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July 11, 2020


Fox Lane High School’s Raffaella Pirone holds a plaque she received as winner of a national teaching award. Photo Credit: Bedford Central School District
Mary Ellis has been appointed as interim assistant superintendent for instruction and human resources for the balance of the 2019-2020 school year at Irvington Union Free School District. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Irvington Union Free School District
The Port Chester Public School District offers a dual language program for students in elementary schools. Photo Credit: Anna Helhoski, file

Around The Schools: Bilingual Boost In Port Chester, Italian Teacher Wins National Award

Bilingual education opens the world to kids culturally and gives a boost to their brains so it is no surprise that a dual language program is gaining steam at a Westchester school district.

The program's goal is to have students become proficient in English and Spanish. Children have the opportunity to be bilingual, bilateral and bicultural thanks to the new dual language program at Port Chester Public Schools. Each of the elementary schools offers students 50/50, Spanish- English Two-Way Dual Immersion program, while John F. Kennedy Magnet School currently runs a 90/10 One-Way Dual Immersion Program.

These give students the opportunity to learn content areas in both languages. The program is designed to provide a structure for children from differing linguistic and cultural backgrounds to learn together in a collaborative environment.

Interim assistant superintendent steps in at Irvington

The Irvington School District Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools Kristopher Harrison announced the appointment of Mary Ellis as interim assistant superintendent for instruction and human resources for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. 

Ellis was a science teacher at the Rye Country Day School, an elementary school teacher at the Carmel Central School District, and an elementary school teacher and a middle school science teacher at the Mahopac Central School District.

Her wealth of experience and knowledge will enable her to be a great partner with our faculty, staff, and administration in continuing to support the delivery and development of the high-quality learning experiences in which our students participate," Harrison said.

Ellis has served as a director of the curriculum and instructional services at the Mount Pleasant Central School District, where she supervised all K-12 curriculum, instruction and assessment, designed and delivered professional development for teachers and administrators and promoted success for all students. She has experience as a director of fine and performing arts, as well as a supervisor of elementary English language arts and social studies at the Harrison Central School District. 

She has also worked as an independent consultant, supporting teachers in the first few years of their careers and providing onsite support in the implementation of New York State arts standards. Prior to her taking on administrative posts, Ellis worked as an elementary school teacher and middle school science teacher.

“The Irvington community has created a clear path for the future with the adoption of a strategic plan targeting rigorous learning opportunities for students, professional learning for educators, and a culture that supports all learners while maintaining high levels of accountability and fiscal responsibility," Ellis said.

Appointed during the Board of Education meeting on Nov. 19, Ellis will step into her role on Monday, Jan. 6.

Bedford Italian teacher garners prestigious notice

Fox Lane High School Italian teacher Raffaella Pirone recently became the first teacher from New York state to receive the national Coccia-Inserra Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Teaching of Italian (K-12).

“This annual prestigious recognition of outstanding and creative teaching is funded by Coccia Foundation and the Inserra families under the auspices of the Coccia Institute,” said Mary Ann Re, director of the Coccia Institute for the Italian Experience in America at Montclair State University. 

“The candidates are evaluated and the recipient selected by a distinguished panel of judges in Italian language pedagogy from across the country, as well as in Italy. Brava, Raffaella, and the excellent administration that supports you! The competition was formidable.”

Pirone accepted the award in October at the annual Teaching Italian Symposium-Workshops organized by the Coccia Institute and the Italian faculty of Montclair State University’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Fox Lane High School’s World Language Coordinator Magaly Reluzco accompanied Pirone to the event.

“There were so many eligible people, for her to be the one person selected was pretty awesome,” Reluzco said of Pirone’s honor. “It was very cool to see one of our teachers get up there.”

In addition to the recognition of her teaching prowess, Pirone was awarded $5,000. Half is to be spent on her professional development at an accredited institution, while the remaining $2,500 is to be used for enrichment activities for students of Italian.

The award came as a surprise to Pirone, who was considered for it in the past. After the Institute encouraged her to apply again, Pirone added more supporting material to the extensive application, which included video, lesson plans and letters of recommendation.

“I’m very honored,” Pirone said. “It just takes the initiative to try. I’ve been going to this Symposium for at least ten years now. Every year, I see a teacher win and I thought, ‘I’m going to try. Why not?’”

“To be the first honoree from New York state is a truly incredible accomplishment that speaks to her passion and commitment to bringing the beauty of the Italian language to our students,” said Fox Lane High School Principal Brett Miller. 

Pirone, who is from Rome, has always wanted to be a teacher. Pirone’s emphasis on Italian culture in her classes was one of the strengths identified by the judges selecting her for the award. She plans to use much of the award money to continue that emphasis.

"In Italy, I studied to become a Latin and Ancient Greek teacher. I planned to stay in Italy and work in a high school,” Pirone said. “When I moved to the United States, I taught Latin for a little while, but living here and being a teacher and Italian, it makes more sense to teach Italian. I feel like I can share my culture, too.”