Poughkeepsie Celebrates ‘Exemplary Educators’

POUGHKEEPSIE – In 12 years, Derrick Stewart has worked in six Poughkeepsie City School District buildings.“I know everybody. I know these teachers. I know the workers, I know the aides,” he said.That’s one reason why, when his name was read as a winner of one of the 2024 Poughkeepsie City School District Exemplary Educator awards, his was among the loudest ovations.

“This means a lot,” the Warring elementary school custodial worker said. “I love these kids. That’s what this is about. This is my calling. It’s not my job. That’s why I do it every day.”

The district community gathered at Poughkeepsie High School’s auditorium for its annual awards celebration Tuesday night. While three staff members – one each for instructional, administrative and support staff – and two Ampact tutors were honored, nearly 60 district members were recognized. The nomination for each candidate, short explanations that tried to encapsulate what they do to make them deserving of one of the awards, were read before the winners were announced.

In addition to Stewart, Morse fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Ennist was named the instructional winner and Janet Bisti, director of elementary education, was the administrator honored.

Roshauna Brown, who supports pre-K learners, and Rosemarie Alfieri-Pesner, a math tutor for grades K-3, were the honorees from Ampact.

Dr. Eric Jay Rosser, superintendent of schools, offered comments to open the event, following a rendition of the national anthem from senior Maelia Vasquez and the AFJROTC color guard, and a performance of “Footprints” by the Poughkeepsie Jazz Collective.
“While just a few of our exceptional members of our Poughkeepsie City School District team will be recognized at this afternoon’s event, it’s important to point out the Poughkeepsie City School District maintains hundreds – let me repeat that, we maintain hundreds – of exceptional team members who show up every day to support the needs of our children,” Rosser said.

The fourth-annual event boosts morale and is anticipated by staff each year, Ennist and Bisti said. Before the awards there is a reception in the high school lobby with food and refreshments. Some nominees brought family members to attend.

“We appreciate it,” Ennist said. “It lets us know that others are seeing what we do as a collective whole.”

Class of 2024 valedictorian and guest speaker Olivia Groucher said she wanted to thank the assembled teachers in her speech.

“Dating back to my first year in Poughkeepsie, it was my teachers who made me feel safe when I was unsure of my new environment,” she told them. “They helped me acclimate to the culture, introduced me to friends I still have to this day and always had their doors open to any questions I had.”

At Morse, Ennist has a hand in coordinating several events for not only her class but also the whole fifth grade, such as the annual “Wax Museum” presentation in which each student must learn and play the role of a famous historical figure. According to her nomination, Ennist encourages students “to forget the obstacles and arguments at the door when they walk into the building and embrace the moment they are in now for what it is – another opportunity to be better than you were before.”

Ennist said, “I appreciate and I love the honor, but it’s just something I do. Coming into the school, making things better for students as a whole, I just feel like that’s part of my job and part of what I love to do.”

Bisti, as a member of a larger team, “has made significant impacts in moving the district forward,” her nomination reads.

She said she was “completely honored and surprised because what we do is always a team effort. So, being recognized for it is really sweet and amazing. I hope that everyone knows that the accomplishments I have are the accomplishments all of us have.”

The nominations come from students and staff, which adds to the meaning, Bisti said.
“You can’t nominate yourself, so someone else is recognizing what you’re doing,” she said. “That’s a beautiful thing.”

Stewart – widely known as Mr. Derrick – “seems to be all over the building, helping out wherever there is something going on,” according to his nomination, which noted his positivity and professionalism. He “is one of the first faces our students see every day. He greets all with a big smile, ready to take on the day ahead.”

That smile was on his face again Tuesday night, as he held his award. But, his eyes also moistened with emotion as he began to speak about his nephew, former Poughkeepsie administrator Dr. Ronel Cook, who died suddenly at the age of 51 in November 2022.

“That’s who I represent every day,” Stewart, a Yonkers resident, said. “That’s why I mop the hallway like Dr. Rosser is coming around the corner. That’s why I’m here at 4:15 in the morning every day. That’s what it’s about. I love this.”

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