When a group of students, staff and Niskayuna Community Foundation members walked into two Niskayuna High School classrooms, the teachers didn’t know what to expect.
Michael Jones and Margaret Varin were presented with the 10th annual Murray Award for Excellence in Education on Tuesday. The award is given to two teachers annually by the Niskayuna Community Foundation and the Murray family.
Award winners are chosen from Niskayuna High School teachers who best fit the criteria established by Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasey, sisters who created the award in 2004: “outstanding classroom practices as well as growth potential and a school presence that inspires and positively impacts students, colleagues and the community.”
“The family has been just so generous over the years,” said Kathleen Kemp of the Niskayuna Community Foundation. “Up until and including today, they have donated $50,000. It means a lot because this family, who’s moved away, even, are still so committed to education in Niskayuna that they continue the award every year.”
The first classroom that the group surprised Tuesday morning was that of Jones, a Spanish teacher.
Jones beamed with joy as he invited all of his guests into his room with a warm “buenos días.”
“All I can say is thank you so much, this is a wonderful honor,” he said. “I am so touched, I’m honored.”
Jones has gained a great amount of respect from both the students and faculty during his time at Niskayuna High School.
“I may not always be in a good mood when I enter a class, but I always feel good when I leave Mr. Jones’ class,” said one student. “The guy is an amazing teacher.”
Next, the group walked into Varin’s chemistry classroom and gathered around her during a lecture. Joy glowed from her after the surprise wore off.
“All I kept thinking was what a great honor and all the other colleagues,” said Varin. “It wouldn’t be successful for any school without the great colleagues.”
She joined Niskayuna in 2004 after spending more than 20 years as a medical technologist. She spent time as a substitute teacher, filling in for other teachers on maternity leave, until she finally landed a full-time position as a chemistry teacher at the high school.
Students spoke glowingly of her, noting that she is “kind and supportive and it speaks of the ample time and extensive energy she puts into her instruction.”
“It’s such a good feeling to know that [hard work] gets recognized,” said Varin. “I put my heart into everything I enjoy, and I enjoy teaching these kids.”
This year the award was also given in memory of one of its creators, Jeanne Murray Veasey, who has passed away.
“Right until the end, Jeanne spoke fondly and glowingly about her education at Niskayuna. She remembered countless details of her life in the high school and had special memories of not only good friends but also of special teachers who help shaped her educational experience,” said Kemp. “This award is now called the Murray award to honor this very special and unique woman.”
The Murray Award for Excellence in Education winners are chosen by a committee of students, parents, and peers. Each award winner has been given $2,500 for “use in a professional development activity of their choice.”