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VFEE To Hold Inspiring Excellence Awards May 12


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VFEE, the Verona Foundation for Educational Excellence, will hold its Inspiring Excellence Awards on Friday, May 12, at Caldwell Univerity’s Cougar Den in Visceglia Hall. The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will honor six Verona Public School teachers and seven school nurses.

The teachers are Erin Coffey, Brookdale; Anna Collins, F.N. Brown; Suzanne Livelli, Forest; Nicole Azzati, Laning; Stefani Lijoi, H.B. Whitehorne; and Terry Sherman, Verona High School.

The nurses being honored are Maria Rodgers, Brookdale and F.N. Brown; Carolyn Luehs, Brookdale; Kristie Heimerle, F.N. Brown and Laning; Joan Petronico, Forest and Laning; Barbara Wertz, Forest; Norma Palmer, H.B. Whitehorne; and Dina Rizzuto-Francis, Verona High School.

Tickets to the event are $65 per person, and includes food, wine and beer. You can buy yours on VFEE’s website.

Verona Teachers Honored

Nicole Azzati
Mrs. Azzati has been on the Child Study Team for the Verona Public Schools since September 2004. She works at all four Verona elementary schools and preschool as a social worker. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work Degree from Ramapo College and her Master of Social Work Degree from Fordham University.

Erin Coffey
Mrs. Coffey has been teaching Kindergarten at Brookdale for eight years. Prior to working in Verona, she taught both Kindergarten and First Grade at Saint Philip Preparatory School in Clifton. She began her teaching career at Park Street Academy in Montclair, teaching the two-year old class as well as the four-year old class. Mrs. Coffey graduated from Montclair State University with a double major in Dietetics and Family and Child Studies. After a few years working in a hospital as a nutritionist and various nanny positions, Mrs. Coffey got her teaching degree through the Alternate Route. Mrs. Coffey resides in Hasbrouck Heights with her husband, Jason, and their two children, Brandon and Emily.

Anna Collins
Mrs. Collins retired as a first grade teacher in 2020. A graduate of Caldwell University, she has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education. She is also certified as Handicapped and Nursery School Teacher and she received the Governor’s Teacher Recognition Award in 1986. During her 36 years of service, she taught a variety of grade levels from kindergarten to eighth grade. She believes in teaching the whole child with her whole heart, knowing full well each child’s uniqueness is critical to their learning and total development. A longtime resident of Verona, Mrs. Collins lives with her husband and daughter.

Stefanie Lijoi
Ms. Lijoi was born and raised in Little Falls, NJ and she graduated from William Paterson University in 2005 with a degree in Elementary Education and English Writing. In 2006, she accepted a position as a sixth-grade literacy and science teacher at HBW and went on to earn a master’s degree in reading instruction from William Paterson University in 2013. Currently, Ms. Lijoi is the fifth grade Carnegie literacy teacher at HBW. She is thankful for the opportunity to encourage her students to love reading and writing as much as she does. She considers it a blessing that every day she can do what she has dreamed of doing since she was five years old – having her own classroom.

Suzanne Livelli
Mrs. Livelli received her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Montclair State University in Early Childhood Education. She is certified to teach grades K through 8. Mrs. Livelli began her teaching career at North End Elementary School in Cedar Grove. She taught first and second grade, and earned tenure in the district. She then took time off from teaching to be a full time mom at home. This is Mrs. Livelli’s thirteenth year in the Verona School District. Her career in Verona began as a classroom aide and substitute teacher. Mrs. Livelli was fortunate enough to have worked in all four elementary schools. This is her tenth year teaching Kindergarten. She taught Kindergarten three years at Brookdale Avenue School, and one year at Laning Avenue School. Mrs. Livelli has found a home at Forest Avenue School, where she is beginning her sixth year. Mrs. Livelli resides in Cedar Grove with her husband and two children.

Terry Sherman
For 28 years, Mrs. Sherman faithfully served Verona schools, and inspired generations of students and artists at VHS, FN Brown, and Brookdale. Her students’ art still graces our walls and continues to inspire our community. Mrs. Sherman retired from VHS in 2020. Mrs. Sherman’s caring disposition, passion for teaching, and eye for creativity have forever touched so many students. So much so, that Ms. Carvajal, Mrs. Sherman’s replacement, was once her student. If all educators could retire knowing that they meaningfully inspired even one student, their mission comes to fruition.

Verona School Nurses Honored

Carolyn Luehs
Mrs. Luehs is a lifelong resident of Verona and a graduate of Verona High School. She has been a member of the Verona SCA, an active parent member of her children’s sports programs, substitute nurse and her current position as Brookdale Avenue School Nurse. She is a member of the Essex County School Nurses Organization. Mrs. Luehs received her Nursing degree from Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing and received her Bachelor of Science in
Nursing from Montclair State University. For many years, she was a dedicated nurse at Mountainside Hospital, and has experience working in Cardiac Intensive Care, Telemetry, Pediatrics, Gastroenterology and Endoscopy.
Mrs. Luehs’s greatest joy is spending time with her husband and four children. She enjoys traveling, sports, and cooking but most of all relaxing on the beach with a good book.

Kristie Heimerle
Mrs. Heimerle has been a Registered Nurse for 27 years. She began working in the Verona school district 13 years ago as a substitute school nurse. She was hired as one of the part time nurses in the district 6 years ago. Prior to school nursing she worked as an Emergency Department Nurse and Nurse Case Manager. Mrs. Heimerle received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Scranton, and School Nurse Certification from Seton Hall University. She resides in Verona with her husband and 3 children who all attend the Verona Public Schools.
In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the beach with her family.

Norma Palmer
Mrs. Palmer has been very involved in the Verona School district for many years in a variety of roles. She has been a very active parent, a substitute nurse, and is currently the School Nurse for HBW. She received her bachelor’s degree from Central Connecticut University, her master’s from NYU, and her Nursing degree from Clara Maass Medical Center. Mrs. Palmer was also a dedicated Pediatrics nurse at St. Barnabas Medical Center for many years. Mrs. Palmer loves spending time with her family and celebrating her children’s accomplishments. She also enjoys outdoor life, arts and crafts, and relaxing days at the Verona pool.

Joan Petronico
Born and raised in Jersey City long before it was popular to live there, Mrs. Petronico attended Holy Name School of Nursing in Teaneck, and continued her education at NJ City University completing a master’s in health education and School Nursing. Her first job was at Jersey City Medical Center where she was introduced to public health needs. There was no better environment for learning about the health needs of adults and children. She raised 3 children while working part-time as a school nurse in the Lyndhurst Public School system. Later, she was offered a full-time position in the Verona Public Schools as School Nurse for Forest Avenue and Laning Avenue Schools, where she worked until her retirement.

Dina Rizzuto-Francis
Every school needs that nurturing individual and Mrs. Rizzuto-Francis is that person and more at VHS. Being a nurse is hard work, but Mrs. Rizzuto-Francis makes that work look easy. Each day, when she arrives at the building, she never knows what is going to come her way. There are days spent completing forms and health screenings so our athletes can play sports and attend field trips, and others where she is tending to sick students. She shined throughout the COVID pandemic. While many of us struggled, Mrs. Rizzuto-Francis was the steady hand that helped keep the school open for our students. Every difficult scenario Mrs.
Rizzuto-Francis faced was always met with grace and care.

Maria Rodgers
Mrs. Rodgers has been a full-time school nurse for the Verona School District for the past 8 years, working at both F N Brown and Brookdale. A Registered Nurse for 41 years, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and a Master of Science in Nursing from Columbia University. In addition, she received her School Nurse Certification from Caldwell University. Her 41-year career includes hospital (Labor and Delivery,
Postpartum), Clinic work (Lactation Education and Maternal Child Health Education) and adjunct teaching at Seton Hall University. She has spent most of her nursing career in the Maternal/child Health field and is a Board-Certified Lactation Consultant who has educated clients in both the hospital and private practice setting.
Prior to joining the Verona school district, Mrs. Rodgers subbed in several local school districts. She is a member of the Essex County School Nurses Association and several other professional organizations including the Caldwell Board of Health. She resides in Caldwell with her husband of 33 years and raised 5 adult children.

Barbara Wertz
Mrs. Wertz is the mother of three children who attended Forest Avenue, HBW, and VHS. She has been a nurse in the Verona Public Schools since 2013. Before becoming a school nurse, she worked in the Anesthesiology Department of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson and the Surgical Recovery Room and Step-Down Cardiac Care Unit at St. Barnabas
Hospital in Livingston. She is a certified Emergency Medical Technician and has been a member of the Verona Rescue Squad since 2018. Mrs. Wertz earned her Associate of Nursing and Bachelor of Business with a minor in Computer Science degree from Gwynedd Mercy University and her Bachelor of Nursing degree and School Nurse Certificate from Caldwell University. She lives in Verona with her husband, Rich, also a recipient of VFEE’s Inspiring Excellence award, and their son. She and Rich are frequent travelers to the West Coast to visit their daughters and son-in-law.

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