Expert educators vie for prestigious title
The top five finalists for the 2020 Harford County Teacher of the Year award have been released and are listed in alphabetical order below. The judging panel had a difficult and unenviable task again this year with many outstanding teachers nominated for the award.
Karen Gonzalez, Magnolia Middle School Special Education Teacher
Karen Gonzalez is a 23-year veteran special educator for Harford County Public Schools. She began teaching Daily Skills at North Harford Middle School and now teaches Life Skills at Magnolia Middle School. She graduated from Joppatowne High School in 1992 and Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Special Education. In 2005, she received her master’s degree in Reading from Loyola University. At Magnolia Middle School, Ms. Gonzalez serves on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support committee. She is a mentor to others in her department and for student interns from local colleges. Ms. Gonzalez is also a high school swim coach.
Jennifer Knoll, Edgewood Middle School Science Teacher
Jennifer Knoll is currently in her eighth year of teaching in Harford County. At Edgewood Middle School she shares her love for Earth and space science with her sixth-grade students. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Towson University in 2002, and a master’s degree in School Improvement Leadership from Goucher College in 2019. Mrs. Knoll currently serves as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support liaison on the School Performance and Achievement team, coordinator for the Jump Start program for 6th graders, Peaceful Alternatives coordinator, and co-leader of the Ecology Club and Green School Initiative.
Erinn Ragan, Ring Factory Elementary School 4th Grade Teacher
Erinn Ragan is an educator who strives to build lasting, positive relationships not only with her students and their families, but also with her community. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Liberty University in 2000, and her master’s in Technology from Walden University in 2009. A 20-year veteran of Harford County Public Schools, Mrs. Ragan has taught third, fourth and fifth grade; she currently teaches fourth grade at Ring Factory Elementary School. Throughout her career, Mrs. Ragan has served as a mentor teacher, grade level chair and on the School Performance and Assessment team.
Melissa Van Ruiten, Youth’s Benefit Elementary School 3rd Grade Teacher
Melissa Van Ruiten is in her 11th year with Harford County Public Schools. She received her graduate degree through Towson University’s Master of Teaching program. Mrs. Van Ruiten has served as a classroom teacher, as well as a mentor teacher for the county. She is currently a third-grade teacher at Youth’s Benefit Elementary School. In 2016, Mrs. Van Ruiten became a National Board Certified Teacher. Most recently, she completed a Master’s + 30 program to achieve Administrator I certification. Mrs. Van Ruiten’s favorite part of teaching is the joy of laughter found in each day.
Elizabeth White, Harford Technical High School Social Studies Teacher
Elizabeth White is a graduate of Towson University where she received a bachelor’s degree in History and Secondary Education, and a master’s in Instructional Leadership. Mrs. White has been teaching in Harford County Public Schools for 12 years. She previously taught at Edgewood High School and is currently teaching at Harford Technical High School. She was the cowinner of a curriculum award in 2015 and is currently working towards National Board certification. She is dedicated to her school community through her work with the Student Government Association. Mrs. White has also served the Social Studies and Technology offices to provide professional development and in the creation of new curricula and assessments.
This year’s Teacher of the Year Judging Committee reviewed and scored all nomination packets to determine a pool of candidates that participated in an interview with a panel of six judges. The judges narrowed the pool to the top five finalists, one of which will be crowned the 2020 Harford County Teacher of the Year.
A surprise announcement of the winner will take place at the annual Harford County Teacher of the Year Banquet to be held on Wednesday, April 1, at the Bayou Restaurant in Havre de Grace. Again this year, the banquet is being provided by the Bayou Restaurant and HAR-CO Credit Union, with many outstanding gifts for our finalists donated by local Harford County businesses!