Inaugural Friends of Education Award Recipients Honored

May 18, 2015

A thriving school environment depends upon the contributions of dedicated staff and community members.  A careful bus driver’s patience and attentiveness ensure that children arrive home from school safely in the midst of a snow storm. Diligent custodians provide schools with clean, safe spaces in which students can learn, eat and play. A friendly smile from a cafeteria worker or a crossing guard can brighten the day of a troubled student or overwhelmed instructor. To acknowledge the invaluable efforts of the entire school community, CASDA has created the Friends of Education Award. This honor highlights those indispensable members of our school communities whose dedication and commitment profoundly impacts the educational experience of our students.


CASDA recognized its first Friends of Education honorees on April 29th at the Capital Region Annual Awards Dinner. While the six individuals cited contributed to their school in many different ways, they are united by a common passion and commitment to their communities.

Kathleen and Edward Kilmartin of Broadalbin-Perth have served as custodians in their district for more than forty-eight years between them. Their colleagues reflect that they routinely go well beyond the duties in their job description. One kindergarten teacher states that “there is never a request too big that they cannot find a way to make it happen.” A second grade instructor captures the essence of their contributions to the Broadalbin-Perth School District: “From the early moments of the morning to the wee hours of the night, they are always working happily. With smiles on their faces and happy hearts, Eddie and Kathy make sure that we at the Learning Community are always taken care of.”


Bob Collen of Menands has served his school as a health and physical education teacher for thirty-one years. While his work in the classroom speaks volumes, his dedication beyond the classroom has incalculably enriched the experiences of students and colleagues alike. He has mentored younger instructors and catalyzed the implementation of instructional technology in the district across disciplines. Thirty years ago, when Bob applied to teach at Menands he was asked why he was qualified for the position. In his answer, he chose to reflect on his own education, he stated that “a caring staff and student body helped me to develop my humanitarian ideals…my most important qualification is a love for children.”  Bob Collen has embodied these ideals and selflessly strived to enrich the lives of his students and peers at Menands.


Christine Furstoss of Saratoga demonstrates the substantial impact that an engaged parent can have on the opportunities afforded to an entire community of students. She is the Global Technology Director for Manufacturing and Materials at GE’s Research and Development Center in Niskayuna. Her professional connections allow her a rare opportunity to provide the students of Saratoga with exposure to cutting edge applications of STEM curriculum. She has facilitated professional mentoring for both students and teachers and organized fieldtrips to different G.E. facilities, allowing school members to interact directly with brilliant engineers and scientists. She has offered financial support to Saratoga’s STEM and robotics programs and recently supported a U.S./China academic partnership that would allow high school students in both nations to collaboratively construct a VEX robot. Mrs. Furstoss is a champion of education who has used her professional background to empower our teachers to create positive and lasting outcomes for our students.


Michelle Bienes of New Lebanon has worked as a teaching assistant for fourteen years in the district. This, however, represents a small of fraction of her contributions to the community. She has served on the PTA for ten years. In this capacity, Michelle has tirelessly dedicated herself to several causes. Two new playgrounds stand on the grounds of the elementary school as a direct result of her leadership, perseverance and vision for the project, from fundraising through construction. Additionally, she has directed New Lebanon’s non-profit before and after school programs. Throughout this time Michelle has worked with teachers, administrators and parents to develop a seamless connection between the core instructional program and “Bee-Happy,” providing parents an invaluable resource. She currently serves on the board of the New Lebanon Sports Boosters club, raising funds not only for athletic teams, but for the music program and academic clubs as well. Michelle also works as the director of the New Lebanon Summer Camp, not only offering child care to parents, but also providing job opportunities to local high school students as counselors. Michelle’s endless energy and devotion profoundly enrich New Lebanon’s instructional and extracurricular programs and truly embody what it means to be a friend of education.


Nichole Mayette of Long Lake has worked as an elementary teacher in the district for eight years. This year she selflessly took on the responsibility of teaching the combined second and third grade class for the entire school year with no additional compensation. Not only has she been able to seamlessly integrate both classes, she strives to make learning more fun and relatable to all of her students. Ms. Meyette continually seeks out professional development offerings and trainings to enhance her pedagogy and incorporate new strategies to engage her classes. She has also collaborated with her elementary colleagues to incorporate field trips and community activities into Long Lake’s instructional program.


Outside of the classroom, Ms. Meyette has served as the point-person for a school-wide Thanksgiving Feast. Each year, this event has grown thanks to her effort and this year brought together the entire student body with local seniors and veterans. She serves as the National Honor Society Advisor and facilitates countless community service opportunities for students, including Relay for Life. She serves on the school Health, Safety and Wellness Committee and has been a senior class advisor. Her positive attitude, willingness to embrace new ideas and tireless energy has contributed immeasurably to the Long Lake Central School community. 


These inaugural recipients of the Friends of Education Award represent the very best of our schools. Their selflessness, devotion and dynamism make impacts in ways that resonate deeply with students and colleagues. It is our hope that in sharing their stories, CASDA will be able to honor even more Friends of Education in the coming years and begin to acknowledge the diverse, invaluable contributions made by all members of the school community. 

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