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Sunnyside teacher among top in city

A Queens teacher recently became one of the first seven city recipients of an award for her dedication and creativity in enriching the science program at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing.

As designer of unique class offerings at the school, including biomedical ethics and anatomy and physiology, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation chose Katherine Cooper last month to be one of the winners of the first-annual Sloan Awards for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics.

The Sunnyside resident, on maternity leave from the seventh year of her teaching career after the birth of her son Lukas, was nominated for the honor by an assistant principal at the school and recommended by students and colleagues

But she maintains a heavy dose of humility following the presentation of the award and the $7,500 that came with it — $5,000 for her and $2,500 that will go to Townsend Harris’ science and math programs.

“I think it’s fantastic that they’ve chosen to do this for teachers. I think any number of people could have won this, but I got lucky,” she said. “But I feel so honored, and at the award ceremony I felt so much love from my students. Students, co-workers, everybody came out to say hi. It makes it so much better that it came with so much love.”

After graduating from Fordham and New York universities, Cooper came to Townsend Harris, where she not only expanded course offerings but also established the school’s championship-winning Science Olympiad Club, which has expanded from 20 to 100 members in its six years.

“We’ve really been working to develop science, we’re listening to the students and what their interests are and using the talents of the staff to really provide what they’re asking for,” she said.

The award is sponsored with the help of the Fund for the City of New York and is facilitated in part by the city Department of Education as a way to recognize outstanding public high school teachers.

In 2008, 100 percent of Townsend Harris seniors graduated — each receiving their diploma after four years. Of those students, 99 percent were accepted to four-year colleges.

Only 4 percent of the 6,800 students citywide who apply to the school each year are accepted, and it was named one of three nationwide Intel Schools of Distinction for Science Excellence for 2008.

“The real lesson is that when students have the right teachers and support, they can do anything,” city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said in a statement. “That’s why the Department of Education is delighted to help inaugurate these awards, which will continue to highlight superior teachers who, by their example, inform and inspire others.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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