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Christine Girtain Ocean County TOY

Toms River Regional Schools' Authentic Science Research Director Christine Girtain has been named Ocean County's Teacher of the Year.

'Master of her craft' 

Christine Girtain, the 28-year Toms River Regional Schools educator who teaches science and serves as the director of authentic science research (ASR) at High School North and High School South, has been named the Ocean County Teacher of the Year by the New Jersey Department of Education.

“These 21 educators are exemplary models of the kinds of dynamic teaching that takes place in New Jersey’s classrooms,” said Governor Phil Murphy in a press release announcing the winners for each county. “The quality of our schools is driven in no small part through the strength of our teaching workforce, represented by these County Teachers of the Year. It’s no wonder New Jersey public schools are among the best in the nation.”

This marks the second straight year that Ocean County’s TOY is a TRRS product; in 2021, the honor went to North Dover fifth-grade teacher Michael DeRiggi.

“Christine has inspired generations of students and peers to make their mark on this world in such a positive way." -- Superintendent Michael Citta

The New Jersey School Boards Association posted the 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year Awards Ceremony to its Facebook page, and Girtain’s portion of the ceremony comes in at the 58:50 mark.

“I value the education I received as a Toms River student,” Girtain said, after thanking her colleagues and family, “and my teachers really inspired me to become an educator, and to love learning. I love the bonds that I’ve made with my students, especially teaching the research class.”

It’s difficult to find a teacher who has had more of an impact on STEM education within TRRS than Girtain, and who has done so in ways both unique and remarkable. She’s led her students on research trips to Costa Rica, and her colleagues on research trips to Oklahoma. She's successfully landed multiple innovative grants for projects ranging from wolbachia studies to corn. And she’s forged tangible and mutually-beneficial partnerships with a wide and diverse range of entities and non-profits, from Vanderbilt University to farming organizations to the U.S. Army. Along the way, and throughout her career, she’s had an immeasurable impact on her students and almost everyone who’s come across her path.

“Christine's impact on our students and community reach well beyond the classroom, where she is a master of her craft,” said Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent Mike Citta. “Christine has inspired generations of students and peers to make their mark on this world in such a positive way. We could not be more proud, and certainly I can't imagine anyone more deserving than Mrs. Christine Girtain to represent Ocean County as its teacher ambassador.”

Girtain has earned multiple awards and recognitions throughout her educational career. In the past few years alone she's earned the AEOP's Alumni Educator of the Year in 2021; NJSTEM Pathway's STEM Educator of the Year in 2019; and the National Association of Biology Teachers Genetics Education Award in 2022. More than anything, she's earned the praise and admiration of her colleagues.

Christine Girtain in the lab

If she’s not teaching, or attending a professional workshop, or writing a research grant, you can find Christine Girtain in the lab.

"Christine is such an expert in--and an expert at earning funding for--such specific things like corn, beef, and mosquito research, that all you can do is sit back and shake your head in amazement," said grant writer Mike Kenny, who credits Girtain with helping the district earn numerous grants. "But she's also, broadly speaking, an incredibly well-rounded teacher and person. It often seems that every good thing happening here--and there are so many--directly or indirectly involve Christine Girtain."

Girtain has always maintained a strong sense of gratitude for her educational colleagues, and expressed as much, particularly for HSS and HSN media specialists Anne Walsh and Karla Ivarson, who she described as integral to the work of making ASR successful. Girtain also, in her awards speech, thanked TRRS leaders who have entrusted her with moving the district forward in ways that impact both students and staff.

“I’m grateful to the administrators and board of education, that believe that outside professional development and conferences are important to the growth of our school district,” she said.

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