The 2015 Salem School Division Teacher of the Year is proof that success is achievable on multiple levels. As a wife, mother and educator, Natalie DiFusco-Funk has starred in nationwide teaching videos, conquered the Boston Marathon and consistently prepared her students for the all-important jump to middle school.
“My mom cried when I told her about this honor, and I am very appreciative and humbled by it,” says DiFusco-Funk. “I really do love my job and this is something I have wanted to do since I was in the fifth grade myself. There was no other career path for me and I just feel very fortunate that I am able to do something I love every day and get paid for it.”
She began her teaching career in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, where she taught fourth grade for seven years. In 2010, she moved to Virginia and was hired as a reading specialist by Botetourt County schools. The next year, she joined the Salem School Division and returned to the classroom as a fifth grade teacher at West Salem.
“My goal every year is to create a community in my classroom where the students are happy and feel safe to share ideas and learn,” she says. “I love teaching all subjects, but one of my favorites is writing because it allows me to enter a child's world and learn more about my students."
“One of her best gifts as an educator is her ability to establish a positive classroom atmosphere,” says Debbie Carroll, West Salem Elementary Principal. “She truly gets to know her students and when you enter her classroom you immediately feel it is a student centered community where children take part in setting goals for themselves, feel safe to express their ideas and learn to work together.”
DiFusco-Funk grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island and earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. She finished her graduate requirements with a perfect 4.0 grade point average as Reading Specialist, but is quick to point out that her inspiration to teach came from somewhere other than a lecture hall in Chestnut Hill.
Her fifth grade teacher at Eden Park Elementary school, Jan Pilibosian, became her role model and inspiration to work with young people. Ironically, the two recently reconnected through social media.
“I just sent her note thanking her for inspiring me to follow my dreams and my passion,” she says. “I always talk about her on back-to-school night and I can still recite the science lesson she did on antibiotics when I was a fifth grader.”
Right now, her biggest passion is her young son, Frankie.
“I really love my job more than ever now that I am a parent,” she says. “I feel like I am a better teacher since becoming a parent because I know how parents are feeling when they entrust me with their children.”
She and her husband, Brandon, make their home in Roanoke County with 9-month-old Frankie, and Brandon is the person responsible for getting Natalie to migrate south. After being introduced to each other by some friends at an event near Charlottesville, they stayed in touch and made it through 11 months of long distance dating before Brandon popped the question.
Just a month before DiFusco-Funk competed in the 2010 Boston Marathon, running for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Brandon showed up in Massachusetts unexpectedly at the conclusion of her final 20-mile training run and surprised her with his presence and a marriage proposal.
“As an outsider coming to Salem I wasn’t sure how my peers would accept my methods or how they would think of me because I do things a little differently,” she says. “Receiving this award to represent my fellow teachers is very special and exciting.”
DiFusco-Funk’s high-energy teaching and outgoing personality have also translated well for the Houghton Mifflin company, which featured her in a series of “Teachers in Training” videos related to integrating technology and building community in the classroom. Her Master’s thesis also is cited on the company’s website as a valuable resource.
“Mrs. DiFusco-Funk's knowledge of curriculum and the differentiation of material is outstanding,” says Carroll.
All six teachers will be honored by the School Board during a special reception on March 24. The other Teachers of the Year representing the five remaining Salem schools are:
Bob Palleria - Andrew Lewis Middle School
Kristen Wilkes - East Salem Elementary
Angela Diemel - G.W. Carver
Sarah Gerrol - Salem High School
Bronwyn Thomas - South Salem Elementary
John Sailer was recognized by the Salem School Board for the tremendous volunteer service he has provided Salem High School’s Theater Arts program for many years.
His rich appreciation for the Arts and his interest in seeing the students of Salem gain a similar appreciation, has led him to volunteer countless hours serving our school’s Theater Arts.
Pawel Nazarewicz, a Mathematics teacher at Salem High School was honored by the school board for earning his National Board Certification. Teachers who achieve this certificate have met the highest standards in their profession. Salem now has 32 teachers who have earned National Board Certification status.
Mandy Hall - Supervisor of Business for Salem City Schools - recently completed the Virginia School Business Officials Certification Program that is a joint program offered by the University of Virginia and the VASBO - Virginia Association of School Business Officials
Laura O'Dell (center) is joined by SHS Principal Scott Habeeb and Board Chair David. Preston. Mrs. O'Dell was recognized by W!SE for her students excellence in Financial Literacy. She was named a Gold Star Teacher by the National Organization.
Grant Smythers (center) is honored by his principal at. Salem HS, Scott Habeeb, and Board. Chair David Preston. The high school's reigning Teacher of The Year, was named an Outstanding Educator by Alpha Delta Kappa.
The school division's United Way campaign was recognized by the board. (L to R) Debbie Carter, Board Chairman David Preston, Sharon Franklin and the United Way's Sandy Wierzbic
The Salem School Board formally recognized South Salem Elementary School for earning the VIP Distinguished Achievement Award from the Virginia Board of education. Principal Margaret Humphrey and Assistant Principal Laura James were congratulated for their outstanding leadership and the staff of South Salem was commended for their commitment to providing excellent instruction for all students in a pleasant, caring, and nurturing environment.
