Comolli brings passion to teaching at Indian River High
When Principal Bennett Murray tried to congratulate Diane Comolli for winning Teacher of the Year at Indian River High School, he couldn’t actually reach her. Students were eagerly swarming the English teacher’s classroom.
“I went down there to congratulate her after I had made the announcement via the PA system. I couldn’t get to her because her students were congratulating her and giving her hugs. Her kids were just as proud of her as we were,” Murray said. “I thought that spoke volumes that the students took time out of their schedules to congratulate her.”
“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “There are such fabulous teachers in this building. Just to be considered … is an honor. I guess, if you’re a teacher, that’s an Oscar!”
“I was so glad and honored to represent what is good about this building,” she said. “Indian River demonstrates each day what’s good about public schools.”
Teaching 10th-grade English, she sees students of all abilities, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I have a passion for all kids. They all deserve to learn. They all can learn, no matter what circumstances they come from,” said Comolli, adding that she feels she can approach multiple needs and learning styles.
“I got that from advertising. I talk to my audience in a way they’ll listen. … In high school, that’s especially important,” she said.
“She gives all she’s got, every day,” Murray said.
“Her ability to connect her students to the lesson is mesmerizing,” one nomination said.
“This wonderful woman had no obligation to help me,” wrote another student, “and that is something I will never forget.”
Comolli said one challenge is the way students think about state testing. It’s important, she said, but “Sometimes kids confuse the measurement with the joy of learning itself. It has begun to affect the way kids think about education. … It’s an important measurement, but it’s just one [of many]. Integrity, sense of curiosity, character, motivation — that’s what’s going to define you.” That’s what her classes work toward every day.
Success isn’t fast and easy, she explained. The goal is “keeping kids really engaged in learning and focused on their future, when [the media] gives them messages that seem another way.
“It’s a challenge that we teachers willingly accept, to be good role models and motivators, to help them see there’s an incredible world out there, and only through education will they appreciate it.”
Comolli said she has grown at IR, supported by a “fabulous, caring administration,” even during a “seamless” transition.
She has served on various committees, from class advisor and helping plan prom with the juniors to representing the school on the administration’s advisory team.
“I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by a number of talented educators,” Murray said. “She has stood tall amongst our staff and … she’s one of the instructional leadership team, someone I can turn to, to feel the pulse of the school community as a whole.
This is Comolli’s fifth year at IR, ninth in the district and 14th teaching. She worked for 20 years in marketing and advertising production for a Fortune 500 company before her family moved to Vermont. Substitute teaching was the only quick work available, but her son was in elementary school, and it was a way to meet people. The temporary job became her passion.
“When I was there, I decided I wanted to teach as much as I wanted to breathe,” she said simply.
She earned her credentials and became a business teacher. The Comollis moved to Ocean View to be closer to family, and she dove into her community.
She said she believes living and working in the same town is good for the community. As a past president of the Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation, she was proud to build a relationship between school and community, making both stronger. She helped institute a teaching grant, and the QRCF’s support of the Indian River School District is a point of personal pride.
When not in school, Comolli stays active. She reads, works out, cycles and is often found on the local 5K finisher lists.
Her energy comes through to the classroom, where kids say she has a “preacher style,” a powerful, impassioned way of speaking.
Murray described Comolli using the words of her own nominations: “She cares not only about her students’ education, but her students’ future. She’s enthusiastic when she’s teaching, and she shows a real passion for her students.” Plus she “always has a smile on her face.”
“My kids know I believe in them. They know I genuinely care. I don’t give up,” Comolli said. “And, consequently, I’ve found that most of the kids won’t give up either.”