Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards 2023

Six HPS award winners were nominated by their colleagues

Six Holyoke Public Schools educators were surprised and honored on March 3, 2023 when their classroom doors were opened by Superintendent Anthony Soto bearing flowers, balloons, and a proclamation from Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia to let them know they were selected to receive Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards this year.

Since 2003, the award has been distributed annually to honor Western Massachusetts educators for their dedication and excellence. More than 100 Western Massachusetts educators are honored each year. This year’s Excellence in Teaching Award winners from Holyoke include:

Headshot of Jessica Bresnahan

Jessica Bresnahan

Jessica Bresnahan is a Sullivan School Grade 7 and 8 English language arts teacher. She was nominated for her exemplary teaching practices as a new teacher and for maintaining her classroom as a safe, inclusive space where students are impelled to think critically, use their minds well, problem-solve, and participate in real-world applications. 

Headshot of Kimberly Comtois

Kimberly Comtois

Kimberly Comtois is a Lawrence School kindergarten teacher. She was nominated for creating an inclusive classroom for her students and colleagues. Her students have the opportunity to participate and succeed regardless of learning differences and preferences. Her students regularly engage in discourse and provide feedback to each other.

Headshot of Allison Gonzalez

Allison Gonzalez

Allison Gonzalez is a Kelly School grade 3 inclusion teacher. She was nominated for leading dramatic growth in her students’ achievements after taking over the classroom earlier this year. She has implemented consistent rituals and routines including “ready to learn” expectations and practices, and delivers engaging, standards-aligned lessons.

Headshot of Benito Colon

Benito Colon

Benito Colon is Holyoke High School North’s sole Spanish III teacher and 25-year veteran educator. He was nominated for his dedication to his students and community, for setting high academic standards, and for continually refining and growing his practice. This year, he is teaching 135 students, 87% of whom are on track academically in his classes.

Headshot of Jesenia Dejesus

Jesenia Dejesus

Jesenia Dejesus is a Holyoke Middle School special education teacher educator. She was nominated for her transformational work with students, helping them meet grade-level standards and supporting their social-emotional health. She has experience at multiple schools within the district as both a general education and special education teacher.

Headshot of Luis Robles

Luis Robles

Luis Robles is a HHS Dean math teacher. He was nominated for his problem-solving approach and collaborative work preparing lesson plans and curriculum resources for himself and his colleagues. After five years teaching at North, he moved to Dean this year to assume a new position teaching three different content areas at three grade levels.

The six HPS award recipients will be honored during an in-person banquet at the Log Cabin in Holyoke on May 3, where they will each receive an engraved plaque and a check for $250, along with tuition incentives and scholarships offered by seven major colleges and universities in the region—Elms College, Bay Path University, Mount Holyoke College, Springfield College, Western New England University, Westfield State University, and the University of Massachusetts. Winners will also receive memberships at WGBY and access to thousands of digital education resources, along with three-month memberships at the Springfield Jewish Community Center and at one of six regional YMCAs.

All winners are further invited to apply for the selective Classroom Innovator Prize of $250. Created to foster educators’ interest and engagement in Project Based Learning, teachers can submit a project-based learning idea. Up to 15 prizes will be given. All winners interested in this important teaching methodology will be supported by professional development opportunities.

The Excellence in Teaching Awards program, now in its 20th year, is made possible by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation in partnership with the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation.

Other business and community support comes from American International College, Arrha Credit Union, Country Bank, and Meyers Brothers Kalicka.