The students and families of South Salem also are largely responsible for this honor for their continued hard work and support of education. Mrs. Humphrey accepted the honor for South Salem from School Board Chairman David Preston.
Dr. Joe Coleman was honored by the Salem School Board on Tuesday night for his 31 years of service. Coleman joined the division when it was created in 1983, and during his tenure he served as Principal of both G.W. Carver, and South Salem, as well as the Director of Assessment and Technology. The Board unanimously passed resolution #225 in Dr. Coleman’s honor.
Mike Crew was honored by the Salem School Board on Tuesday night for his 17 years of service to the division. Crew started with Salem City Schools as the Director of Budget and Business Services and later became the Director of EFP Software Project. The board unanimously passed resolution 226 in Crew’s honor.
Salem School Division Superintendent, Dr. Alan Seibert, is pleased to announce that Sara Epperly has been recommended to be an assistant principal at Andrew Lewis Middle School. Epperly is expected to receive formal approval from the School Board when it convenes for its May 13 meeting. She will fill the void that was created when Kirstine Barber was named Supervisor of Human Resources earlier this spring. Both Epperly and Barber will begin their new jobs on July 1.
“I share the Salem School Division’s philosophy that educators are called to serve children first and take care of every child, every day,” says Epperly. I will work hard to carry out these principles in my work at Andrew Lewis.”
Epperly is a proud product of the Salem School Division and a 2001 graduate of Salem High School, when she was known as Sara Page. She has three degrees from the University of Virginia – a Bachelor’s degree in Politics and East Asian Studies, a Master’s degree in Teaching and an Education Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision.
“We are excited to add Mrs. Epperly to our administration team at Andrew Lewis,” says Forest Jones, Andrew Lewis Principal. “She is a dynamic educator with rich experiences and ideas that will greatly benefit our teachers and staff.”
Epperly, who is proficient in both Mandarin and Spanish, is without question the only Salem Educator, in the 31 year history of the division, who has taught in China, Bangladesh and Charlottesville and also performed service work and lived in Poland, Argentina and New Orleans.
“I am so fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel and get to know diverse groups of people in different parts of the world,” she says. “As an educator, I hope to make a small world even smaller by sharing my experiences with my students.”
Since 2009, Epperly has been a classroom teacher at Charlottesville High School teaching Mandarin and Spanish. In addition, she served as the high school’s summer school principal in 2013, overseeing more than 300 students and 13 staff members.
“I am excited to return and serve Salem Schools, the education system that helped me learn and grow so much when I was a secondary student,” she says. “The leadership and faculty at Andrew Lewis constitute a dynamic team that I am proud to join.”
Dr. Alan Seibert
Salem School Division Superintendent
(540) 389-0130 - office
City of Salem Communications Director
(540) 375-4112 - office
“Kirstine's caring and compassionate nature and her highly successful experiences as a teacher and leader at Andrew Lewis Middle School equip her well for this new opportunity,” says Dr. Alan Seibert, Salem School Division Superintendent. “She is highly organized and always works with students, parents, and staff in a professional manner.”
The Human Resources office is the face of the school division when recruiting and employing teachers and staff and it is responsible for ensuring that all licensed staff members are highly qualified. It is also the primary point of contact for employees with inquiries ranging from routine employment questions to how to handle major life changes.
"I am excited for this opportunity and I look forward to working with current staff and helping to recruit, retain and hire highly qualified staff to continue the excellent tradition that is Salem City Schools,” says Barber.
Barber is a Harrisonburg native and a 2000 graduate of Turner Ashby high school in Bridgewater. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Virginia Tech and also secured a Master’s degree in curriculum and instruction while in Blacksburg. Barber also has attained her certificate in Educational Leadership with licensure from Radford University. She served the division for six years as a math teacher, and also has been a summer school principal, assistant track coach and most recently assistant middle school principal at ALMS.
"I want to thank Dr. Forest Jones and Jamie Garst, the faculty, staff and students at Andrew Lewis Middle School for the memories and experiences of the last nine years,” says Barber. “These years have truly shaped who I am as a person and as an educator, and I am grateful to all who I've had the opportunity to work with during this time."
Barber will replace Russell Holladay, who is retiring July 1 after 15 years in Salem and a total of 41 years in education.
The Salem School Board honored some of the Division’s top students at Tuesday’s night monthly meeting.
Eliza Bain, a sixth-grader at Andrew Lewis Middle School captured this year’s title on February 11.
Runner-up Maya Makked, from East Salem, joined this year’s other finalists Emily Snow from West Salem, Hope Wimmer from South Salem and G.W. Carver’s, Allison Oyler
The Board also honored two incredibly deep thinking students from Salem High School.
Jacob Beedle (left) and Thomas Legg (right) each earned second place honors at the recent Roanoke Valley Governor’s School for Science and Technology’s Project Forum. Beedle work was in Plant Sciences and Legg’s in Biochemistry, Chemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology.