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Princeton to honor four secondary school teachers including Medha Jayant Kirtane from RHS

Princeton to honor four secondary school teachers including Medha Jayant Kirtane from RHS
Posted May 28, 2013; 11:30 a.m.
by Michael Hotchkiss, Office of Communications

Princeton University will honor four exceptional New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2013 Commencement on Tuesday, June 4.

This year’s honorees are Medha Jayant Kirtane, Ridgewood High School, Ridgewood; John McAllen, Point Pleasant Borough High School, Point Pleasant; Robert O’Boyle, Hopewell Valley Central High School, Pennington; and Deane Stepansky, Nutley High School, Nutley.

The teachers were selected for the award from 62 nominations from public and private schools around the state. Each teacher will receive $5,000, as well as $3,000 for his or her school library.

“In the final analysis, if great teachers are measured by what their students accomplish, the four teachers we honor with this award represent the very finest teachers in the profession today,” said Christopher Campisano, director of Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation. “By challenging their students to go beyond the superficial, by encouraging them to be skeptical, and by challenging them to test the limits of what they thought was possible, these four teachers enable their students to become confident, critical and creative thinkers.”

The staff of the Program in Teacher Preparation selected 11 finalists, each of whom was visited at their school by a member of the program staff. Award winners were selected by a committee that was chaired by Dean of the College Valerie Smith. The panel also included Campisano, University faculty members Miguel Centeno, Joshua Katz and Stanley Katz; Judy Wilson, superintendent of the Princeton Public Schools; and Samuel Stewart, executive county superintendent of schools for Mercer and Middlesex counties.

“These teachers serve as a testament to the quality of education found in our schools today and serve as an inspiration to all future and practicing teachers,” Campisano said.

Princeton has honored secondary school teachers since 1959. The University received an anonymous gift from an alumnus to establish the program.

Teachers honored this year are:

Medha Jayant Kirtane

Medha Jayant Kirtane is in demand — in class, during lunch, after school, even on the tennis court, teachers and students at Ridgewood High School say. Some students want to discuss an assignment; others want to talk about life outside the classroom.

“That Medha is such a perennial student favorite is all the more remarkable (at first glance) because she is one of the most rigorous teachers that students will ever encounter,” wrote Gavin Stewart, an English teacher at the school, in a letter supporting Kirtane’s nomination. “She demands excellence from her students, and although she ‘demands’ with a smile, her standards are nonetheless admirably high. To earn an ‘A’ in Ms. Kirtane’s class is truly an accomplishment!”

Kirtane has taught a range of social studies classes during her eight years at Ridgewood and has helped revise or rewrite several course curricula, principal Thomas Gorman said. Her current course load includes an interdisciplinary senior seminar that emphasizes independent research interwoven with intensive discussion in a small-group setting.

Lauren Cubellis, a graduate of Ridgewood High School and Princeton University, said the seminar pushed her to think critically about history and question assumptions.

“It was the most difficult class of my high school career,” Cubellis wrote. “But it was also the most exciting class I had ever taken. Medha was able to turn history into a living and breathing record of humanity.”

Kirtane said she tries to instill her students with curiosity, diligence, sincerity and critical thinking skills.

“I want my students to engage with themselves, me and each other to ignite their passion to learn and create ideas anew,” Kirtane wrote. “From that heated process should emerge a distilled vision of what should be and how each of them can work, within and beyond their communities, to achieve their goals.”

Outside the classroom, Kirtane leads the high school’s girls’ tennis team and was named division coach of the year in 2009, 2010 and 2011. She is also faculty adviser to the school’s Asian Festival and the Student Broadcast Club.

Kirtane earned her bachelor’s degree from Williams College and a master’s degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

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