Angel Santiago, an elementary school teacher at the Loring Flemming Elementary school in the Blackwood section of Gloucester Township, Camden County, was named the 2020-2021 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year during a State Board of Education ceremony on Oct. 7.  

According to an N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) press release announcing the award, Santiago’s passion for education is rooted in fostering strong relationships with his students, their families, his colleagues, and the communities he serves. 

His young students helped create this video, congratulating him on the award.   

For many years, NJSBA has participated in the selection process for the state Teacher of the Year in partnership with the NJDOE, the New Jersey Education Association and ETS. 

“An exemplary teacher is a lifelong learner who seeks creative ways to engage students and help them overcome any personal or social disadvantages they face. These qualities are exemplified by the outstanding educator we are honoring today,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of the NJSBA. As part of its support for the teacher of the year program, the NJSBA helps advance the quality of instruction by providing state, county and local teachers of the year with online curriculum and classroom resources. 

Growing up in Vineland, Santiago’s single mother worked long hours, instilling in him the importance of having a strong work ethic. He loved school, it was a second home for him, and his teachers opened up the world to him, providing opportunities for Santiago to flourish, according to the announcement of the award prepared by the NJDOE.  

Santiago said he believes that one key to closing equity gaps in New Jersey is through promoting a diverse teaching workforce – a challenge in a state where 58% of the state’s students are children of color, but teachers of color represent only 16% of educators, according to the NJDOE. Research has linked a diverse teaching workforce to greater academic achievement among students of color. A diverse workforce fosters positive perceptions among all children and helps prepare them for future success. 

“I teach because I get to participate in cultivating the most precious resource this world has to offer: our future, our children,” said Santiago, who lives in Elmer with his son and his wife, Kourtney, a special education teacher in the Bridgeton Public School District.

“Teaching is my passion,” Santiago told the NJDOE. “It is the reason why I get up every day with a positive outlook on life and the reason why I can fall asleep each night feeling fulfilled with my worldly duties.” In his role as State Teacher of the Year, Santiago will work with the NJDOE, meet with fellow educators around the state, and take part in national conferences with other State Teachers of the Year.

One person who made a profound impact on Santiago’s life was his sixth-grade teacher, Mark Melamed, who taught his students about the importance of service and how it impacts a community. Melamed had established a nonprofit called The Gabriel Project to provide critically ill children from Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti the medical services they need to survive. As a child, Santiago took part in a readathon to raise money for the charity, according to the NJDOE. 

The Gabriel Project lives on even after the passing of Mr. Melamed, and it has raised more than $1 million over the years with help from people like Santiago, who has volunteered as vice president of the organization (2014-2016). After earning an associate degree from Rowan University – taking evening classes while working full time – Santiago then went on to earn his bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in education from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he was a member of both the Phi Theta Kappa and Kappa Delta Pi honor societies.  

Santiago began teaching in the Lindenwold Public Schools, and in 2013 moved to the Gloucester Township Public School District. Within the Gloucester Township schools, he is often asked to provide professional development opportunities for his colleagues on topics such as the introduction of PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) and introducing the TCI (Teachers Curriculum Institute) for social studies and science, according to the NJDOE.  

He has been an integral part of extracurricular events that includes the Battle of the Teachers and Hispanic Heritage Night. For the last two years, Santiago facilitated a group of fourth and fifth-grade students called Young People of Character (YPOC). The mission is to bring together students from all walks of life to serve the communities in which they live. The YPOC members have participated in writing letters to veterans during Veterans Day, cleaning up the school grounds for Earth Day, and volunteering during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Day of Service. 

His hobbies include singing, playing the guitar, and music. Before becoming an educator, Santiago was a music recording artist.