On a misty May morning, a group of Southold Elementary School fourth-graders lined up outside, peered into the distance and waited for the arrival of their beloved teacher, Phillip “Skip” Munisteri.
The students had been put to a challenge. Together, they managed to read more than 80 books in 80 days. In return, Mr. Munisteri was obliged to make good on his promise of biking more than 40 miles from his Setauket home to the Oaklawn Avenue school — rain or shine.
It was a challenge that exemplified the nature of Mr. Munisteri’s fourth grade classroom, where he creates an environment in which his students aren’t simply taught and assessed but challenged and motivated to grow academically, as individuals and as a community.
For these efforts, Mr. Munisteri is The Suffolk Times’ 2014 Educator of the Year.
“Mr. Munisteri has touched the competitive nature in [my son] in such a positive way that he has, without pressure, tried his hardest,” Denisa Ramirez wrote in a letter to The Suffolk Times about her son Giovanni in June.
It was one of 11 letters submitted to the newspaper by parents and students after last school year’s event outlining what Mr. Munisteri brings to the classroom.
“Mr. M would do anything for us and to support us, from inspiring us to chase our dreams, and reaching for the sky,” then fourth grader Emma DeTour wrote. “He is caring, supportive, and goes above and beyond, even coming to see us with the flu, attending after-school games and our spring concert.”
The 2013-2014 school year represented a year of change for the teacher of 13 years, who was the school’s technology instructor before taking on his first fourth grade class in September 2013.
Mr. Munisteri incorporated his technology skills into classroom lessons, creating a video production area in which students work together to produce videos and write original scripts.
At the school’s Earthfest Celebration in June, students used cameras to document the day’s agriculture and wildlife demonstrations as Mr. Munisteri asked them questions about the topics at hand.
A U.S. Army veteran, Mr. Munisteri also puts his experience in team-building to work, creating an atmosphere in which students rely on each another and are rewarded for their contributions.
During a recent visit to his classroom, more than 20 students sat attentively, each wearing a red vest decorated with pins they had earned by demonstrating good behavior or by being by a good friend or classmate.
The vests matched a number of banners and ribbons hanging around the classroom that represented awards won by the class as a whole.
“Their red vests make them feel part of a community, or better yet, a family — not just a class,” wrote Carol Leonard, the mother of a student named Wyatt. “His method of teaching touches our children, all of them, and everyone learns together.”
Southold Elementary School principal Ellen O’Neill said “the students are always his top priority and he provides them with experiences that incorporate the arts along with the core subjects. The ride challenge was just one example of how Mr. Munisteri will do whatever it takes to reach his kids. We are fortunate to have him as a member of our wonderful Southold Elementary School family.”
Parent Chris Klipstein said Mr. Munisteri “wants to see [students] achieve. He wants them to know they can come to him with anything, and they do. To put things simply, in the words of my son [Tate], ‘Mr. Munisteri really, really cares about us.’ ”
2013 — Al Edwards
2012 — Daniel Goldfarb
2011 — Major William Grigonis
2010 — Jean Dempsey
2009 — Robert Feger
2008 — Charles Kozora
2007 — Kathy Williams
2006 — Dr. Stuart Rachlin
2005 — Mattituck Fund for Students
2004 — Ron McEvoy
2003 — Chris Gallagher
2002 — Brigitte Gibbons
2001 — Barbara Ackerman
2000 — Ruth Yoskovich
1999 — Tom Brennan
1998 — Peggy Dickerson
1997 — Elizabeth Goldsmith
1996 — Lee Ellwood
1995 — Linda Gates
1994 — Poppy Johnson
1993 — Peggy Murphy
1992 — Patricia Wall
1991 — Charles Nephew
1990 — Dennis Claire
1989 — Bruno Brauner
1988 — Winifred Billard
1987 — Jim Christy