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Mount Greylock Teacher Recognized for Excellence
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:54AM / Monday, October 27, 2014
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Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald talks about Bob Thistle's contributions to the school.

Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy speaks at Sunday's ceremony.

Karen Davenport of Housatonic Valley High School in Canaan, Conn., was last year's winner of the Kapteyn Prize.

Mount Greylock senior Eric Hirsch, a member of Bob Thistle's boys basketball team, entertains the crowd before Sunday's ceremony.

Kirsten Kapteyn presents Mount Greylock teacher Bob Thistle with the James C. Kapteyn Prize.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Bob Thistle could be a prima donna.

As the curriculum leader of the math department at Mount Greylock Regional School, he could reserve the honors and Advanced Placement classes for himself

Instead, the veteran teacher has taught every class the high school has to offer and every level of student.

And that dedication to educating every child makes Thistle a leader, an example and a winner of the 2014 James C. Kapteyn Prize for excellence in education.

Thistle was presented the award, which comes with a $10,000 prize, on Sunday afternoon in a ceremony attended by his family, his colleagues, members of the Kapteyn family and a number of Thistle's students and student-athletes from the varsity basketball team he coaches.

Kirsten Kapteyn, widow of the Deerfield Academy teacher whom the award remembers, presented Thistle with the sixth annual honor and talked about how he was selected.

"One of Bob's peers wrote, 'If I was to ask a random group of students about Mr. Thistle, those who do well in math would laud his intelligence and his ability to clearly explain the most complex ideas in an easy to understand manner, those who struggle would math would say Mr. Thistle is the only math teacher who ever made the subject interesting to them, the rest would just say he's the best teacher they ever had," Kapteyn said.

Thistle taught at Mount Greylock for six years starting in 1998 before returning to his alma mater, Pittsfield High. He came back to the Williamstown school in 2011, and two years later, the senior class honored him as the school's Teacher of the Year at graduation.

"Bob personifies the kind of excellence you hope for in a teacher," Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald said.

It's the same excellence embodied by James Cornelius Kapteyn, who died in 2007 at age 45.

"I had the enormous privilege after he died of going to Deerfield and hearing the stories of his students. I realized they were his family too," said Molly Boxer, James Kapteyn's sister and a member of the Kapteyn Prize Board.

Like Thistle, James Kapteyn was a coach, leading Deerfield's girls soccer and boys lacrosse programs.

MacDonald cited Thistle's contributions in Mount Greylock's athletics program as a sign of his dedication to the whole student.

"Bob's a math teacher first and foremost," she said. "He also recognizes that learning doesn't take place in a vacuum, just in the classroom. It takes place in the hallways and on the basketball courts and on the fields and in the parking lot on the way home."

Thistle took home the Kapteyn Prize after rising to the top of a field drawn from 80 private and public schools in five counties served by the Bekshire Taconic Foundation, which administers the award.

"That begins to tell you the quality of those being honored," said Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy, a member of the Berkshire Taconic board.

When it came time for Thistle to address the packed Mount Greylock meeting room, he shared the advice his father gave him and which he later shared with his son Jack, a member of Mount Greylock's class of 2014.

"My father said when I was 5 and when I was in college and my whole life, 'You can do whatever you want ... but just do what you love,' " Thistle said. " 'Because,' he said, 'It's a long day at work if you don't.' "

Thistle then went on to talk about all the things he loves about his career and Mount Greylock.

"I do love my job as I look around now, here in present day," Thistle said. "There are so many things I could talk about at this school.

"I love the fact that my incredible colleagues, many of whom are here today, taught my children and every day teach all the children here at Mount Greylock. And I love being surrounded by so many teacher/coaches in this school who I can pick their brains and learn from.

"... I love a beautiful fall day here at Mount Greylock when you can walk outside and see both soccer teams playing and the cross country team and football team practicing and then duck inside and see the volleyball team. It's really a beehive of activity. ... I love going to the plays, and I love the musicals.

"... And so I say to my father, I'm definitely doing what I love to do."

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