Excellent Educators: Inaugural Set of Belmont’s Outstanding Teachers Honored

Photo: The Foundation for Belmont Education’s “Outstanding Teachers of the Year Awards” (from left) Belmont Superintendent John Phelan, Suzanne Lijek, Audrey Ruddock, Steven Tenhor, Danielle Pandolfo, Ben Ligon, Katharine Caritey and Foundation for Belmont Education President Jamie Shea. 

The six teachers representing each of Belmont’s public schools are different in age and experience, what and who they instruct, and how they arrived at their careers in education. 

The one thing Katharine Caritey, Audrey Ruddock, Steven Tenhor, Danielle Pandolfo, Ben Ligon and Suzanne Lijek do have in common now is being honored as Belmont’s most exceptional educators.

On Thursday night, April 30, at Chenery Middle School, the sextet was recognized by the community at the Foundation for Belmont Education‘s inaugural “Outstanding Teachers of the Year Awards.” 

“It’s so great to shine a nice positive spotlight on teachers,” said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan, whose experience with a similar awards ceremony in Milton where he was the assistant superintendent sparked the Foundation to start its celebration. 

“When I heard that … I said this is something that we have to do,” said Jamie Shea, president of the Foundation.

Nominated by students, parents and community members, the teachers were recognized for the extraordinary contributions they make every day to their students and the greater community.

“The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates but the great teacher inspires. And I think what we are going to see tonight is teachers that are truly inspiring,” said Hal Tovin, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Belmont Savings Bank, the night’s sponsor which has given more than $40,000 to the FBE. 

With their families, town officials, colleagues and a smattering of the boisterous students they teach, each of the honorees spoke about being a teacher.

Katharine Caritey, Burbank Elementary, Grade 2

Katharine Caritey, Burbank Elementary, Grade 2

“I love being a second grade teachers because of my students, their families and my colleagues,” said Caritey, whose second-grade class from the Burbank Elementary – where she is known for her “unparalleled ability to deeply understand personal styles, personalities and needs … of every single one of her 23 children” – came en masse to cheer for her.

Audrey Ruddock, Butler Elementary, Kindergarten

Audrey Ruddock, Butler Elementary, Kindergarten

“People always asked me why I wanted to be a teacher and teach kindergarten and the only thing I always say is ‘Because I love it,'” said Ruddock, who not only teaches at Butler Elementary, but attended the school as did her three sons.

Steven Tenhor, Wellington Elementary, Grade 4

Steven Tenhor, Wellington Elementary, Grade 4

Called “engaging, understanding, effective and caring,” Wellington School’s fourth grade teacher Tenhor wanted to thank especially “my kids, because you guys are the reason I get up in the morning every day … and makes everything possible.”

Danielle Pandolfo, Winn Brook Elementary, Grade 3

Danielle Pandolfo, Winn Brook Elementary, Grade 3

“When I asked my students at morning meeting what to say tonight, one student said, ‘When in doubt, practice, prepare and then perform’,” said Pandolfo, who teaches third grade at the Winn Brook. She particularly thanked her teaching colleagues, “each one who could be up here” who “pushed me to become a better teacher … I would like to share this award with them, my friends who became family.” 

Ben Ligon, Chenery Middle School, Grade 6 (Math)

Ben Ligon, Chenery Middle School, Grade 6 (Math)

Ligon actually named the 12 fellow educators he worked with since coming to the Chenery 15 years ago to teach 6th-grade math after discovering how much he wanted to teach by speaking at a Career Day event. He said he loved the school community so much, “I married you,” referring to meeting his wife who was then a colleague. “How many people can say they met their spouse in sixth grade, raise your hand?”

Growing up, he said he never wanted to be a teacher seeing his parents, live long educators, always working and caring about students. “Any talent I have in the classroom was nurtured by them,” he said to his mother and father, who wore an “I’m Ben’s Dad” button. 

Suzanne Lijek, Belmont High School, Science (Biology)

Suzanne Lijek, Belmont High School, Science (Biology)

Belmont High School Biology teacher Lijek was in several other careers before noticing how much she loved creating “Science Camps” over the summer vacation for her two daughters and their friends.

The very first teacher to be awarded an “Outstanding Teacher” honor, Lijek said she “wished everyone could do this in their lives, finding a career that really makes you happy, and … share what you love with someone else.”

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