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No matter what he’s doing, Rob Livingston is constantly striving to get better at it.

When he’s out rock climbing with his father-in-law, who just happens to own RockSport, an indoor climbing gym, he’s pushing himself to go higher and harder.

In his environmental science and biology classroom at Hudson Falls High School, he is not only trying to learn everything about the subjects he teaches, but also about the best ways to teach those subjects.

So when the state unveiled its Master Teacher program for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math several years ago, he saw a new challenge.

Several weeks ago, this year’s state list of Master Teachers came out and included three new local educators — Livingston, Travis Birkholz of South Glens Falls High School and Granville Junior-Senior High’s Lisa Birchmore.

They join 16 other teachers in the region, including Colleen Hagadorn, Tammy Mandwelle, Mary Mann, Judy Moffitt and Susan Moore-Palumbo, all from South High.

“The biggest advantage is that they are a resource for their colleagues,” Hudson Falls Principal Jim Bennefield said. “They can answer a lot of questions for other teachers.”

Teachers who are chosen are strong classroom teachers with goals for further developing their breadth and depth in the three knowledge areas: knowledge of STEM content, of pedagogy and of their students’ families and communities.

Master Teachers must participate in 50 hours of professional development work in addition to their regular school responsibilities and meet regularly on evenings and weekends to participate in activities.

They receive a $15,000 yearly stipend for the work and the honor.

They also have to give back.

Master Teachers participate in leadership workshops to better contribute to departmental discussions and mentor others. They engage in peer mentoring and intensive content-oriented professional development opportunities, work closely with young teachers to foster a supportive environment for the next generation of STEM teachers and attend required regional cohort meetings, participate in and lead several professional development sessions each year.

“This is a great opportunity for personal and professional growth as well as expanding my professional network with other like-minded people,” Birkholz said. “I will be able to take what I learn as I improve my craft and bring it to the students in my classroom. This is an excellent opportunity for me to expand, grow and bring new ideas to our math department.”

It was Moffitt, who often sings the praises of the Master Teacher, who suggested Birkholz get involved. Moffitt is his partner teacher in the Math-Science-Technology course that he teaches.

To Principal Peter Mody, the number of Master Teachers in his building sets South High apart.

“It sets a culture in the building,” he said. “We can talk about the instruction itself and the way to do things, I think it really sets a tone.”

Of Birkholz, Mody said, “He has a real passion for pursuing an excellence in instruction. He’s got a wealth of knowledge about instruction and a fantastic knowledge of his subject matter.

Professional experience

Birchmore has been at Granville since 2003. She taught math for one year in Granville and then technology education for almost 12 years in Vermont before returning to Granville to teach technology courses, including digital electronics, design and drawing, principles of engineering and computer integrated manufacturing. Prior to teaching, She also worked as an engineer for 15 years in various manufacturing industries. She is the advisor of the Junior High VEX IQ Robotics team, where enjoys working with the students as they design and build robots to compete with other students across the state.

“I enjoy the hands-on learning that working in the technology education department provides,” she said in a press release announcing the award. “I think it is important for students to connect their learning with skills that they will need in the workforce and I am looking forward to collaborating with other Master Teachers and learning new ways of challenging my students with STEM learning.”

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You can read Bill Toscano’s blog at or his updates on Twitter, @billtoscano_ps.



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