Two Niskayuna High School teachers honored with surprise award

From left, Kathleen Kemp, Christina Pizzino-Catalano, and Hailey Auster pose for a photo with Pizzino-Catalano holding her award.

From left, Kathleen Kemp, Christina Pizzino-Catalano, and Hailey Auster pose for a photo with Pizzino-Catalano holding her award.

NISKAYUNA – The Niskayuna Community Foundation has pulled off the Murray Award surprise ceremony for the 20th year. Two Niskayuna High School teachers were honored with the award, recognizing their commitment to student success.

Christina Pizzino-Catalano teaches choir at the high school and was chosen due to her fierce dedication to the students, in and out of the classroom. Her crowning achievement was the impromptu concerts she bestowed upon graduating seniors in the spring of 2020. 

Inspired by the students’ hard work during the early stages of online learning, she thought they deserved an extra special send off.

“I felt like the seniors had missed out on so much, and would continue to miss out on so much,” Pizzino-Catalano said. “So, my husband and I loaded up speakers on his truck and we went door to door and sang to everyone in their driveway to let them know how much I appreciate them and for sticking with it and getting on Google meets and keeping music alive during a really difficult time.”

Michael Sogoian, an engineering and technology teacher, was recognized for his adaptable teaching style that seamlessly meshes creativity and structure, as well as his dedication to extracurriculars. This year, he advised the school’s Science Olympiad team. Under Sogoian’s guidance, they were able to advance to the state level.

The winning teachers are chosen by a committee made up of Niskayuna Community Foundation members, students and other friends of the school.

“We put a lot of thought into it and really value what students have to say because they’re the ones in the classroom,” Niskayuna Community Foundation member Kathleen Kemp said.

Hailey Auster and Cooper Anderson were this year’s student committee members. They each read a speech to one of the teachers, thanking them for their work and listing key reasons they were chosen.

Auster, an all-around involved student, helped present Pizzino-Catalano’s award.

“I thought it was a great way to give back to my teachers who have given so much to me,” Auster said. “Learning what makes a great teacher by the standards of the award really made me appreciate my teachers more, and I finally got to give back to one of my all-time favorite teachers.”

Anderson, another senior, is an accomplished rower at the school. He couples his athletic prowess with a knack for technology in Sogoian’s class. He highlighted Sogoian’s ability to teach all students— even one’s not enrolled in his class, who he occasionally allows to sit in on lessons.

“As students balance academics, extracurriculars, home, and social life, your understanding shines through,” Anderson said in his address to Sogoian. “Your classroom is a beacon of passion and enthusiasm.”

A key part of the award is the secretive process that ensures it’ll be a surprise to each year’s recipients.

Kemp organized this year’s “prize-patrol.” She is a long-term member of the foundation and raised three children in Niskayuna schools.

“We’ve been doing this since 2004, so we have a good process in place,” Kemp said. “Any email I send or anything I say I’m like ‘Okay this is secret, this is confidential.’ ”

The two award winners received a plaque commemorating the accomplishment as well as a $2,500 prize. The award was first presented in 2004 by NCF members Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasey. Crowe and Veasey’s parents — Sally and Edward Murray — were instrumental in the creation of Niskayuna High School.

Contact reporter Ameara Ditsche at [email protected]. Keep up with her on Twitter @amearaisawriter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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