Washington 5th grade teacher Matthew Cognetti is the 2022 recipient of the Rotary Club of Westfield’s Philhower Fellowship in recognition of outstanding teaching at the elementary school level.
Cognetti received the news on April 28 as Superintendent Dr. Raymond González and Washington principal Dr. Andrew Perry paid a visit to his classroom.
“It was great to surprise Matt with this well-deserved recognition,” says González. “Students, parents, and colleagues who nominated Matt noted his experiential instruction, caring nature, and willingness to support students and staff in so many ways.”
Raised in Westfield, Cognetti attended Tamaques Elementary School, Edison Intermediate School, and graduated from Westfield High School. He attended Penn State University and Kean University for his undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and the University of Scranton, where he received a Master’s in Educational Administration.
Cognetti joined the Westfield Public School District in 2001 as a 4th grade teacher at Washington, a position he held for one year before moving to the 5th grade.
“I’ve been teaching 5th grade at Washington ever since,” says Cognetti. “I have always loved working with children and teaching. I was a camp counselor at Wilson when I was younger and really enjoyed it. Having 7 younger siblings also gave me numerous opportunities to teach, helping with homework and various projects.”
Cognetti also serves as an Instructional Technology Support teacher at Washington, helping his colleagues to implement technology in their classrooms.
“Mr. Cognetti is a true example of what a teacher should be in Westfield,” writes a colleague in one nominating letter. “He loves his job - not just the time between 8:40 and 3:05, but every minute he spends working outside those hours. His dedication to his students and colleagues is contagious and we all are better because of him.”
Another nominating letter from a parent lauds Cognetti as a “calm and caring” teacher who has “a wonderful, even-keeled approach to the kids that make his classroom feel like a safe space that is predictable and reliable.”
“Mr.Cognetti has always been making sure that I get the right education,” writes one student nominator. “Anytime he notices a problem that I am having, he is always trying to help me understand or solve the problem.”
Cognetti will be recognized as the 2022 Philhower Fellow at the May 3 Board of Education meeting. He will receive the Philhower Award on May 17 as a guest of honor during a Rotary Club luncheon.
The Philhower Fellowship was established in 1993 by the Rotary Club to honor former Westfield Rotarian Charles Philhower and to recognize the importance of teaching in the elementary grades. An educator for more than 50 years, Charles Philhower, who died in 1962, was supervising principal (superintendent) of Westfield schools for three decades as well as co-founder and past president of the Rotary Club of Westfield.
A committee of three Rotarians, a previous Philhower Fellowship recipient, two elementary school principals and the superintendent reviewed all nominations and selected Cognetti as this year’s recipient.
Asked about the most rewarding aspect of the job, Cognetti says “there are so many but I think every teacher loves the smile on a student’s face when they achieve something they never thought they would or that moment when a concept ‘clicks.’”
Cognetti adds: “At the end of the day, I hope my students develop a love of learning, a sense of curiosity about every subject, and a belief that they can push through and overcome any challenge with hard work and help from others.”