NAUGATUCK — Learning how to engage a new crop of students year after year is a lot like playing poker.
At least that is the analogy veteran teacher Charley Marenghi makes when describing how he gets each student to buy into his teaching methodologies.
“A good teacher cannot say, ‘Well this is what I’ve done every year, so I’m going to keep doing that,’” he said. “It’s like playing cards: You’ve got to have a plan, and you have to be very strategic about it and have to meet the needs of a lot of different kids every year.”
Marenghi, 48, is apparently a good card player, or at least a good teacher. On Tuesday, he was named the 2016 Naugatuck Public Schools teacher of the year.
The 17-year veteran sixth-grade math, science and social studies teacher at Cross Street Intermediate School is just the second teacher from Naugatuck who will participate in the statewide teacher of the year competition, which Naugatuck just started entering last year. Previously, the Naugatuck Exchange Club gave out its teacher of the year award.
Last year, Tiffany Deitelbaum of City Hill Middle School won the Naugatuck Public Schools award and was named a finalist for the statewide competition. She was forced to drop out of the competition because she no longer teaches more than half the time as she has taken on administrative responsibilities.
Like Deitelbaum, Marenghi grew up in Naugatuck and attended the same public school system where he now teaches. An Army veteran, Marenghi is also well-known in the community as the former longtime conductor for the Naugatuck Community Band, a member of the Rubber City Blues Band and a volunteer with local youth sports organizations. He is also chairman of the board of directors for the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library here.
His passion for Naugatuck shines every day, Cross Street Principal Melissa Cooney said.
She said Marenghi opens his classroom to teachers and administrators around the district so they can review what he is doing. He also agreed to be videotaped while teaching so administrators can show it in teacher training seminars.
“He is a collaborator, a great team member,” Cooney said. “But the relationship he builds with his students is first and foremost what makes him great.”
Marenghi, who is married and has four children, said he appreciates that Cooney gives teachers the opportunity to think outside the box and do what works for them inside the classroom. Too often, he believes, teachers are so concerned with following a regimented curriculum that it stifles creativity in school.
“We are judged more on test scores than ever before,” he said. “I think accountability is necessary, as long as there is a sound mathematical calculation as to how the scores are being evaluated. But there is so much pressure put on numeracy and literacy that there are fewer opportunities for teachers to be creative.”
On those test scores, however, Marenghi’s students have done amazingly well, Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said. She noted that 100 percent of his math students over the past two years have met or exceeded their standardized test goals.
“That’s just amazing,” she said.
While seeing those scores are validating, the best part of teaching is when students take something from his class that benefits them throughout life, Marenghi said.
“It’s great to see students years later who say, ‘Hey, I remember that science experiment’ or ‘I loved your class,’” he said. “To see them as successful years later is a great feeling.”