May 15, 2024

By Donald Gilpin

Mark Eastburn

Mark Eastburn, Princeton High School (PHS) science teacher and a leader of the school’s award-winning research program, reflected on some of the key experiences and influences in his life: an interest in reptiles, a Quaker upbringing, a semester-abroad program followed by two years in the Peace Corps after college, and an affinity for pursuing his own interests regardless of popular opinion.

The PHS research team, with its remarkable cross-cultural Indigenous language project, was recently chosen for the second time as a National Grand Prize Winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Competition with a prize package worth $100,000 — the only school in the country to have won the national competition twice.

Eastburn first came to Princeton Public Schools as a Spanish teacher at Johnson Park Elementary School, where he taught for 10 years, then a science specialist at Riverside Elementary for seven years before coming to PHS in 2018, where he has taught chemistry, biology, and engineering, as well as overseeing the research program and serving as adviser to a wide variety of clubs. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and master’s degrees in biology from Villanova University and in neuroscience education from Columbia University Teacher’s College.

His own experience as a high school student was not a high point of his life. “I had some good teachers in high school who encouraged me,” he said. “Biology and chemistry were something I was interested in and I worked hard at that, but I did not have a good time as a teenager. I had so many bad memories. I threw out my yearbook. I didn’t enjoy middle school or high school at all.”


December 13, 2023

By Donald Gilpin

Kristina Hayda

Eating juicy tropical pineapples, climbing mountains with hot springs, carving bamboo with Indigenous tribes, and learning to speak Mandarin Chinese do not sound like part of the job description for a high school science teacher. Nor does traveling through a typhoon and experiencing an early morning earthquake.

But for Kristina Hayda, Princeton High School (PHS) biology, anatomy and physiology, and environmental science teacher, a month last summer in Taiwan on a Fulbright grant provided “one of the most invigorating experiences” of her life and inspired a three-school, international collaboration that continues.

“This Fulbright was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend that all educators seek out opportunities like this one at least once in their careers,” Hayda wrote in an email. “Nothing can replicate journeying abroad with people who you may not have even met otherwise.” more

May 26, 2021

51 YEARS AT PHS: Joyce Jones, who will be retiring at the end of this year, in a 1970s Princeton High School (PHS) yearbook photo. Last Thursday, May 20, was Joyce Jones Day at PHS, celebrating her 51 years of service as a physical education teacher, coach, and peer group leader “with a vision for her students.” (Photo courtesy of Princeton Public Schools)

By Donald Gilpin

Celebrating Joyce Jones,” the banner read. “Teaching us to learn from the past, prepare for the future, and embrace the present.”

Last Thursday, May 20, was Joyce Jones Day at Princeton High School (PHS), honoring Jones on the eve of her retirement after 51 years at PHS — as physical education teacher, coach, and peer group program leader.

The celebrations included banners and balloons, music, commemorative pins, a special Princeton proclamation, and a wide range of tributes and reminiscences from former and current colleagues and guests.

In a phone interview last Saturday, Jones reflected on her career at PHS and “the moments when I think I’ve made a difference.”

She recalled the last meeting of her peer group leaders a few years ago when a graduating senior got up to speak: “‘Thank you for teaching my mom how to be a leader and facilitator,’ he said, and he also named his two brothers who had been in peer group. ‘And I’m the last one and I want to say thank you as well.’ Everyone was listening, and somehow that statement spoke volumes for me. As I reflect back I see that not just in coaching but also in the peer leadership program and in my classes, there are the students that I know I have touched, but there are also the ones I may have no idea I have influenced. That’s special.”

Jones started at PHS in 1970 “with a vision for her students and the desire to empower young women participating in sports,” according to Thursday’s proclamation. She was the PHS field hockey coach for more than 30 years, leading the team to the New Jersey State Championship in 1984. Also head coach of girls lacrosse at PHS, she coached that team to a state championship in 1985.

As part of the original peer leadership group staff, which created the program in 1979, Jones went on to help build up the peer group to include the entire ninth grade every year, and she was instrumental in developing a team of teachers to train participating seniors. Jones remains a part of the leadership of the peer group, which has been expanded and replicated in other schools throughout the region over the past 40 years.  more

November 25, 2020

By Donald Gilpin

Anna Leader

A live, masked, physically distanced audience was in attendance as the lights dimmed at the Grand Theatre de Luxembourg on the evening of October 2 for the debut performance  of Deliver Us, a play about the coronavirus specially commissioned by Luxembourg’s national theater.

The 24-year-old playwright, Anna Leader, was not present, however. She was in her dormitory apartment at The Pennington School in the midst of her first full semester of teaching English and French, and overseeing the young women boarders.

Born in the United States and raised in Luxembourg, Leader has been a writer since childhood, author of a number of award-winning poems, plays, and novels, and an aspiring teacher since her high school years.

Settling at Pennington this fall was Leader’s third move to New Jersey. She came to Princeton University from Luxembourg in 2014 and graduated in 2018. She then worked for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., for a year before returning to Princeton to earn her New Jersey teacher certification through the University’s Teacher Preparation Program in January 2020, after which she went back to her job in D.C. She returned again to New Jersey in August this year to begin her teaching career at Pennington.

Leader realizes that her life in Luxembourg and the United States, and in the worlds of teaching and writing, offers many options as she contemplates her future.  more

July 8, 2020

By Donald Gilpin

Angela Siso Stentz

Angela Siso Stentz, who became the acting principal at Johnson Park Elementary School (JP) on July 1, brings to the job experience from more than 20 years in the Princeton Public Schools, along with a love of children, a desire to help make decisions on behalf of all students, and an eagerness to build relationships with the JP community.

Starting in the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) in 1999 as a special education teacher in math and Spanish, Siso Stentz became supervisor of student activities in 2005, supervisor of guidance in 2008, and since 2017 she has served as assistant principal at Princeton High School (PHS).

“Angela was an outstanding assistant principal,” said PHS Principal Jessica Baxter. “She always put the students first and has a genuine care for kids, families, and staff.  The students, families, and staff at JP are lucky to have her and will form positive relationships with her very quickly. Angela will be greatly missed at PHS, but we are thrilled for her to have this incredible opportunity.” more

January 15, 2020

“PUTTING PEOPLE TOGETHER:” Patty Thel leads the combined choral groups from Trenton Children’s Chorus and Princeton Day School Middle School at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Event at Princeton University. (Photo courtesy of Patty Thel)

By Donald Gilpin

Patty Thel’s roots in choral music go back to her childhood in the Southern Baptist church.

The Westminster Conservatory Children’s Choir program director and founder and Trenton Children’s Chorus director grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where her parents took her to church three times a week, and at home the whole family improvised at the piano and organ. “Mostly hymns — that’s where their heart was,” she said.

Thel has come a long way from the Fayetteville Baptist Church, but through many years of teaching music, she has remained devoted to choral work and literature, along with an experience that goes far beyond the words and the music.

“The thing for me with choral music over the years is about being truthful and devoted to the work as much as possible and also conveying to the students the message brought to them through the literature,” she said. “In teaching you’re trying to teach music, but also teaching young people how to be well rounded human beings and how to be sensitive to other people. more

November 20, 2019

MINDFULNESS: Erin Galbraith teaches mindfulness to all levels, preschool through middle school, at Princeton Montessori School, helping overwhelmed children and teachers “to be able to stop and pause, use their breath to find equilibrium, and allow their nervous system to balance.”(Photo courtesy of Princeton Montessori School)

By Donald Gilpin

Erin Galbraith had been teaching yoga in the area when she started an after-school program at the Princeton Montessori School, where her son and daughter were enrolled. Her classes were popular, so she offered an additional class for parents, and then started teaching teachers some yoga once a week after school, emphasizing with them the value of taking care of yourself. 

One day five years ago Head of School Michelle Morrison came to her with a vision for a program that would involve all the students in the school. “I didn’t have to sell anyone on anything,” Galbraith said. “She came to me with ‘This is our need. I want you to do this.’ and I said ‘great.’”

