and coaches relentlessly towards that goal. Her collaborative style, innovation, dedication to improving herself, students, and her colleagues each and every day and her extensive background and education make Laura Vaida an outstanding Teacher of the Year for Wethersfield Public Schools for 2020-2021!

Please join us in congratulating Tony Leone, Wethersfield Public Schools Paraeducator for the 2020-21 School Year! Tony is a Behavioral Specialist at Wethersfield High School. He supports students in the ADP (Alternative Day Program). Tony has worked at WHS for over four years.

Tony is passionate about his work with students. His experience with coaching and managing soccer leagues is a large influence in his approach with students. Students that he works with know that he will hold them accountable, but they know that he does this with tough love. Tony wants every student that he talks to, to know that he cares about them. For example, Tony shared that he knows that just saying the word, “Hello”, can have lasting positive impacts on students. Tony is about traditional values, looking a person in the eye when talking to them, a firm handshake when greeting them. Tony is a true model of both his beliefs and his lessons.

In his nomination, Lisa Tomaszewicz, Special Education Teacher in the ADP Program at Wethersfield High School shared that,

He is constantly trying new ways to engage students in learning and never gives up on the students. He supports the students’ emotional, academic, and behavioral needs. He has consistently demonstrated that he can effectively work with small groups and individual students. He sees the students’ needs before the student knows what they need and jumps right in. He is a welcome figure in the general education classes where he has supported all students and teachers. If other team members need a paraprofessional for their student(s) Tony does not hesitate to assist.

Tony is truly a lifelong learner and he models this for his students. Lisa Tomaszewicz shared that,

Tony is always familiarizing himself with the curriculum and resources that we use in school. He constantly looks for ways to better himself as a paraeducator and is proficient with the subject matter. If he is not familiar with something he makes sure that he researches the topic/subject, expanding his growth mindset. This is truly a blessing because he can assist students in any subject. It is important to Tony that he tries to foster independence in the students. He supports the “whole” child because he tries to help them realize their best emotional, academic, and behavioral potential every day.

When other staff members were asked what words can be used to describe Tony, over and over again they said words such as trustworthy, invaluable, dependable, caring, relatable, dedicated, and passionate. This is who Tony is! He wants to make a difference in the life of each and every student he works with and he believes that he can do this by developing strong relationships and sharing his personal perspective with students. These characteristics make Anthony Leone an outstanding Wethersfield Public Schools Paraeducator of the Year for 2020-2021!