As the very young first-grade students at Carl G. Lauro Elementary School sat as quietly as they could in the school cafeteria, they applauded their classmates who were receiving third-quarter awards for attendance and achievement in math. The state’s largest elementary school, Lauro’s nine first-grade classes filled half of the large room.
Principal Dr. Christopher Kennedy then turned the program over to Supt. Dr. Susan Lusi, who told them that her visit to Carl Lauro was a little different today. Usually, during her weekly school visits, she meets with the principal and walks through the school visiting classrooms. Instead, she came to Lauro to make a surprise announcement.
Her announcement, to the resounding cheers from the assembled students, teachers and staff, was that first-grade teacher Diane Ciccarone was named Providence’s Teacher of the Year for 2015. Ciccarone sat stunned before taking the stage with the superintendent, Mayor Jorge Elorza and Principal Kennedy as her family surprised her and watched from the audience.
Ciccarone, a Lincoln resident and a nearly 30-year veteran of Providence Schools, has taught at Pleasant View and Carl Lauro Elementary Schools in Providence. Ciccarone has taught kindergarten, served as a reading recovery teacher, but has spent most of her career teaching first grade.
Saying he was “very, very proud to be here today,” Mayor Elorza led the young students in a loud round of applause and cheers for their Teacher of the Year. “There is only one teacher given the Teacher of the Year honor, and you are very lucky to here with Mrs. Ciccarone,” he said.
Supt. Lusi spoke of the strong letters of support for Ciccarone from colleagues and parents. “One colleague wrote that she is a teacher’s teacher, one who cares deeply about students, their families and the teaching and learning expectations necessary for students’ success,” said Lusi. “She embodies the basic tents of the work in our district; purpose, urgency, focus and service.”
According to Kennedy, Ciccarone “embodies all of the qualities we would want to see in our best and brightest teachers. Dedicated to her profession, she continues to grow as a professional learner and demonstrate a truly collaborative style with her colleagues. She presents a model of a teacher who is always positive, supportive, reflective and critical. There is no one on this staff who does not respect her.”
Ciccarone’s colleagues also read from their nomination letters, calling her “the most dedicated person I have ever known” and a professional with a “clear sense of purpose.”
Ciccarone is known to arrive at work at 6 a.m. to prepare her lessons for the day and stay until 5 p.m. every day except for Fridays, when she remains at school until 6 or 7 p.m.
“I am extremely honored,” said Ciccarone upon receiving her award. “From my very first day of school I loved my job and today, when I walked into school, I still love my job.
“I love working with kids, starting where they are and getting them to where they need to be together. I never stop learning; I’m always doing research, trying something new. I’m a learner with them.
“Teaching is not just about ABC’s and 123’s,” said Ciccarone. “I teach them to be lifelong learners. We have fun, but I have high expectations for them. I want them to be a community and help each other as we learn.”
For two years, from 1987-1989, Ciccarone was a substitute teacher in Providence Schools. From 1989-1990, she taught kindergarten at Pleasant View Elementary School and then at Carl Lauro for the next four years. From 1994-2000, she was a reading recovery teacher at Carl Lauro before becoming a first-grade teacher.
Ciccarone always wanted to teach first grade based on her memories of her own first-grade teacher. She believes strongly that every child can learn and succeed. “School should be a safe, fun and rigorous place for every child to learn regardless of their circumstance,” she wrote in her Teacher of the Year application.
Ciccarone communicates regulary with families, maintaining an open door policy and encouraging family involvement. She sends home monthly updates on performance and behavior so families are aware of their child’s progress and also sends home unit newsletters so families are aware of what is being taught.
“A teacher’s role goes beyond the classroom,” her application reads. “She must keep up with district demands, know current research in education, be active in her school and mentor new teachers.”
Ciccarone is highly involved in her school community and presently serves on the Rhode Island Department of Education Quarterly Progress Monitoring Team, Criterion Based Hiring Committee, the School Improvement Team, the Data Team and the Response To Intervention Team, used to customize instructional delivery.
She believes that teachers are lifelong learners and has worked to improve her own teacher effectiveness through the Turnaround School Leader Program, the Highlander Institute Blended Learning training, Critical Friends Training and the RIDE Formative Assesssment Module.
She was rated a Highly Effective Teacher for two consecutive years, in 2012 and 2013, and received the Horace Mann Crystal Apple Award for teaching excellence during the 2013-2014 school year.
Ciccarone is a graduate of Rhode Island College with a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education and earned a master of arts degree in early childhood education.
Beginning in March, Providence School Department staff, students, parents and community members were invited to nominate educators possessing key characteristics, including knowledge of the teacher’s content area, mastery of instructional delivery, demonstrated ability to inspire students from all backgrounds with multiple learning abilities, a track record of respect among students, parents, peers and colleagues; commitment to be active in the community; knowledge of state and national education issues; and recognition as a model representative of their teaching colleagues in the Providence Public School District.
Highly qualified nominees were then asked to provide the selection committee with their resumes and professional credentials, letters of recommendation, and their answers to a series of open-ended essay questions, giving the selection committee a feel for the individual style and philosophy of each candidate.