Galbraith continued, “She was seeing children who were very busy outside of school, with a lot on their plates in this sped-up culture. I think she was feeling that they needed a way to resource that inner calm that lies inside us, to help children become aware of their inner world. I think she knew this would be a real resource for children in this chaotic world.” more

August 28, 2019

GIVING VOICE: Barbara DiLorenzo, author, illustrator, and educator, teaches a variety of different art courses at the Arts Council of Princeton and in New York City, and has published two popular children’s books. (Photo courtesy of Barbara DiLorenzo)

By Donald Gilpin

Barbara DiLorenzo, author, illustrator, and art teacher at the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) and New York Institute of Art and Design (NYIAD), has no doubts about the significance of her work as an artist and a teacher.

She emphasizes the power of students’ individual “voices,” and she demonstrates the technique and the persuasiveness that develops those voices.

“My teaching work reveals its importance daily,” she said. “As people age, they are afraid to call themselves ‘artists.’ Toddlers and preschoolers proudly announce that they are artists. Elementary school students feel that art is open to everyone. However, by middle school, students take note of who around them can draw realistically, and better than them. If allowed, they will talk themselves out of creative pursuits, mistakenly believing that artistic skill is bestowed magically to a chosen few.”

She went on to explain how she imparts her message and inspiration. “I have a standard soapbox speech that can’t be stopped once I get going,” she said. “I don’t let anyone escape my class without hearing that the more one practices, the better one gets. In the end, the goal isn’t who can draw the best. Instead, it’s who has practiced with that medium enough to allow one’s unique voice to come through. Voice is the goal. There is room at the table for everyone’s voice. Many times clumsy use of a medium clouds one’s voice. But once an artist has command of the tools and knows what to say — wow.” more

January 30, 2019

IGNITING PASSION: Princeton Montessori School (PM) Music Teacher Alex Mitnick takes an unconventional approach to music education, engaging his students with lots of movement, drumming, rock bands, and the opportunity to create songs and musical productions of their own. When he’s not at PM, Mitnick, an Emmy Award-winning children’s performer, can most likely be found working on his own TV show, “Alex & The Kaleidoscope.”  (Photo courtesy of Alex Mitnick)

By Donald Gilpin

“We nurture potential and seek to ignite each child’s passion,” states the Princeton Montessori School’s (PM) website. “That’s exactly what happened to me,” said PM Music Teacher and Emmy Award-winner  Alex Mitnick, who also has his own TV show, Alex & The Kaleidoscope, on New York City Public TV.

“I was in an environment with a school director who allowed me to do what I wanted to do, and it really did ignite a passion that I have for music and kids,” he continued. “I don’t know if it would have happened anywhere else. I’m able to write songs and produce shows in my little laboratory here, and that slogan informs all the work I do.”

In his 19th year at PM and currently teaching music to students from third grade through middle school, Mitnick is working on an original musical about the life of Maria Montessori to celebrate the 50th anniversary of PM. The musical, which will debut on April 12 and 13, involves the entire school, Mitnick said.  more

January 16, 2019

LEADER OF THE PACK: Aaron Burt is co-director of a camp for local children in the summers — a change of pace from his main job teaching math to third, fourth, and fifth graders, and coaching cross country, girls’ basketball, and girls’ lacrosse at Princeton Charter School.  (Photo courtesy of Aaron Burt)

By Donald Gilpin

Among the driving forces in the life of Princeton Charter School (PCS) math teacher and coach Aaron Burt are his passions for math, coaching, working with elementary and middle school kids, and his hometown of Princeton. 

“I’ve always enjoyed the energy that kids have,” he said. “I enjoy working with that energy. I always thought I’d like to be a teacher. Especially at the elementary level, the kids’ love of learning, their eagerness to be at school, to be with friends, to be with teachers, is great. It’s so much work, but the energy and excitement make every day exciting and fun. I wake up every morning and I’m excited for another day.” more

November 28, 2018

“MOTHER OF BOARDERS”: Hun School ESL teacher and counselor Dianne Somers is the 2018 recipient of the School’s Distinguished Endowed Faculty Chair. As director of the Arthur Rozas International Student Program for more than 20 years, she oversees the students who come to Hun from 26 different countries.  (Photo courtesy of The Hun School)

By Donald Gilpin

For most of the past 40 years, for students boarding at The Hun School of Princeton, the go-to teacher for advice, information, and encouragement on matters personal, academic, and otherwise has been English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and counselor Dianne Somers.

