Celebration of Excellence honors Hipp Grant recipients, State and County ESPs and Teachers of the Year 

NJEA honored the 2022-23 Frederick L. Hipp grant recipients, the 2022 NJEA County Educational Support Professionals (ESPs)of the Year; Nancy Cogland, the 2022 NJEA ESP of the Year; the 2022-23 NJ County Teachers of the Year; Christine Girtain, the 2022-23 NJ State Teacher of the Year; and Awards for Excellence recipients Congressman Andy Kim and Olympian Athing Mu. 

The event was sponsored by Visions Federal Credit Union (FCU). In 2021, Visions committed a $1 million grant to NJEA to be used for the benefit of NJEA members and their students. The grant helps support the work of NJEA’s Racial and Social Justice Institute, and funds an annual Hipp grant to a project that aligns with Visions FCU’s work on racial and social justice.  

Berniece Mitchell, track coach, accepts the NJEA Award for Excellence on behalf of Olympian Athing Mu. From left: Retired Trenton Public School Teacher Thomas Harrington, Mitchell, and NJEA President Sean M. Spiller.

NJEA President Sean M. Spiller greeted the audience and shared, for the first time, a video honoring Dr. Frederick L. Hipp, the legendary NJEA executive director for whom the Hipp grants are named.  

“Dr. Hipp was one of the people who have had the strongest influence on the course of our organization, and helped build it into the powerhouse it is today,” Spiller said. “Twenty-nine years ago, NJEA created the Dr. Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education and began the grant program that we celebrate today. Since it was established, the Hipp Foundation has awarded more than $2.3 million to 443 innovative educational projects that represent a bold, fresh approach by public school employees.” 

Hipp grants recipients honored 

NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson announced the names of the 2022-23 Frederick L. Hipp grant recipients. Eight teams were honored and those present received their commemorative plaques and took photos with NJEA President Sean M. Spiller, Vice President Steve Beatty, Executive Director Steve Swetsky, and Deputy Executive Director Kevin Kelleher.  

The Visions Grant for Social Justice went to the Social Justice Art and Book Club. Vernon Township Education Association member Lisa Hirkaler was awarded an $8,500 grant to meet the interests of middle school students in this rural community who have asked for more multicultural art and literature. This art and book club will identify and provide more opportunities for students to read and examine art and literature that is age appropriate but also explores different perspectives. Hirkaler wants to give them an opportunity to discuss these ideas, create their own art inspired by what they have seen, and visit an art museum.    

Vision’s Community Development Liaison Shari Leone spoke about the partnership between NJEA and Visions and the Visions Loves Educators program, a collection of products, services, and grants tailored to the needs of educators. Visions also offers free Zoom workshops to high school students and their families about how to finance college.  

To learn more about NJEA’s Frederick L. Hipp Grant program, view the Dr. Hipp video, read more details about the winning grants, and to apply for a grant of your own, go to njea.org/hipp

NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson and 2022-23 New Jersey Teacher of the Year Christine Girtain.

2022 ESP of the Year speaks 

2022 NJEA Educational Support Professional Nancy Cogland spoke about her connection with her students as a paraprofessional at Old Bridge High School. Alongside her other paraprofessional colleagues, Cogland is one of the first members of the school community to greet students each day as they wait outside the school building to usher students off their buses and out of their parents’ cars, gently but efficiently ensuring they get the day started off on the right foot.  

Alongside Cogland, NJEA recognized the achievements of the 2022 NJEA County Educational Professionals of the Year.  

2022/23 Teacher of the Year speaks 

2022-23 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year Christine Girtain next addressed the audience and spoke about her journey as an educator. A science teacher and the director of authentic science research in the Toms River Regional School District, Girtain was named the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year in October. She was joined by several past State Teachers of the Year, eager to welcome her into their ranks.  

Girtain, who has been teaching for 28 years, all of them in Toms River, is full of energy and eager to jump into the experience of being the State Teacher of the Year. She plans to work with teachers and students to help people better understand where our food comes from, a particularly interesting platform for the Garden State.  

2022 NJEA ESP of the Year Nancy Cogland.

Awards for Excellence conferred 

Spiller also presented the Awards for Excellence, which honor an outstanding graduate of New Jersey’s public schools. This year recipients were Congressman Andy Kim, a graduate of Cherry Hill High School East who represents New Jersey’s Third Congressional District, and Athing Mu, a graduate of Trenton Central High School and the youngest woman in history to win Olympic and world titles in an individual track and field event.