By Gavin Paterniti
Chautauqua County is home to two of 105 teachers selected in the first round of an inaugural statewide teacher recognition program.
Tim Cook, of Sherman Central School, and Lon Knappenberger, of Westfield Academy and Central School, were both included among those listed as "master teachers" in a press release from the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month.
The fledgling New York State Master Teachers program was established by Gov. Cuomo to identify, reward and support master science and math teachers throughout the state. According to the press release, "the role of master teachers as professional mentors and content experts is key to developing the current cadre of outstanding educators as well as developing skilled future teachers."
The first group of master teachers has nearly 1,500 years of combined full-time teaching experience and is comprised of 78 high school teachers, 21 middle school teachers, and six with dual responsibilities. Subjects of expertise include calculus, algebra, physics, earth science, chemistry, engineering design and development and mechanics.
Each regional program, of which there were four in the first round, is paired with a SUNY campus to give participants additional content exposure. The Western New York region has been paired with University at Buffalo.
Cook - who teaches 11th-grade Regents chemistry, 12th-grade physics and AP chemistry - said the name of the program may be interpreted as a misnomer, but he is nevertheless viewing his selection into the program as a great opportunity.
"I'm really excited, and it was a complete honor to be selected for it," Cook said. "I know the program is called 'master teachers,' but I wouldn't call myself a 'master.' I enjoy the subjects I teach, and I try to make science fun for my students by applying it to real-world situations, but I don't consider myself as having arrived at being a teacher who never makes mistakes. That's something I look forward to.
"When I found out about the program, it just looked like something I would really be able to invest in by meeting with some other teachers who are also trying to really go and enjoy what they're teaching while being on the cutting edge of making it fun for their students. That's a cool idea," he added.
Knappenberger is a multi-faceted science instructor at Westfield, teaching a total of six classes including: all science A courses; 12th-grade anatomy; 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade zoology; 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade biotechnology techniques; and animal behavior via distance learning. Because some of these courses are administered through a partnership with UB, Knappenberger said his college connections may have helped in his selection to the program.
"I was honored and flattered to have been selected," Knappenberger said. "I think it validates a lot of things that I already do, which feels great, and it's a chance to help the next generation of teachers to get going. I think part of it was based on teaching style, and part of it has to do with the fact that I have constant communications with professors at UB. I asked them, 'How can I build you a better student?' and have applied some of those concepts toward shaping students for college."
Participants in the master teachers program will receive an annual $15,000 stipend over four years, a total of $60,000. Their duties will include engaging in peer mentoring and intensive content-oriented professional development opportunities throughout the academic year, working closely with pre-service and early career teachers to foster a supportive environment for the next generation of STEM teachers, attending required regular cohort meetings, participating in and leading several professional development sessions each year and participating in the training of pre-service and early career educators.
According to Cook, the first cohort meeting of teachers selected from the Western New York region will be held at UB on Tuesday, where the teachers will learn more about their responsibilities and forthcoming experience as master teachers.