“We call Ms. Somers the ‘Mother of Boarders,’” said Henry Lazarev, a junior from Russia.  “She is the first person you go to with any kind of problem, whether you broke up with someone or you got a C on a physics exam. You can feel safe your conversation will remain between you two.” more

October 24, 2018

By Donald Gilpin

First-graders, yoga, connecting with others, and helping them — these have been the core elements in Kirsten Bertone’s life over the past 17 years.

A first-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary since 2001, Bertone had no doubts about the career she wanted to pursue.  She’s following in the footsteps of her mother.  more

July 11, 2018

“THE JOB THAT WAS MADE FOR ME:” After 50 years as an educator, Anne Soos retired last month from The Hun School of Princeton, where she taught science for five years. For the first 45 years of her career she taught at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, also chairing the science department for 16 years and serving as Upper School head for 12 years. (Photo courtesy of The Hun School)

By Donald Gilpin

This fall will be different for science teacher Anne Soos, who just retired after five years at The Hun School of Princeton and 45 years before that at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. “This will probably be the first September since I was 4 that I won’t be thinking about school,” she said. more

March 14, 2018

PIED PIPER OF THE ART ROOM: Tanya Vail collaborates with her students in a working studio environment in the Chapin School art room. About 20 years ago she decided to give up her job as a graphic designer to become a full-time teacher, and has never looked back. “I figured that the universe had pointed me in this direction for some reason,” she said. (Photo Courtesy of Tanya Vail)

By Donald Gilpin

The start of Tanya Vail’s teaching career was less than auspicious.

She was working as a graphic designer at a publishing house in Nashville, Tennessee, when she saw an ad for someone to teach freshman graphic design classes at a local design college.

“I started out teaching one class,” she recalled. “My first class was terrible — a complete crash and burn. I had never done it from that point of view before. I had been in the student’s seat but not the one lecturing from the front. It was so bad. If I could have, I would have walked out.” more

February 14, 2018

LIBERATING TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: Joel Hammon, seen here with his student Sam Allen, left his high school teaching job eight years ago and co-founded the Princeton Learning Cooperative, not a school but a self-directed learning community where kids and teachers are “in charge of their learning and their lives.”

By Donald Gilpin

What do you do if you’re a teacher who doesn’t like school?

Nine years ago, Joel Hammon was an unhappy high school history teacher. He’d started out with great idealism and “a tremendous sense of optimism about how to make the world a better place,” as he explained in his recent Ted Talk on YouTube. more

January 24, 2018

“LET THEM EXPERIMENT:” Eliza Hammer (left) and Mary Robinson, teachers at the Princeton Montessori School and leaders of the after-school program, make sure that, as the students are engaged in experiences in problem-solving, “the teachers are having fun and the children are having fun.”

By Donald Gilpin

Imagine a school where children don’t want to go home at the day’s end.

Eliza Hammer and Mary Robinson teach in the classrooms of Princeton Montessori School during the day, then carry their enthusiasms and the Montessori philosophy into the after-school program they run from 2:30 to 6 p.m.

“We bring our passions into the classroom,” said Robinson.  more

July 26, 2017

“MOZART OF TEACHING”: Hun School teacher Ryan Brown, dressed in his signature sweater vest, loves conducting, teaching, and doing math.  He uses his musical abilities in the math classroom and his mathematical abilities in the music classroom.  

As a teacher of math and music at The Hun School, Ryan Brown described every day as “a beautiful mix of left brain and right brain.  The music makes my math teaching more creative, and the math makes my music classes more structured, logical, organized.” more

April 5, 2017

Jane Fremon, founder of the Princeton Friends School (PFS) and its head for the past 30 years, described the school’s central study theme for 2016-17: “All of us are tremendously excited about the ways in which the Roots and Routes theme will bring to everyone — students as well as adults — a heightened appreciation of the fact that people everywhere, throughout history, are deeply connected to the places they inhabit, are part of a long story that stretches back many centuries, and are active agents in the story of the future that is currently being written.” more

February 8, 2017

As she was growing up, Joy Barnes-Johnson planned her future life as a dancer. Then an injury during her junior year in high school turned into a loss for the world of dance but a great gain for the world of education and for hundreds of students at Princeton High School, where she has taught science since 2007.

