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Every afternoon, as school buses line up outside Columbia High School for dismissal, driver Cheri Walsh parks along the south side of the building. This is where she and aide Jacqui Perry pickup students to bring them home.

Some climb aboard and one student uses the wheelchair lift. Mrs. Walsh secures the student on the lift before elevating him up into the school bus where Mrs. Perry is waiting for him.

After driving the high school students home, they make stops at Goff Middle School and Bell Top Elementary School, transporting 19 students, some with special needs.

“We don’t just think of it as a job,” said Mrs. Walsh. “We’re committed to our kids.”

The pair has worked alongside each other for eight years – Mrs. Walsh gets them where they need to go and Mrs. Perry makes sure the kids are safe and happy during the ride.

Mrs. Walsh and Mrs. Perry were recently named the Mary P. Van Derzee Special Educators of the Year by the East Greenbush Special Needs Parent Support Group. The annual award goes to a District employee who goes above and beyond for students with special needs. This is the first time that two people have won the award together.

“We’re both honored and surprised,” Mrs. Perry said.

It is clear that parents appreciate what they do, judging by the nomination letters.

“They’re an incredible team,” one parent wrote. “They both are caring, sensitive people, especially to the children’s needs and parents’ wishes. As a parent with a child of intense physical needs, it is very reassuring to have them aboard.”

That care extends beyond the school bus. Earlier this year, Mrs. Walsh ran into the mom of one of their students at Albany Medical Center. The boy was being treated for a seizure so Mrs. Walsh bought a balloon for him in the gift shop to help lift his spirits.

“She is very pleasant, thoughtful, patient and understanding,” Linda Urena wrote.

Mrs. Walsh and Mrs. Perry will receive the award at the October 19 Board of Education meeting at Green Meadow. Congratulations!

Mary P. Van Derzee Special Educator of the Year

  • Cheri Walsh and Jacqui Perry – 2016-17
  • Paula Sobol – 2015-16
  • Audra DiBacco – 2014-15
  • Karen Anderson-Green – 2013-14
  • Lalena DiMarco – 2012-13
  • Vincenzina Farry – 2011-12
  • Jennifer Cavotta-Riley – 2010-11
  • John Rivera – 2009-10
  • Barbara Neiman – 2008-09
  • Tammy Kirwin – 2007-08
  • Kathy Rutherford – 2006-07
  • Joanne Smith – 2005-06
  • Laurie Mendrysa – 2004-05
  • James McHugh – 2003-04
  • Deborah Rubenstein – 2002-03