It has been a whirlwind start to the academic season for Haddonfield Memorial High School English teacher and Shakespeare enthusiast Kimberly Dickstein.
Already having been selected Camden County Teacher of the Year in mid-August, she began the year in anticipation of the results of the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year competition.
So far, so good. On Sept. 28, Dickstein – now Dickstein Hughes – was married to her beau in the old courtyard of the high school. Four days later, the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work paid off when she was, indeed, selected as the top teacher in the Garden State.
“It’s been so exciting since I’m the first Camden County teacher to win this award, and it’s the 50th anniversary of the program. It’s a great honor to represent the greater community. I grew up in Voorhees and I started teaching here in Haddonfield and I still teach here, and I still plan on teaching here,” she said when the Sun spoke with her on Oct. 8.
Celebrated with hugs, high-fives, hundreds of pictures and then a parade in her honor on Oct. 4, Dickstein Hughes’ exploits garnered attention from local television stations to Good Morning America.
“No way, to be perfectly honest,” she said when pressed on whether or not she could have ever imagined a parade to celebrate the achievement.
“We have to learn to celebrate our teachers just as much as our students and athletes. It’s not something we usually think of in those terms. When I think about it, I did win a state championship. It was a very emotional time and still totally overwhelming. I’m just this little person and I guess we can do some pretty big things,” Dickstein Hughes mused, calling the Oct. 4 jaunt through town one of the top five moments in her life.
So what comes next?
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, Dickstein Hughes will be taking a six-month sabbatical during which her salary and benefits will be covered by Educational Testing Service, to work at the DOE from January until June. In that period, she will be asked to attend various events and make speeches, and generally be able to keep up with a busy slate of responsibilities.
The perks of being the best in the state aren’t too bad, either.
Dickstein Hughes will have the opportunity to meet the President, receive a car leased for one year, get travel reimbursements, a $500 clothing allowance and LCD Projector courtesy of program sponsor, the New Jersey Education Association, and lastly, to be the state’s candidate for the National Teacher of the Year Program.
Then, there’s the matter of combined county and state responsibilities, which include being a liaison between the teaching community and the NJDOE, serving as education ambassador to businesses, parents and service organizations, and acting as a representative for the profession by promoting professional development and sharing knowledge about programs and strategies that benefit teachers and students.
As many who know – or who have even had minimal contact with Dickstein Hughes find out – there’s bound to be no issues with fatigue. Just over a week after the award was announced, she began efforts to shine a light on teachers who might not get the recognition they deserved.
“The first thing I did, last Saturday, I went to the Camden County Cultural Awareness Commission at Camden County College in Blackwood. I wanted that to be my first event as teacher of the year, to be somewhere which celebrates learning and culture,” she explained.
“I want to visit as many schools as possible and attend as many events as possible, until I go on sabbatical in not just Camden, but also our neighboring counties, Burlington and Gloucester, where many good things are happening as well. It’s important to me to share my access to power with other educators, and I have a responsibility to empower that community.”
In the classroom, Dickstein Hughes is feeling a crunch. She has to compress her schedule and give her students as close to 180 days’ worth of education in far less time. She won’t be totally disconnected on sabbatical, planning to attend field trips, coordinate guest speakers and provide additional assistance for her kids.
“I don’t want this to turn into a sad goodbye story,” she insisted.
Dickstein Hughes revealed it’s still to be determined who will take over her classes come January. For now, outside the classroom, she’s focused on what she’ll bring back to A209 next year while on her new journey.
“I want to bring everything I’ve learned from the world and then bring it back to Haddonfield. Everything I’m going to learn from every other teacher I meet this year, I’m taking it back here so we’re just overflowing with learning opportunities,” she said.
Dickstein Hughes has a Facebook page set up specifically to address things she wishes to bring into the public sphere, @NJSTOY2020. A full bio and recap from the State DOE can be found by visiting: https://www.state.nj.us/education/rpr/recognition/educators/geoy1920Dickstein.shtml