“When I knew I couldn’t be a dancer, I fell in love with science,” she recalled. “And I remember my chemistry teacher said to me, ‘Joy, you’re not going to be a dancer, but you’re really smart and you’ll probably be a great teacher.’ I knew I had this ability to explain things to my peers.”  more

January 25, 2017

Michelle Jacob, science and math teacher and middle school program coordinator at Princeton Montessori School, feels she has found her vocation and her niche. “There’s always new things I want to introduce to the program,” she said, “but I would love to stay where I am with what I’m doing.”

Ms. Jacob joined Princeton Montessori School in 2008 after ten years at Princeton Charter School and four years before that at St. Paul Roman Catholic School. She lives with her husband and two children in Montgomery, where she serves on the Township Environmental Commission. more

December 21, 2016

ALWAYS MOVING FORWARD: Derrick Wilder, a natural-born performer and teacher, spent many years dancing professionally before taking over the Lawrenceville School dance department, which has flourished under his leadership over the past 11 years.

Derrick Wilder, who came to Lawrenceville School in 2005 as director of dance, became chair of the performing arts department (including dance, theater, and instrumental and vocal music) two years ago. Under his leadership, the dance program has flourished and grown rapidly over the past 11 years, with a range of ballet, modern, and jazz classes for students of all levels, a host of student-led dance companies, and an abundance of performance opportunities, most notably the fall musical and the annual Spring Dance Concert. Before coming to Lawrenceville, Mr. Wilder enjoyed a successful career as a dancer, choreographer, administrator and dance educator.  more

December 7, 2016

EGYPTIAN EXPLORATIONS: Justin Mathews and Connie Escher team up to investigate the pharaohs of ancient Egypt and many other wonders of the ancient world with their sixth grade social studies students at John Witherspoon Middle School. (Photo by Donald Gilpin)

Tim Charleston, K-8 social studies supervisor for the Princeton Public Schools, described Connie Escher and Justin Mathews, sixth grade ancient world cultures teachers: “As a team they complement each other phenomenally. They both have significant individual strengths. They’re at the top of their game professionally. They take pride and pleasure in providing learning experiences for their students. They approach social studies in a hands-on way, and they care deeply about their students and about history.” more

October 19, 2016


A few years ago, when Lisa Eckstrom was an English teacher and chair of the English Department at Stuart Country Day School, she received the following advice: “Every day think of all the people you can help.”

That advice has guided her career and her work. She is now assistant head of Princeton Charter School (PCS), directing the fifth through eighth grades, while continuing to teach a fifth grade English class.

“That’s definitely advice that has stayed with me,” she said. “You can make such a difference in somebody’s life by being reasonable and compassionate and making the rules work for the students. How can you help the situation? How can you make it better? At the end of the day, that’s what you think about.”

Sister Frances de la Chapelle, long-time Head of Stuart and the purveyor of the well remembered advice, described Ms. Eckstrom as “a gift to Stuart.” Commenting on the extraordinary respect and admiration that students, administrators, faculty, and parents had for her, Sister de la Chapelle noted, ”As a faculty member, she loved her students and the subject which she taught. She was creative, very demanding, and always wanted her students to learn as much as they could. She wanted the best for them and they responded.”  more

September 14, 2016


Martha Friend

Mark Eastburn at Riverside and Martha Friend at Littlebrook are two of five New Jersey finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest honors bestowed by the United States government for K-12 mathematics and science teaching. They are also the kind of elementary school science teachers who would make anyone want to start kindergarten all over again. They love the adventure of science, and they love working with young children.  more

July 20, 2016

Prof in Educ_Sandy Bing

ADVICE FOR EDUCATORS: Sandy Bing, educational leader for over five decades at Hun, PDS, Stuart, and elsewhere, shares his thoughts on students, teachers, administrators and the world of education. (Photo by Donald Gilpin)

Sandy Bing started his career in education in 1960 as a chemistry and biology teacher at the Hun School, later becoming dean of students, then director of admissions. In 1969 he took over as head of the Upper School at Princeton Day School.  more