Three St. Charles Parish Public Schools teachers were recently named the top educators in their divisions by the school district.
Mimosa Park Elementary School teacher Dixie Todaro was selected elementary school teacher of the year, J.B. Martin Middle School teacher Sandra McCullough has been named middle school teacher of the year and the high school teacher of the year award went to Hahnville High School teacher Gerard Nugent.
All three will go on to represent the school system in the statewide Teacher of the Year competition. Todaro graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Holy Cross College in 2000 and an associate’s of arts in early childhood education with Delgado Community College in 1997.
She began teaching at Carol’s Cottage Center in 1997 and joined Mimosa Park Elementary School in 2010 where she is a second-grade teacher. She has 14 years experience as a teacher.
Todaro is a member of Mimosa Park PTO, St. Charles Parish Reading Council and Louisiana Reading Council. Her honors include being selected teacher of the year at Pittman Elementary in Jefferson Parish in 2006-07.
“As far back as I can remember becoming a teacher consumed my thoughts,” she said. “If one would travel back to my kindergarten career day, they would see me proudly dressed in my Sunday best with a little name tag that displayed my name in the form of Ms. Blanda. I always had a love for learning and a love for helping others learn as well.”Todaro said she was born to teach.
“I became passionate about watching children learn to read, write their name for the first time, or figure out the world around them through interaction,” she said. “Each child I taught left a significant impact on me.”
What Todaro considers to be her greatest contribution to education began 10 years ago when she was selected to attend her first Kagan Cooperative Learning workshop.“It completely changed my life,” Todaro said. “It sparked a significant change in my understanding of the need for children to communicate with one another. It changed my teaching and thinking.”
McCullough has worked with students with significant disabilities in grades 6 through 8 at J.B. Martin Middle School since 2012. She previously taught at R.J. Vial Elementary until May 2012 and A.A. Songy Kindergarten until December 2010. McCullough graduated from the University of New Orleans with a bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in 2010 and earned her master’s of arts degree in teaching with a focus in significant disabilities from the University of New Orleans in 2013.
In addition to her classroom responsibilities, she is a member of the LaSard Committee Team, Louisiana Middle School Association, Louisiana Reading Association and AutismSpeaks.org.
Awards she has received include J.B. Martin teacher of the year 2014, J.B. Martin’s Riding the Wave Award, also in 2014, and Outstanding Team Member Award in 2012-13.Prior to teaching, McCullough worked for ASIFederalCredit Union for nine years until she decided she wanted a career change.
“I have been asked several times why I chose special education and my response remains the same, ‘I didn’t choose it … it chose me,’ she said. “I need my students as much as they need me, and I am taught just as much as I teach.”Becoming department chairwoman for special education at J.B. Martin in 2012 allowed her to learn the different aspects of the department, where she handles administrative duties such as scheduling, assisting and observing teachers, and promoting a learning environment.
Nugent, an 11th-grade teacher at Hahnville High School for four years, has 18 years experience in education.He graduated from the University of New Orleans with a bachelor of arts degree in December 1996, earned his teacher certification with Our Lady of Holy Cross College in May 2011, and received a master of arts degree in teaching and learning from Nova Southeastern University in July 2013.
Prior to joining Hahnville High School in June 2011, Nugent taught 10th-grade world history and 12th-grade civics at Archbishop Chapelle High School until May 1997; taught economics and free enterprise at Archbishop Rummel Hurricane Katrina Transition School until January 2006, and taught 12th-grade economics at Mount Carmel Academy until May 2011.
In addition to his role in the classroom, Nugent is a member of the Louisiana Association of Computer Using Educators, International Reading Association, Council for Economics Education, Louisiana High School Coaches’ Association, Louisiana Softball Coaches’ Association (executive board member and president-elect), Phi Kappa Phi Academic Honor Society and National Council for the Social Studies.
Throughout his career, Nugent has continued his education through participation in various professional development workshops and has been honored by several organizations.
His honors include being a nominee for the VFW Regional Social Studies Teacher of the Year, named Hahnville High School Teacher of Year Nominee 2012-13, 2013-14,2014-15 school years, named Hahnville High School’s teacher of the month for January 2012, 10-5A softball coach of the year in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, named Metro area softball coach of the year in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and named 5A Louisiana state softball coach of the year in 2008.
“My earliest childhood memories include being with my father and seeing how excited his students would get when they would run into us,” Nugent said. “I still remember witnessing how my father makes people’s lives better.
“He was my very first teacher.”
Nugent’s journey to become an educator was inspired by his father, a lifelong educator.
“My goal is to model his level of compassion·driven professionalism for my students,” he said. “Even after 18 years of teaching, I find myself seeking his guidance on being an excellent educator. Starting when I was a toddler and continuing to this day, I find myself in amazement of the fact that day in and day out my father, now retired, found true happiness in vigorously giving his time and energy to others.”
Nugent considers maintaining a failure rate of less than 10 percent his greatest achievement.
“I pride myself on the ability to evolve as the world and my students do,” he said. “For example, I have embraced the new student-centered literacy and technology initiatives that teachers have been charged with. I have found that this willingness to evolve and accept feedback has resulted in the high levels of success my students have enjoyed.”
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