Valley teachers honored with Grinspoon Foundation awards
Susan Crago, an English teacher at Northampton High School, after receiving flowers and the announcement she is one of this year's winners of the Grinspoon Foundation's Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — When Northampton High School English teacher Sue Crago became legally blind due to macular degeneration more than a decade ago, she decided to leave teaching.
But Crago found she couldn’t stay away for long.
“I realized it’s what I love to do,” she said. “I considered other careers, going back to school to do something else. But all I wanted to do was get back to teaching.”
Crago, who studied theology and English at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and earned a master’s degree in education from Smith College, did just that. Now in her ninth year at NHS, she relies on classroom technology — and her students — to accommodate her loss of sight.
“The kids are really great,” said Crago, who teaches Advanced Placement language and composition and also a world religion class at NHS.
A Northampton resident, Crago is not worried that the digital environment students dwell in these days is harming their command of English.
“It’s given them so much more knowledge of the world,” she said. “They have so many more points of reference in making an argument. I love writing and teaching kids to pay close attention to the words they use.”
In honor of her passion for teaching, Crago and 27 other local public school educators — including three colleagues in Northampton — were selected by their districts this month for Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards.
This is the 10th year the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation has sponsored the awards program recognizing exceptional teachers and school staff. Educators are evaluated on classroom practices, professional development, community involvement and attendance, according to the foundation. Each district is able to name one honoree for every 1,000 students enrolled. Districts with more than 1,000 students can also choose a first-year teacher for an award.
Mary Anne Herron, director of the Excellence in Teaching Awards for the Grinspoon Foundation, said the program aims to build leadership in the field.
“It shows how much we appreciate these teachers, what they are doing in the classroom, and we hope they will pass along some of their skills to their peers,” she said.
The jobs of public schools teachers are challenging ones, Herron said.
“We don’t want to lose these extraordinary educators who are somehow able to look at these children and see and address their needs, be it emotional or academic,” she added.
Northampton Superintendent Brian Salzer said surprising his district’s four winners earlier this month with flowers and the news of their award was “one of my favorite days of the year.”
Hatfield’s two award winners — Christa Anderson, a kindergarten teacher at Hatfield Elementary and Scarlett Shockey, librarian at Smith Academy — received high praise from their principals.
“Christa is the poster child for everything that you would want in a kindergarten teacher,” said Jennifer Chapin, principal of Hatfield Elementary. “Her teaching style is very caring and nurturing yet still rigorous.”
Andrew Berrios, principal of Smith Academy, described Shockey as a valuable resource for his school. “She always goes above and beyond anything you can imagine,” he said.
Excellence in Teaching award winners receive $500, grants for graduate courses, membership to a local YMCA and tickets to a recognition ceremony April 25 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.
More than 25 area businesses and organizations help to support the grants. In addition to the Grinspoon Foundation, major event sponsors include the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation and MassMutual Financial Group.
Fran Ryan and Krista Mangiardi contributed to this report.