Christine Girtain, a teacher and director of the Authentic Science Research program at Toms River High School South and High School North, has been named the 2022-2023 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year.

In August, the long-tenured educator had learned she had been named Ocean County’s Teacher of the Year by the New Jersey Department of Education. From that group of county winners, Girtain was selected as the overall state winner.

The New Jersey Department of Education made the announcement during a public virtual broadcast Oct. 12, with state representatives joining Girtain, her family, friends, students, and district and school administrators at the media center at High School North, according to a news release from Toms River Regional Schools, which stated she was the first Ocean County teacher to win the honor. The NJDOE also announced the news on its Facebook page and other social media channels.

“Christine Girtain personifies what it means to be a teacher here in Ocean County and Toms River, which is student-focused and with a passion to develop our children into lifelong learners,” said Superintendent Michael Citta, who has known Girtain for years and who worked alongside her while principal of High School South from 2018-2022. “Ms. Girtain operates without physical or intellectual boundaries — she has organized national and international science-based trips, and her educational approach and sheer personality challenge her students and colleagues to think beyond the ordinary. The result of her teaching is that students believe anything is possible, and their achievements reflect that. What more can you ask from a teacher? Ms. Girtain is an immense source of pride for this county, community and me personally.”

Girtain has spent the early part of the school year promoting innovative professional development, seeking funding and studying DNA. As she finds herself in the spotlight as the state’s education ambassador, Girtain has expressed excitement while acknowledging the field of talented educators who make Toms River and New Jersey a great place to teach.

“I am excited to represent Toms River and Ocean County as the 2022-2023 N.J. State Teacher of the Year,” Girtain said. “New Jersey is ranked highly nationally because of the great school districts we have across the state, and all the people who help make education function.”

Girtain has taught science at Toms River Regional Schools for 28 years. A High School North graduate herself, and former student athlete, she has made it her life’s work to teach others while seeking to expand her own knowledge of science, the environment, technology, and anything else she finds interesting. Her efforts frequently  transcend the classroom and traditional teacher responsibilities, and as such she’s become something of an expert in securing funding, hosting field trips, forging partnerships with agencies of higher education and the subject matter she teaches.

“I love networking different interest groups together, using their individual strengths to combine for a more robust, broader reach,” she said. “Sustainable growth, both mental and physical, means that as we grow we meet our needs without compromising the needs of future generations.”

The district will celebrate the news with a pep rally at RWJBarnabas Health Arena Oct. 17. At the event, students from North and South will lead the cheers, those who have been impacted by Girtain’s teaching will speak, and the New Jersey Education Association will present her with a car to use for a full year. She will have plenty of places to go as the state’s education ambassador, including trips, trainings, and one special venture down to Washington, D.C. to meet the president of the United States.

Words of Applause

In its news release announcing Girtain as the winner of the State Teacher of the Year, the New Jersey Department of Education highlighted her leadership at Authentic Science Research program, which is a three-year elective program that allows students to pursue and conduct independent research on a specific science topic that interests them. As the director, she has guided student projects ranging from the effects of fruit seed extracts on bacteria, to bioengineering E. coli. Her students have connected with Penn State researchers to learn about microbes that may block the spread of the Dengue and Zika viruses, and they have been to an immersive research program in the rainforests of Costa Rica.

“Christine Girtain is a mosaic of inspiration as an educator, an innovator and simply a genuine person who makes a difference in our community,” said High School South Principal Kevin Raylman. “She creates a scaffolding of opportunities that enable individual students the chance to accomplish great things. Ms. Girtain has established an academic structure that pushes students and enables them to realize their untapped potential. Additionally, her educational presence impacts her colleagues as she both inspires and encourages the professionals around her. Whether it is an intense student-driven experiment or through something as mundane as a collegial conversation in the hallway, Ms. Girtain is making a positive and profound change.” He added, “We are truly proud to have the good fortune to grow and learn from her on a daily basis.”

Ed Keller, principal of Toms River High School North, noted that Authentic Science Research has long been a source of pride. “This is a direct result of the hard work and dedication exhibited by Mrs. Christine Girtain,” he said. “Mrs. Girtain challenges her students to be the best they can be while offering the support they need to ensure their success.”

Gov. Phil Murphy noted that a cornerstone of his administration has been fostering STEM learning for students. “We know that high-paying, high-demand STEM careers can help young people achieve success after graduating high school,” he said in a news release issued by the NJDOE. “Our students are the future leaders of our state and by preparing them with a strong educational foundation in science, we will help fuel the growth of New Jersey’s economy. Christine embodies the spirit of innovation that we are seeing in our schools and throughout our state. Her hard work and dedication to her students will help prepare our next generation of leaders. Congratulations to Christine Girtain for being named New Jersey State Teacher of the Year.”

Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education, said naming the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year is “one of the greatest celebrations that we have in education.” She added, “The Teacher of the Year serves as an exemplar of the kinds of dynamic instruction that is occurring in classrooms throughout New Jersey, and Christine truly sets the standard for innovation. The way she ignites an interest in the sciences will benefit her students long after high school. Her students are fortunate to have her as a teacher.”

“On behalf of the State Board of Education, I congratulate Mrs. Christine Girtain on being selected as the 2022-2023 State Teacher of the Year,” said Kathy Goldenberg, president of the State Board of Education. “Mrs. Girtain’s passion for education and research with her focus on agricultural STEM literacy undoubtedly will elevate this vital field throughout the Garden State’s public schools and beyond our state’s borders.”

A Lifelong Love of Teaching

Girtain credits her parents with instilling a love of learning and a sense of adventure in her and her brother, Paul, who is a history teacher at Toms River High School North – the school where their mother worked as a secretary for years.

Her career path began 32 years ago when, during a teacher shortage, she received a Governor’s Teaching Scholarship from Gov. Jim Florio. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in education from The College of New Jersey, and a master’s degree in earth science instruction and curriculum from Kean University.

She was twice recognized as her school’s Teacher of the Year, and is the New Jersey science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) Pathways 2019 STEM Teacher of the Year. She is also a 2021 state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. In addition, she has brought in more than $185,000 in grant funds to fund student research projects and STEM camps.

In her role as State Teacher of the Year, Girtain will work with the NJDOE and give presentations to colleagues and stakeholders around the state, speak with aspiring teachers and visit classrooms to advance the teaching profession and inspire interest in the STEM fields. She will also take part in national conferences with other State Teachers of the Year.

She was one of four finalists for New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. The finalists received the highest scores on their applications and their interviews with a distinguished panel of representatives from the state’s education associations and other stakeholder groups. The other three finalists are: Daryl Detrick, a computer science teacher at Warren Hills Regional High School in the Warren Hills Regional School District, Warren County; Ian Evans, an English teacher at Hillsborough Middle Schools, Hillsborough Township School District, Somerset County; and Leana Malinowsky, a second-grade teacher at Private
Nicholas Minue School, Carteret School District, Middlesex County.

Additional information can be found on the Governor’s Educator of the Year webpage.