2017-09-14 / Front Page

Women named top educators in town

Charlene Tuttle, Karen Rafanelli recognized by peers

Karen Rafanelli, left, and Charlene Tuttle were named the top educators in town by teachers in the district. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Karen Rafanelli, left, and Charlene Tuttle were named the top educators in town by teachers in the district. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN A cancer survivor and a Barack Obama honoree have taken different roads to get where they are, but the two women now share a common theme: They are the school district’s 2017 employees of the year.

Sixth-grade science teacher Charlene Tuttle and Melrose School assistant Karen Rafanelli have been named Jamestown’s top educators. Although the announcement was made to the school committee at its final meeting of the summer, students and staffers heard the news during an outdoor concert in June. With the audience roused by the Peruvian sounds of Inca Sun, they were then surprised with an announcement from the administration. In the past, winners were recognized in their classrooms with a humble ceremony. This was on a grander scale.

“We took of advantage of having the entire district together,” said Ken Duva, superintendent. “We were able to have all of the kids there to celebrate.”

Tuttle, who had nominated another teacher, wasn’t expecting her name to be called. She said the award is especially meaningful because it comes from her colleagues. “I hold them in such high esteem,” Tuttle said. “It’s quite an honor.”

Rafanelli, who works as a teaching assistant to kindergartners and second-graders, was just as surprised.

“They did a good job keeping it a secret,” she said. “It made me feel good that they think I do a good job. It was nice to be recognized.”

The women, who received glass plaques at the assembly, had their portraits included to a display in the main lobbies of both schools. The district has honored a teacher annually since 2010, but this is just the second time for support personnel.

Nominations are made by teachers at Lawn and Melrose based on their teaching ability and passion for the job. They especially look at teachers who think outside the box and incorporate unique teaching methods. Past winners review the nominations and chose the winner.

Previous recognition

This isn’t the first time Tuttle has been recognized for her dedication to science. She received the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence in 2009 and was among 85 teachers nationwide in 2010 to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Duva said Tuttle always has her eyes and ears open, looking for the next best thing to bring to the classroom.

“When you think of the recognition that she’s had in the past, she just stands out,” he said. “She is an excellent educator who has a wonderful relationship with the students and the staff.”

Tuttle has been teaching in town since 1998, when she was hired as a third-grade teacher. She moved to Lawn School in 2012. She is a native of Newport who graduated from Florida’s Eckerd College in 1991 with bachelor’s degree in French and a minor in education. Before joining the town’s faculty, she worked as a substitute in 13 districts throughout the state.

Tuttle’s favorite part of teaching is seeing the ingenuity and curiosity of her students.

“I love that the students are willing to take an idea and run with it,” she said. “They’re not afraid to take a risk.”

Tuttle began this year with a unit on weather, including lessons on ocean currents and hurricane formation. Classroom discussion has centered on the two major hurricanes that have impacted the Gulf Coast, Harvey and Irma. Later this year, she will change her focus to ecosystems, electricity and magnetism.

“They’re not boxed into what they think they have to do,” Tuttle said about her students. “Along the way, they’ll learn what might work better from a certain approach. I love their passion and motivation.”

Tuttle also is known for taking her students out of the classroom. As part of a unit on force and forward motion in May, Tuttle brought the sixth-graders onto Sheffield Cove to learn these concepts first hand. They were given a crash course on sailing before circumnavigating Dutch Island on catamarans. She’s also visited private pools so her students could navigate underwater robots through obstacles.

“This island really affords the opportunity to access the outdoors,” she said. “It’s part of our resource. That’s the beautiful thing about being here.”

A positive impact

At Melrose School, Rafanelli also spends her days outdoors, but it’s on the playground, not Narragansett Bay. She typically moves between several classrooms, supervising recess and working with students on their math, writing and reading work. The best part, Rafanelli said, is the children.

“Sometimes they’re very funny,” she said. “It’s fun to watch when they figure out what that math really meant or when they read by themselves. They get excited about it and makes me feel good.”

Rafanelli was hired by the district in 2003 as a one-on-one aide for students with developmental disabilities. She worked as a travel agent before joining the faculty, but decided to change professions because of the children. Her two sons were attending school in the district at the time, which meant she would have the same schedule as them.

“It was a perfect job when my kids were little, because you have the same days and hours,” she said. “That’s not a factor anymore because they’re older, but I still like it.”

After nine years working in special education, Rafanelli switched to being a classroom assistant in 2012. Duva said Rafanelli was chosen because of her dedication to the students, calling her a “phenomenal teacher assistant.”

“She’s very compassionate to each child and she always has a very positive interaction with the children,” he said. “You always see her smiling.”

After the school day, Rafanelli is a member of the school improvement team. She also is a former president of the Jamestown Parent- Teachers Organization.

The first week of school has been busy for both women. Rafanelli said she is glad to be back to her regular routine.

“We have a lot of military families and we’re still in the process of getting to know all those kids,” she said.

As for Tuttle, she is excited to teach new sixth-graders. “Every year feels like a new opportunity to go deeper,” she said. “I love the opportunity to have kids be excited about their options for learning.”

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