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October 7, 2013

Murray Award marks 10 years of celebrating excellence in teaching

One family's generosity and a commitment to excellence that goes back to the founding of Niskayuna High School were celebrated in a ceremony on Friday afternoon, October 4.

A plaque was unveiled to mark the 10th anniversary of the prestigious Murray Award for Educational Excellence. The award was created by Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasey in 2004 to honor their parents, Edwards and Sally Murray, for their involvement in the formation of the high school in the 1950s.

Each year, two Niskayuna High School teachers receive the Murray Award, which comes with the accolades of the school community as well as funding toward the professional development activity of their choice. Since it was created, 20 Niskayuna High School teachers have received the award for a total of $50,000 to benefit their professional growth and, ultimately, the school and students.

Kathy Murray Crowe, in town from Arizona for her 50th Niskayuna High School reunion, attended the ceremony. She recalled the service of her father, who worked in finance at GE, on the Board of Education that established Niskayuna High School, which opened in 1957. Despite his financial expertise, Crowe recalled her father's involvement in the search for the new school's first department chairs - not in budget or facility issues.

"He said, 'No, no, the heart and soul of a school is not the building. And it is not the finance. It is the people,'" Crowe said. "He said, 'Different from finance, great teaching is an art, it's not a science.'"
Indeed, the family created the award to honor the "uncompromising excellence" that is the foundation of the school district - and to carry it forward.

She was joined by her husband, Dr. Jack Crowe, at the ceremony.

Most of the previous 20 Murray Award recipients were also present. The plaque unveiled on October 4 includes their names, with space for more. It gives the special award a permanent place in the main lobby of the high school.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Deborah Shea said the award plays a role in perpetuating a legacy of excellence that goes back to the district's earliest days.

"Niskayuna stands for something. We stand for quality, relentless perfection, continual learning and, most importantly, an unwavering focus on our students," Dr. Shea said. "These recipients are perfect examples and reminders of what makes Niskayuna the hallmark of academic excellence."

The Murray Award is administered by the Niskayuna Community Foundation. Each year, a committee of students, parents, and peers choose recipients through a process that is coordinated by NCF Board member Kathleen Kemp. Criteria included outstanding classroom practices as well as growth potential and a school presence that inspires and positively impacts students, colleagues, and the community. In addition to Edwards and Sally Murray, the award is also given in memory of Jeanne Murray Veasey, who has since passed away.

The unique presentation of the award is one of many highlights at the high school each spring. Recipients do not know that they will be recognized until Murray Award and Niskayuna Community Foundation representatives, school leaders, colleagues and students burst into a classroom with balloons, a plaque, and remarks describing their accomplishment.