Argine Safari, a music teacher at Pascack Valley High School, has been named New Jersey’s 2016-2017 State Teacher of the Year. Her selection was announced on Oct. 5 at the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education.
She has been an educator for 20 years, and has taught music to high school students at Pascack Valley High School since 2005.
An Immigrant’s Story Safari grew up in Yerevan, Armenia. The daughter of physicists, she says she never thought she would become a teacher. However, her parents instilled a love of music in her, and she applied for and was accepted to Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory, the top music school in the country. She excelled, and in the first year of her doctorate program, made the decision to immigrate to the United States with her husband and baby.
At first, Safari worked in jobs as a translator, insurance agent and financial advisor, and found performances involving music on evenings and weekends. Her favorite was with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. She was active with the chorus at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and was touched by the circumstances of one student who had lost her father in the attack and wanted to attend LaGuardia High School of Music & Performing Arts. She volunteered her time to help the student, who was ultimately accepted to the school. That became the pivotal moment in Safari’s professional life.
“None of my performing experiences compared to the feeling I had when I learned about her success,” she said. “I knew I had to turn my passion for music into a career of teaching.”
Safari earned her teaching certificate through New Jersey’s alternate-route program. At Pascack Valley High School, she has provided performing opportunities for her students with groups such as The Vienna Boys Choir, Robert Kapilow and The American Boychoir. Her students have received numerous awards over the years, and many former students are currently music majors in college.
She is fluent in Armenian and Russian, and her music repertoire that she selects in her classroom includes songs in more than 20 languages.
“Argine’s talent and dedication to her students are well known in her home district, and now the story of her love of teaching will be shared throughout the state,” said Acting Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington who introduced her at the State Board of Education meeting.
Safari holds an associate degree in music education from Yerevan R. Melikian College of Music in Armenia; a bachelor’s degree in piano performance and theory and a master’s degree in musicology and composition, both from the Moscow P.I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Moscow; and a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brooklyn College. She earned her teaching certificate through the alternate route teacher-preparation program at New Jersey City University; and a supervisor certificate from Rutgers University. She has also taken graduate courses at the Westminster Choir College of Rider University.
The Fort Lee resident is a member of 15 professional associations, has received numerous special awards and recognitions, and has presented in locations such as the Moscow Conservatory, the Juilliard School of Music, and The Carnegie Hall Choral Workshops.
Finalists for the State Teacher of the Year achieved the highest scores on their written applications and videos, and took part in an interview consisting of a performance assessment and a question-and-answer session. The other finalists recognized at the state board ceremony include Monica Goncalves, a social studies teacher at Linden High School, Linden; Jennifer Schoepflin, a fifth-grade teacher at Simmons Elementary School, Clayton; and Jeanette Wehner, a fifth-grade special education teacher at Emma Havens Young Elementary School, Brick Township.
As State Teacher of the Year, Safari will work closely with the New Jersey Department of Education and give presentations around the state. She will take a six-month paid sabbatical, courtesy of the Educational Testing Service, to undertake her Teacher of the Year responsibilities. She will also participate in national activities, including being New Jersey’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year, and meeting the president.
The full text of the New Jersey Department of Education announcement is available here.