Middle School Technology Teacher Jonathan Clemmons has been officially named a New York State Education Department Teacher of the Year finalist in a ceremony held today, Sept. 12, during the New York State Board of Regents’ meeting at the State Education Department offices in Albany.
Mr. Clemmons, who began his 25th year of teaching at Minisink Valley this school year, went through four rigorous rounds of review beginning last February, which included an application process and a written process asking him about his personal teaching philosophies. There was also an onsite visit to the middle school by the Teacher of the Year Committee. Lastly, he traveled to Albany for a meeting before the Teacher of the Year Committee in June.
Mr. Clemmons joined the district in 1998, and has instructed thousands of students in three STEM-centric fields since that time: Science, math and technology. He’s the only teacher in the district’s history to earn three separate tenureships in these areas and holds K-12 technology, 7-12 mathematics, 9-12 biology and 7-9 science NYS certifications.
Currently he teaches sixth and eighth-grade technology, using engaging and challenging technology syllabi to keep his students in the forefront of technology proficiency. Mr. Clemmons is committed to ensuring the technology knowledge they gain from his classroom helps prepares them for their high school careers and beyond.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Mr. Clemmons serves as a co-advisor of the Middle School’s Technology/Tractor Club. He’s been the academic advisor to other school clubs as well, in addition coaching community youth basketball, softball and soccer teams.
When not in the classroom, Mr. Clemmons drives a bus in the school district’s fleet, using his CDL passenger endorsement to transport students to and from school while the district — like others nationwide — deals with a driver shortage.
Mr. Clemmons, a Minisink Valley graduate, holds a master’s degree from New York Institute of Technology; a bachelor’s degree from SUNY New Paltz; and an associate degree from SUNY Orange, where he’s also an adjunct associate professor in the Mathematics Department.
“Every day, I hope my students and colleagues know how much I care about their successes, whether it’s helping students to be high school, college and career ready; or my colleagues in their daily quest to prepare their students to do the same,” Mr. Clemmons said in his personal statement to the committee.
He added: “Of course, teachers are role models. Like others, we all are perfectly imperfect. But with so many negative influences impacting children today, we have an obligation to be positive, stable role models for any student walking into our classrooms.
“When students are there, we see only the preverbal ‘tip of the iceberg’ of their lives. We are competing against the influences of social media, drugs, alcohol, violence, broken homes, the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and more.
“These competitors seem determined to win. But for any student in my classroom, or who is involved in any of my extracurricular activities, I am determined to see those competitors fail. It’s not easy, and so I look for innovative ways to be that positive influencer.
“My hope is that by overtly weaving my caring nature into the required curriculum with creative perks and recognition opportunities, that will result in a student’s academic success and reaching his/her potential.
“I want to be that positive influencer to steer and/or keep students on the right pathway. Why? Because they are our future and, someday, we will be reliant on them to be society’s decision makers. We will need them down the road; so, we must help guide them now.”
His application’s letters of support for his nomination included these comments:
Middle School technology teacher Rich Budd:
“There’s no one I have met and worked with who’s more deserving of this award than Jonathan Clemmons. Whether it’s coming up with a new project to engage students, helping a coworker fix something for their classroom, volunteering at a school dance, or delivering food to students during the COVID-19 shut down, he is always there to say ‘yes’ to anyone in need. Jonathan’s personal time and projects of his own have been sacrificed at times but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He is devoted to our school district and the students who pass through his door to his lab.”
Middle School Principal Michael Larsen:
“Jonathan is a humble man. While he appreciates gratitude for his efforts, he never seeks attention or notoriety. I cannot think of someone more fitting for this award and I recommend Jonathan without reservation. He is an exceptional talent and the only person I would call ‘a teacher’s teacher.’ He truly deserves to be recognized for his efforts and service. We are so extremely proud of him and blessed to have this man working with the students in our community.”
Superintendent Brian Monahan:
“During my 27-year educational career, including in my current role as superintendent, I’ve met and observed hundreds and hundreds of teachers. I rank Jonathan in the very small group of teachers I would consider to be the ‘best of the best.’ Quite frankly, he is totally invested in the success of his students and his community. He’s the epitome of what you want an educator to be, and if you’re a parent, he’s the teacher you want your child to have. His interest is in the whole child, not just the subject matter that he’s instructing.”
Former student Koleton Briecke:
“As I recently debated my future career choices, between teaching and aviation, I thought about the kinds of teacher that I would want to be. I wanted someone with a calm presence, yet could still command the room, one who can balance humor and learning without losing the students’ attention, and someone who can inspire my students. As I thought about this, I realized that I was describing Mr. Clemmons. His clear and direct teaching style, the generosity with his time and clear caring for his students all make it clear to me that he is a phenomenal teacher and an incredible person.”
Parent Kishon C. Hickman Sr., Ed.D.:
“I suspect there are many qualified educators in line for this honor, each with pivotal characteristics that defines a great teacher. Yet it is foreseeable this year’s selection will have little to do with how much knowledge an individual teacher has, and so much more to do with their attitude toward teaching. Indeed, the powerful words of author/educator Dr. Rita Pierson certainly encapsulate why Mr. Jonathan Clemmons deserves the honors of New York State Teacher of the Year: ‘Every child deserves a champion; and adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can be.”
Music teacher Zach Arenz of the Rochester City School District was named the 2023-24 New York State Teacher of the Year. He will serve as ambassador for New York State teachers and be the state’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.
Ellen Foley from the Fredonia Central School District in Chautauqua County Nichole Hantsch from the Chenango Forks School District in Broome County were also named finalists.
The purpose of the New York State Teacher of the Year program is to support the development of programs throughout the state that recognize great teachers in their schools, which includes identifying and celebrating one teacher per year as the New York State Teacher of the Year. That person will represent all of New York State teachers at state and national events with teachers of the year from across the nation.
The New York State Teacher of the Year Program is administered by the New York State Education Department and sponsored by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT); United Federation of Teachers (UFT); New York State Parent Teacher Association (NYSPTA); New York State Association of School Curriculum Development (NYSASCD); New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA); School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS); New York State Association of Teacher Educators (NYSATE); and New York Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (NYACTE). The program is run in conjunction with the National Teacher of the Year Program, sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).