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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 28, 2009

Effort, innovation, care, and wisdom celebrated with GCSD awards

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A nurse, a custodian, an aid, a teaching assistant, a supervisor, and six teachers were recently honored at the school district’s 32nd Annual Employee Recognition Ceremony.

“I love traditions, ceremonies, and celebrations,” said Lin Severance, assistant superintendent for human resources, in presiding over the ceremony for the first time. “The feeling of community here at Guilderland is just amazing...It fills you up with such pride, the tears start running out of the corner of my eyes.”

The honored staff members were nominated by their colleagues and chosen by a committee of peers.

Each honoree was given a plaque by the school board president and superintendent, and applauded by an enthusiastic audience of friends and family members.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Severance said to the honorees, “Your dedication to the students and the school community has brought us all together tonight.” She also thanked her secretary, Barbara Jager for her help in putting the ceremony together.

The school board members stood and applauded the 11 honorees:

Linda Dagostino, a teaching assistant at Pine Bush Elementary School, was lauded for being a caring and tireless worker and advocate for children.

Principal Christopher Sanita said she set an example for her colleagues “in her quiet and unassuming way”;

Mitch Hahn, a teacher at Guilderland High School, has an “endless repertoire of ways to get students up and involved,” said Principal Brian McCann. “If we had a staff of Mitch Hahns, we could move mountains.”

McCann also quoted Bertrand Russell on how a good teacher has feelings of warm affection for his students and concluded, “Bertrand Russell must have followed Mitch Hahn around Guilderland High School”;

Mike Liegeot, head custodian at Westmere Elementary School, helped create the school’s special art galleries and Hudson River Courtyard.  He was praised for both his easy-going nature and attention to detail.

“Any way that Mike can help, he does,” said Principal Deborah Drumm. “His 110-percent effort is obvious every single day”;

Nancy Marsh-Haggerty, special education teacher at Farnsworth Middle School, was lauded for commitment to her students and their success, promoting independence and passion for learning.

Marsh-Haggerty supports colleagues and, said special education administrator Crystal Fox, she is “one of the most humble people I know.” Fox also praised Marsh-Haggerty’s approach as “academically focused yet kind, firm, and nurturing”;

Albert Martino, the district’s foreign language supervisor, was praised for transforming Guilderland’s foreign language and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs in his six years at the district with his tireless commitment, enthusiasm, and appreciation for diversity.

“Al doesn’t limit his leadership to the boundaries of classrooms,” said Superintendent John McGuire, citing the recent ESL Extravaganza as “a wonderful celebration of diversity and harmony”;

Tracy Martone, a teacher at Westmere Elementary School, was praised for her clever and successful ways of meeting each student’s needs.

She is known for the “Today Show,” said Principal Deborah Drumm, where her students write biographies and then dress up to put on a taped production. Recently, said Drumm, a video of Guilderland graduates now successful in business in which one commented on the influence of the school store at Westmere, led Martone to revive the store;

Mike Schaffer, a physical education teacher at Lynnwood Elementary, was lauded for leadership that has expanded opportunities for healthy choices for the entire school community.

“The phrase ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ never deterred Mike Schaffer,” said Principal James Dillon, citing the fitness trail in woods near the school that Schaffer designed and built with volunteers. With his innovative approaches, Dillon said, “He has expanded the notion of physical education to life education.”;

Pat Spawn, an aid at Farnsworth Middle School, was too modest to accept her award at the recognition ceremony.  She was lauded both for her financial acumen in seeing that the school’s organizations comply with state law, and for her more than two decades of support to staff and students.

House Principal Michael Pipa said, “As a young teacher, I know for a fact she took care of me...She takes care of everybody in our building in small and subtle ways.” He said she has “the wisdom and experience of being a mom and a very loving person”;

Mary K. Weeks, an art teacher at Westmere Elementary School, “speaks art in her everyday persona and actions,” said Principal Deborah Drumm. “She is art.” Weeks values collaboration and has worked on a wide variety of projects at the school, ranging from a Blue Ribbon Fashion Show, celebrating the school’s national recognition, to a current display of altered books — cutting-edge art.

“Mary K. can take a real-world experience and make it alive for her students,” said Sheila Elario, the district’s art supervisor. She told Weeks, “You are a boundary pusher”;

Sandi Worona, a learning workshop teacher at Pine Bush Elementary School, was praised for providing a welcoming environment where students feel confident to be themselves and to take appropriate risks. She leads the school’s Instructional Support Team, and as such promotes a comfortable atmosphere — including snacks and decorations — where problems get solved, said Principal Christopher Sanita.

Worona, he said, is “a dedicated lifelong learner”; and

Mary Zwagerman, the nurse at Guilderland Elementary School, was praised by Principal Allan Lockwood for the “compassion and enthusiasm she brings to her job each day.”

Zwagerman recently said “no problem” when asked to teach 500 students correct hand-washing procedures, said Lockwood, and a student reported, “It was so cool; she taught us how to get rid of germs.” Zwagerman “didn’t break a sweat,” Lockwood said, while handling a recent emergency and, he concluded that she “dispenses Band-Aids, advice and TLC with equal abandon.”

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