Niskayuna Community Foundation Surprises Eric Hughes and Thomas Lester with the Murray Award for Excellence in Education

Tina Lee of the Niskayuna Community Foundation shows a plaque to Niskayuna High School English teacher Thomas Lester as part of the Murray Award presentation.   Tina Lee, from the Niskayuna Community Foundation, talks with Niskayuna High School's Eric Hughes as part of the Murray Award presentation.

Annual award recognizes excellence in honor of family who helped establish Niskayuna High School in the 1950s

The Niskayuna Community Foundation, a geographic fund of The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, surprised two Niskayuna High School teachers on Thursday, June 1, by presenting them with the 14th annual Murray Award for Excellence in Education. The awards were presented to Eric Hughes, a band teacher and acting head of the music department and Thomas Lester, an English teacher. A crowd of students, parents and teachers stunned Mr. Hughes and Mr. Lester by interrupting their teaching with plaques and balloons. Each teacher will receive $2,500 for use in a professional development activity of his choice.

In 2004, Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasey, the daughters of Edwards and Sally Murray, started the award to honor their parents” involvement in the formation of the Niskayuna High School and their belief that educators in the high school would be the foundation of the “uncompromising excellence” that is typical of the education throughout the school district. The award is also given in memory of Jeanne Murray Veasey, who has since passed away.

A committee representing students, parents and peers chose the recipients and the Niskayuna Community Foundation facilitated the selection process and award presentation. Criteria included outstanding classroom practices as well as growth potential and a school presence that inspires and positively impacts students, colleagues and the community. At the request of the Murray family, this award is not competitive, but is intended to be an annual opportunity to select educators who represent the overall excellence of the high school staff and educational program.

Eric Hughes is the glue which binds the music department together. As band director, he pushes his students to achieve excellence, both in the ensemble rehearsals and in one on one lessons, giving specific feedback and always offering students extra assistance. Students enjoy his big personality and dry sense of humor. In addition to his work in the classroom, Mr. Hughes directs the annual musical. This year’s musical, “Phantom of the Opera,”” was recognized in the inaugural High School Musical Theatre Awards for Best Musical, Best Set Construction, and Best Technical Execution, providing an inspirational experience to a diverse group of students. Currently, he is the acting head of the music department.

Thomas Lester shares his enthusiasm for learning with students in freshman to college level English. Students enjoy his personal perspectives. Examples of inventive ways that he engages students include his creation of a hip-hop video and through discussion of his bucket list. In turn, students have created what they affectionately call their “Lester List.” Students in his college level SUPA class are motivated to learn because discussions are exciting, stimulating, and thought provoking. He encourages his students to think beyond the obvious, to be open minded, and to be respectful of different points of view.

About the Niskayuna Community Foundation: The mission of the Niskayuna Community Foundation (NCF) is to enhance and improve the community through organized philanthropy. NCF benefits current and future residents through support in such areas as cultural, town beautification, scholarship, social service, recreation, and many more. Further information may be obtained by calling 374-0326 or by writing to NCF, PO Box 9711, Niskayuna, 12309 or at