By Kristin Schultz
Two of Niskayuna High School’s best were honored with the 14th annual Murray Award for Excellence in Education on June 1.
Niskayuna Community Foundation board members Tina Lee and Cindy Pillippe, along with school officials, a PTO representative and students presented band teacher Eric Hughes, acting head of the music department, and English teacher Thomas Lester each with a plaque and $2,500 to use toward professional development.
“It’s not a competitive thing,” said Lee. “The committee discusses which teachers, year after year, go above and beyond and inspire the students.”
The names of the award recipients have been kept under wraps since the committee met and chose the honorees in April. On June 1, committee members — armed with balloons and flowers — and officials surprised Lester and Hughes in their classrooms.
“I don’t like attention,” Lester said when the award procession entered his room.
“Well, that’s too bad,” said Lee, who presented Lester with his award.
Student Connor Graham said of Lester: “He makes us think of the English language on a deeper level.”
Graham went on to note that Lester emphasizes understanding, thorough analysis of themselves and society at large, and understanding context.
The selection committee noted that Lester communicates openly with his charges and that “he encourages his students to think beyond the obvious, to be open-minded and to be respectful of different points of view.”
Hughes was described as “the glue, which binds the music department together.” He teaches band, ensemble, directs the school musical and takes on many other duties.
“He creates an amazing experience for the kids,” said Lee. “He works with the performers, the construction crew, everybody. It’s an experience they’ll remember whether they pursue a career in theater or not.”
The Murray Award for Excellence in Education was first handed out in 2004 by Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasey in honor of their parents, who were instrumental in the formation of Niskayuna High School, and strong supporters of Niskayuna teachers and their work with students contributing to excellence in the district.
Jeanne has since passed away and so the award is given in her honor and her parents.
The honor is awarded through The Niskayuna Community Foundation, a geographic fund of The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region.
NOTE: The original article incorrectly stated the award was in honor of Kathy and her parents.