West Hartford Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced

From left: Jill Dailey, Kim Fine, and Nora McHugh are West Hartford's 2024 Teacher of the Year finalists. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Two from Duffy and a Conard science teacher were announced Tuesday as the finalists for 2024 West Hartford Teacher of the Year.

By Ronni Newton

Tuesday was Teacher Appreciation Day – which falls midway through Teacher Appreciation Week – and it’s also the traditional time the finalists for West Hartford Teacher of the Year are announced to the Board of Education.

The three finalists for West Hartford’s 2024 Teacher of the Year include (in alphabetical order) Jill Dailey, the library media specialist at Duffy Elementary School; Kim Fine, a fifth grade teacher at Duffy Elementary School; and Nora McHugh, a science teacher at Conard High School.

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Paul Vicinus, at a celebratory reception for the finalists and their families held just prior to the announcement at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, thanked the Teacher of the Year committee for always finding “such exceptional examples for the work that I know so many do in this district day-in and day-out.”

Selection of Teacher of the Year is “a peer-drive program … and it’s a rigorous process and it serves to recognize the outstanding work that is ongoing in our classrooms every day,” Vicinus told the Board of Education, recognizing the exceptional caliber of the district’s teachers.

The process begins with nominations from their colleagues, submission of a resume and an essay, recommendation letters, and having a lesson videotaped. A committee of teachers narrows the pool to three, who are then formally interviewed by the Teacher of the Year committee. The winner will be announced later this month.

Jill Dailey. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Dailey is in her 23rd year as the library media specialist at Duffy – and her 29th year in education, serving as a classroom teacher in Rocky Hill and at St. Brigid School prior to joining the district where she, her husband, and both of their children received their schooling.

“I think I am very fortunate to work with every single Duffy student and to connect them with the resources they need,” said Dailey when asked why she thought she had been nominated. She said she’s developed expertise at building connections – with students, as well as with the experts she works with throughout Duffy and with the partnerships she has built with the roughly 50 parents and caregivers who volunteer weekly assisting in the library.

“Jill’s colleagues remarked about her dedicated service to over 500 students weekly, an ability to inspire a love of reading while developing literacy, technology, and digital citizenship skills,” Vicinus said. The library is a place where she has cultivated a sense of belonging, and is the “hub” of Duffy, he added.

She has established and maintained little free libraries, held book fairs, and is certified as a Zentangle art teacher.

This is Dailey’s first time as a Teacher of the Year candidate, but in 2014 and 2015 she was a Ronald McDonald House Charities Local Hero Award recipient, and a 2014 Connecticut Association of Schools Exemplary Teacher finalist. She is also a published author of children’s poetry, with published works including the anthologies “Gnomes and Ungnomes: Poems of Hidden Creatures” and “Friends and Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children.”

She has a BA in American studies and a master’s in education from the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, and is a 2001 graduate of the ARCLMS certification program for library media specialists sponsored by ACES.

Kim Fine. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Fine “earned her Duffy Dragon scales in 2013,” Vicinus said, and has been teaching fifth grade for most of that time, but she is in her 30th year of teaching. She has spent the past 20 years with West Hartford Public Schools – teaching fifth grade at Morley from 2004 to 2007 and then serving as curriculum specialist at Webster Hill from 2007 through 2013. She started her teaching career in Atlanta and also taught middle school in Rhode Island, she said.

“I just missed the kids,” Fine said of her decision to return to the classroom after working as curriculum specialist. She loves fifth grade, which she calls her “sassy niche.”

The first time Teacher of the Year candidate said she thinks she was recognized for “the heart that I put into my teaching.” She strives to make her classroom a warm and cozy space where students feel comfortable, as, according to her colleagues, she “not only imparts knowledge but instills a love of learning that will stay with students for a lifetime.”

Her management skills also continue to serve her well, and she particulates on state curriculum committees including the Smarter Balanced Procurement Study and the Math Review Team for Bias and Sensitivity.

Fine has a BA in English from UConn, a master’s in elementary education from the University of Hartford, and certification in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University.

“Thirty years in, I still get excited to go to work in the morning. The first day of school, it’s all butterflies,” Fine said.

Nora McHugh. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

McHugh has been a chemistry and anatomy/physiology teacher with West Hartford Public Schools since 2010 – now teaching AP Chemistry at Conard after spending 11 years teaching at Hall.

When asked what she thought contributed to being nominated for Teacher of the Year, she said, “I think it was probably a lot of my work with colleagues. I put a lot of effort into being a team member.”

The comments made by her colleagues, shared by Vicinus, note that she “shines as both a remarkable collaborator and educator. She inspires students to engage in the wonders of science through dynamic and hands-on activities that hone skills and scientific thinking. … Nora’s deep knowledge of science content and pedagogy coupled with her unyielding commitment to students has made a measurable impact on her students by ay of achievement and the development of self-confidence a love of learning,” he said.

McHugh started a “science of tie dye” program at Hall – that became an important year-end tradition that she’s now brought it to Conard. She teaches about the chemistry of tie dye and then engages students in the hands-on project of creating unique t-shirts. Interim Conard Principal Jocelyn Tamborello-Noble is getting staff involved this year, and has procured shirts for them all to be able to participate in the science of tie dye activity.

McHugh also formed a “chem for kids” collaborative partnership between high school and elementary school students, and outside the classroom has also been a Link Crew and Relay for Life advisor. She’s also an Irish step dance teacher and scholarship program chairperson, and was guest choreographer for Pops ‘N Jazz.

Before graduating from UConn, where she earned a BS in animal science, and Central Connecticut State University, where she earned her master’s degree, McHugh went all the way through West Hartford Public Schools, attending Charter Oak, King Philip Middle School, and Hall.  “It’s a reward to come from the schools and give back to the schools,” she said.

All three finalists received certificates from Vicinus on Tuesday night. The name of the person ultimately chosen as Teacher of the Year award is kept embargoed until the recipient is formally recognized later this month.

Emily McMurray, a Pre-K teacher at Charter Oak International Academy, was named the 2023 Teacher of the Year.

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