2011 Educator of the Year: Jim Schaefer

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riley Avenue Elementary teacher Jimmy Schaefer played the piano during a rehearsal for his annual production of 'Cinderella'.

Jim Schaefer has been teaching in the Riverhead School District for 27 years, and he’s known both for giving kids stars and making kids stars.

He’s taught fourth grade at Riley Avenue Elementary School for about 10 years. Before that, he taught at Pulaski Street School. He started his Riverhead teaching career as an aide at Riley Avenue in 1985. He’s perhaps best known in the district for directing students in the annual and immensely popular “Cinderella” production — in which boys play the parts of the wicked step sisters — going back about 20 years, first at Pulaski Street and then at Riley Avenue.

In fact, the play has grown so popular that the performance was recently moved to the high school to accommodate the more than 500 people who now attend.

“Mr. Schaefer has a tremendous following in the community among both current and former students,” said Riley Avenue principal David Enos. The annual Cinderella play, which will be performed again in February, incorporates clips from various Broadway shows, Mr. Enos said.

In the classroom, Mr. Schaefer awards students with “Schaefer Stars” and other incentives, Mr. Enos said.

For his dedication not only to classroom teaching but also to the arts and extracurricular activities, and also for what many have described as a unique talent to connect to all children, the Riverhead News-Review is naming Jim Schaefer its Educator of the Year for 2011.

One of the nominations we received said Mr. Schaefer is “dedicated to motivating every student in his class to their maximum potential, and then some.”

Linda Bartunek, who has volunteered in his classroom for the past three years, was one of several people who nominated Mr. Schaefer for the award, saying she’s “in awe of his ability to teach each and every student.”

She added that Mr. Schaefer is “tireless” in his drive to see students succeed.

“His students are always in various levels in each subject area, and Mr. Schaefer keeps daily records and speaks to each student individually each day to assess their progress and discover where they need help,” Ms. Bartunek said. “He assigns weekly goals and ‘musts’ for each student and rewards those accomplishments with ‘Schaefer Stars’ that can be accumulated and used for special rewards or activities during the year.”

In October, Mr. Schaefer also helped coordinate a Halloween fundraising march to benefit the Trinca family of Manorville, who lost a young son and his mother in a car accident that month. The students held the event despite the fact that the Trincas were not from their school, and many did not even know them. About 250 students held the “walk-a-thon” type event in which they gathered sponsors to march around the school field on a chilly Monday morning.

“It raised more than $9,000,” Mr. Enos said. “It succeeded beyond what was anticipated and was a perfect example of community service. Instead of trick or treating and eating candy on Halloween, the kids did something to help others.”

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