Charlie Choleva, Franklin County Technical School’s winner of the annual Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award, insists the honor goes to all of the staff that he works with in the school’s Pre-Employment Program.
“It’s the team that makes me be able to be the teacher that I am,” he said. “I am extremely thankful for the Pre-Employment team.”
The award is presented by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, in partnership with MassMutual and the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation. Choleva and other winners from schools in the Pioneer Valley will be honored at a banquet at the Log Cabin in Holyoke on May 15.
FCTS administrators named Choleva this year’s winner and Superintendent Richard J. Martin called him, “the most successful special education teacher I have ever known in my 28 years in education.”
“Mr. Choleva exemplifies all of the quality traits of an engaging, enthusiastic, and empathetic professional,” Martin said. “He has a special ability to build relationships and teach students with significant disabilities within an environment which provides students with access to all aspects of the school building.”
A native of Turners Falls, Choleva has been teaching at Franklin County Technical School for the past 11 years. He said the Pre-Employment Program (PEP) is a small program designed for students with physical or cognitive challenges where they work on educational and independent living skills.
“I get the most satisfaction from seeing the students become comfortable with who they are and giving them the chance to do more than what was ever expected of them,” Choleva said. “The students are my extended family. I just want the best for each student, which will be different from the person sitting next to them.”
Throughout his career at FCTS, Choleva has been integral to the growth and vibrancy of the school. He is a certified mentor teacher, and has been a class advisor for eight years. Choleva coordinates several community service projects each year, and runs the school store with the help of his staff and PEP students.
Outside of school, Choleva has been on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Franklin County for the past 11 years.
“Charlie has a huge heart and always puts students first,” said FCTS Principal Brian Spadafino. “He works every single day to give his students the skills they will need to be successful in life. It is inspiring to watch him have such an impact on the lives of students.”
Choleva earned his associate’s degree in business from Greenfield Community College, a bachelor’s degree in youth relations from UMass-Amherst’s University Without Walls, and a master’s degree from Fitchburg State University in special education. He earned his special education certification through the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton.
A teacher for 17 years, Choleva’s first job was at Linden Hill School in Northfield where he taught boys with dyslexia for four years. He then worked with behavioral students at the New England Adolescent Research Institute in Holyoke for two years before coming to Franklin County Technical School.
“When I came here for my job interview it was for a special education English teacher’s position,” Choleva said. “I really didn’t want the job. I found out it was taken by another teacher and that the one I have now was open, and I really wanted it. I got the call back and was given the job.”
As teachers in the Pre-Employment Program, Choleva and his colleagues emphasize to their students developing a work ethic, team building, trying their best, asking for assistance when needed, persevering and then trying again if they fail. They also work with the students on passing the MCAS tests so they can graduate.
Choleva said his mother Charlotte, who was a first grade teacher, “welled up in tears and told me how proud she was of me about six times” for winning the award. His wife Kristine was excited that he won the award and was impressed that his work means so much to the students and the school. Choleva’s six-year-old son Sammy knows his dad is getting an award and is happy about it, but doesn’t know what it’s for.
“He just wants to know how big the award is,” Choleva said of his son.
Charlotte, Kristine and Sammy will be going with Choleva to the awards banquet, as will his fellow PEP teacher Philip Foisy and his wife Toni, and P.K. Sanieski, his mentor at the Linden Hill School, and her husband Walter.
“I haven’t seen them in 10 years, and I called them to let them know that I won the award,” Choleva said. “She mentored me and got me to where I am today.”
Choleva was especially thankful to Martin and FCTS administrators for choosing him to receive the award.
“You don’t do this work to receive an award,” he said. “You do it to help out the kids. Then you win the award and it means more than words can say. Really, it was the program that won.”
Posted: to FCTS General News on Thu, Apr 11, 2019
Updated: Thu, Apr 11, 2019