The students in Richard DeSimony’s advanced manufacturing class at Niskayuna High School were interrupted as they sat down to take their final exam Thursday. Visitors had an award -- and a check -- for their teacher.
DeSimony and Latin teacher Thomas Caffrey became recipients Thursday of the Murray Award for Excellence. Now in its 15th year, the award recognizes a pair of Niskayuna High School teachers who demonstrate commitment to their students and the broader Niskayuna High School community.
“His time and devotion to his students -- he really has no time when he’s doing stuff for himself. There are always students,” said Niskayuna senior Matt Cutting, who served on the award selection committee, before handing DeSimony a plaque recognizing his efforts.
Cutting, who is taking a seminar on research and development with DeSimony this semester, said he stayed late after school many Fridays to work with DeSimony. The engineering and technology teacher would stay as late as 5 p.m. -- or until his phone rang, Cutting said.
“That’s when his wife calls him home for dinner,” Cutting said.
“It’s true,” DeSimony said.
Cutting and other students said DeSimony is always there for his students, helping them through problems or giving them the time and space to do work during lunch of after school.
DeSimony didn’t have a lot to add.
“I don’t know what else to say; it’s been almost 20 years,” he said of his tenure at the school.
After surprising DeSimony – and letting his class return to their testing – the group of administrators and students delivering the awards descended on Caffrey’s Latin class. The annual teacher award, which comes with $2,500 for professional development, is supported by the Niskayuna Community Foundation.
Ellen Bostwick, a Niskayuna senior, has been in Caffrey's Latin classes since her sophomore year. She said he is “more real” than many other teachers, sharing personal experiences with students and entertaining them with his wit. “He’s natural and fun and caring,” Bostwick said.
“Thank you for being a mentor, a role model and a friend,” she told him.
Caffrey said he is often asked how he can stay excited about teaching the same classes year after year. But the classes are never the same, he said; each new group of students offers a fresh chance for him to teach.
“I teach different kids every year, and that’s what makes it special every year,” Caffrey said. “That’s why I love coming to the classroom every day. That’s what it’s about to me: the kids and not even Latin.”
Tina Lee, a Niskayuna Community Foundation board member, said Caffrey was one of the most impactful teachers her daughter had while at Niskayuna High School. She said he helps students to think in new ways and to have confidence in themselves and how they approach problems. Her daughter developed entire dance numbers as part of projects for Latin class.
“That really gave her the confidence of creating something,” Lee said of her daughter, now a college student. “He encourages people to think and form their own opinions.”
The Murray Award was established in 2004 by Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasay to honor their parents' involvement in Niskayuna schools. Their parents helped push for the construction of the high school and believed strongly in the importance of teachers as the foundation of the district’s “uncompromising excellence.”