NISKAYUNA: Local garners state award

Building upon a lifelong love of learning, a Niskayuna high school graduate has been named New York State's Teacher of the Year. The prestigious award for Richard Ognibene, member of the Class of 1981, comes after he's spent more than two decades in front of the classroom as a well-regarded science teacher.

During the past 15 years he's served as a chemistry and physics teacher at Fairport High School in a district just outside of Rochester. But his efforts haven't been limited to academics.

Instead, he's known for bringing science to life in the classroom with a special flair. For example, it is not uncommon for Ognibene to start off on opening day by writing his name on a chalkboard with ethanol and then promptly setting it on fire.

He's also taken the lead in other endeavors such as being a mentor to new teachers, organizing fundraising activities for a school in Kenya, presenting at workshops on diversity and tolerance in the classroom, spearheading a local character education program. He's also taken a leading role in Fairport's Brotherhood Sisterhood Week and served as vice president of the Fairport Educators Association, the local teachers' union, as well.

Selected from among five statewide finalists, Ognibene now gets a shot at becoming the National Teacher of the Year, the highest annual award available to a public school teacher.

It's very exciting and it's very humbling to win this award," Ognibene said. "I'm so excited for the opportunity. It's going to allow me to go across the state and talk to other teachers, talk to students who are thinking about being teachers, talk to community members about the importance of schools, and to be an advocate for teachers and for teaching."

This is not the first award he has received since he started standing in front of a classroom in 1986. In 2002, the American Chemical Society selected him as its Teacher of the Year and two years ago he received the Fairport Crystal Apple Award in the district where he teaches.

Noting the significance of the award, Niskayuna school Superintendent Kevin Baughman offered his congratulations.

"We are equally proud of the fact that the 2007-08 Teacher of the Year is a graduate of Niskayuna schools and his early experiences in our schools helped shape his decision to become an educator," Baughman said. "It helps reinforce our belief that we help make a lifetime of difference in the students we serve." ""

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