2020 Educator of the Year: Dennis Deerkoski

Dennis Deerkoski was fully prepared to return to his classroom for a new school year last September. That is, until he sensed that his profession had suddenly become a job.

When it was determined that Mattituck High School would adopt a hybrid instructional model (part remote, part in-school instruction) for the 2020-21 school year, that pretty much made the decision for the math teacher. When Mr. Deerkoski returned to the school in August, it was to clean out his old classroom, Room S109 in the science wing.

In the end, it all added up to retirement time for Mr. Deerkoski. His 47-year teaching career (39 at Mattituck) was over.

Mr. Deerkoski retired at the age of 69. He had gotten his taste of remote instruction last spring when the COVID-19 outbreak closed school buildings, and he didn’t like it one bit. Being unable to see the facial expressions of his students and getting a sense of whether they understood the subject matter he was discussing bothered him. It bothered him enough that he sensed it was time to exit. Although he didn’t know it at the time, March 12 was his final day in front of a class.

Live, in-person interactions with students is what kept Mr. Deerkoski going over the course of a career that earned him selection as The Suffolk Times’ Educator of the Year for 2020.

“I could have retired 14 years ago, but I didn’t retire because I really did enjoy going in and working with the students,” he said. “It wasn’t a job.”

Until it became one.

“When this remote learning came down, I knew it was time,” he said. “It was just time.”

Mr. Deerkoski, who lives in Mattituck with his wife, Bernadette, caught the teaching bug as an eighth-grade Mattituck student helping fellow students with their math work. With an affinity for numbers, he was influenced by his own math teacher at the time, Robert Krudop. The class salutatorian went on to become a teacher’s assistant while attending St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

Mr. Deerkoski taught in Baldwin for 7 1/2 years before accepting an offer to return to the Mattituck-Cut-ch-ogue Union Free School District — this time as a teacher. And so, he returned to his alma mater, teaching mostly calculus in a manner that made him well-liked by students and admired by colleagues.

“He is an all-star math teacher, 100 percent,” said Brendan Kent, a senior civil engineering major at Virginia Tech who studied pre-calculus and AP calculus under Mr. Deerkoski for two years. “He was just so dedicated to his students and making sure everyone learned it at their own speed … Calculus is not an easy thing to learn and at the same time probably harder to teach, and he made it understandable, fair, and everyone I know, all my friends and kids I graduated with, we all have great things to say about him.”

Mattituck High School math teacher Frank Massa said Mr. Deerkoski set the bar high for other math teachers. “The way he can deliver high-level information in a way that it’s understandable is something that most teachers would want to emulate,” said Mr. Massa.

Mr. Deerkoski said teaching never got old for him. “Every class is different,” he said. “Every class is challenging, and you just have to keep up with it. I don’t care what year I taught the class, I always went back before I started teaching, I went back to my notes again, just to make sure that everything was correct.”

A rough estimate is that Mr. Deerkoski taught some 4,700 students over the course of his career.

“I’ve gotten some nice notes back from students, how I have impacted their lives,” he said. “I think that’s worth it more than anything else.”

Mr. Deerkoski said he never considered leaving the school until the effect of the pandemic prompted him to do so.

Reflecting on his career, Mr. Deerkoski said early on he had no idea where it would take him, “but in the end, [it was] better than I ever expected.”

Previous Winners

2019: Christine Schade
2018: Rosemary McGoey
2017: Sarah Benjamin
2016: Emily Gundersen
2015: John Roslak
2014: Phillip ‘Skip’ Munisteri
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