September 16, 2016
Albany, NY

Video & Photos: Governor Cuomo Presents Empire State Excellence in Teaching Award

Video & Photos: Governor Cuomo Presents Empire State Excellence in Teaching Award

New York City High School Teacher Recognized for Exemplary Professional Work in Education Winners Awarded $5,000 Stipend for Professional Development

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo presented the Empire State Excellence in Teaching Award to an educator in New York City. The award recognizes outstanding educators who exemplify the highest professional standards and work to inspire students, instill a love of learning and ensure school is exciting, motivating and challenging. The winners hail from every region of the state, working with students in grades Pre-K-12 and teaching diverse subjects such as music, math, reading, science, technical education and art. The Governor, joined by UFT President Michael Mulgrew, presented the award to Jamie Cacciola-Price, a Performing Arts teacher at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.

Governor Cuomo Presents Empire State Excellence in Teaching Award

Jamie Cacciola-Price
Jamie Cacciola-Price currently teaches advanced acting techniques, musical theatre, playwriting and directing to 10, 11 and 12th grade students at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens. During his tenure, he has fostered an appreciation for dramatic arts in his students. He uses playwriting as a tool to address issues of bullying and peer victimization and uses his annual plays as therapeutic instruments to create a more inclusive school environment. He directs four productions per season, all of which focus on a strong use of techniques learned, as well as the larger issues facing his students as members of society.

Before teaching, Mr. Cacciola-Price was an actor for many years. He uses his experience as an artist in the theater industry as an invaluable resource for his students and works with them to drive their creativity and artistry and create inspiring, well-crafted work.

Mr. Cacciola-Price earned his Masters in Educational Theatre from New York University’s Steinhart School. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theater from California State, Sacramento, and is currently enrolled in an Ed.D. program at NYU.


A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks delivered at today’s event is available below:

Thank you very much. What a pleasure, what a treat. First, to Michael Mulgrew, who is head of the teacher's union statewide, who does an amazing job, you know why? Because he really believes in what he is doing. The Greeks used to say the greatest gift is passion. That when you have passion for something, you will excel at it and Michael has passion for making this education system the best in the United States of America and together we're going to do it. Let's give him a round of applause, Mike Mulgrew.

I'm a little nervous. I got out of the car and they came up and they said "You're going to meet with the principal," and it brought back a whole wave of bad memories, so I'm trying to calm myself down. Do they teach you breathing exercises to calm yourself down? Please tell me quickly how it works. Say that again? (Takes breath) And out through your mouth. As opposed to what? In through your ear? Let's give your principal Donna Finn a round of applause for what she is doing.

To my colleagues, the other elected officials that are here, let's give them a round of applause.

It's great to be back in Queens. I am a Queens boy. I worked in Washington for eight years during in the Clinton administration, traveled to every state in the country, and inevitably they would come up to me afterwards and say, "Boy, you have a real New York accent," and I would say, "No, that's a Queens accent." Queens accent is a little different than a Brooklyn accent, a little different than a Staten Island accent, they’re all little varieties. But Queens is a great, great borough. I know a lot of you were up late last night. How do I know? Because the government knows everything. All those conspiracy theories are true. No, it's because I was with many of you at the Tony Bennett birthday party last night which was at Radio City Music Hall. And you guys applauded the loudest when the Frank Sinatra School was mentioned and it was very cool. Lady Gaga was there, a whole group, it was really something special and it's fitting.

Tony Bennett, who is in many ways not just a benefactor, but also the visionary for this school. Named it for Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra was his best friend. Another good friend of Tony Bennett was my father Mario Cuomo who was also a man from Queens, former Governor. He was the 52nd Governor of New York, I'm the 56th Governor of New York. But they were very good friends, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mario Cuomo because they had a lot in common. They were all highly talented individuals who came from very poor backgrounds and had to really fight themselves to get up the ladder. And only made what they made of themselves because they had an education system that worked with them, and I think that’s why it is no surprise that Tony Bennett, when he has a chance to do good, says “I want to provide a school. I want to provide a school for performing arts. I want to recognize that talent in young people the way people recognized it in me, and I want to nurture it and I want to grow it and I want to promote it.” It’s a beautiful thing that he did, so let’s give him a round of applause.

It’s also a great development for our education system. When you’re old like me, the education system tended to reinforce the same talents. They had something they wanted to teach. You had to learn what they wanted to teach, and the education system was not that big on recognizing differences. Differences were problematic. What this education system says is we understand that there are differences among students, that they learn differently. They have different skills. They have different talents. They want to pursue different enterprises, and the differences are not bad and problematic. The differences are good, and really it is a challenge for the education system to figure out how to identify those differences and individual passions and develop those passions, rather than trying to imprint on young people who you should be and what you should be, and this is what a student at this point should reflect. No, you are who you are. You have your own genetic fingerprint. You have your own personality, and the trick is to develop who you are to the best of your ability. An education system that is flexible enough to recognize those differences and respect those differences and invest in you, and that’s what the Frank Sinatra School is all about.

It’s not just a breakthrough in education. It’s also a breakthrough for the entire state. We are investing very heavily in the theater industry and the movie industry and the arts industry. We were always the home to theater. New York and London were the home to theater, but we didn’t really have much of a business in the arts. If you wanted to do the arts, you went to Hollywood. You went to California. That’s where they were doing movies and theater, etcetera, and that’s where the creative people were going. That is all different now. The state has worked very hard to bring that industry to New York. Why? Because we have the theater industry. We have the creative types. We have the fashion industry. Why are we giving up the movie and the theater production industry to California?

So we started a tax incentive program which is basically a subsidy program to get companies to come here. It’s working extraordinarily well. Kaufman Studios, Steiner Studios, we opened a new studio in the Bronx a few weeks ago. Who would ever imagine a studio in the Bronx, let alone a studio? So we are doing very, very well. I ran into Bruce Willis last night at the Tony benefit and I saw him backstage. By the way, I don’t think he’s that tough. He kind of looks small as a matter of fact, when you see him in person. He was talking about how great we are doing with theater, and how now he is coming here to shoot movies and that was never done before. Kevin James is doing a new series, Kevin Can Wait, and he’s shooting out on Long Island, where we have studios. So not only are you building and growing your talents, but what is even better is I think you’re going to use them here in New York, because I hate when young, talented people leave New York for any reason. I don’t believe there is any reason to leave the State of New York, by the way, because whatever you want to do, you can do here. Even in your industry, forget the dreams of going to Hollywood. You’re going to the South Bronx studios. That’s where you’re going to go, so I am very excited about that.

Michael Mulgrew was exactly right. We have invested very heavily in education. We spend more per student in this state than any state in the United States of America, and we are very proud of that. We just invested $2 billion in new technology schools, so we are doing everything we can. We’re funding. We’re building new buildings. We’re doing new technology. Education always comes down to one factor, and the one factor is the teacher. That’s what makes education work or not work. I don’t care how nice the building is and how many computers you have in that building.

It’s about the teacher, and that lesson was drilled into me by my mother, who is 85 years old today, who was a schoolteacher. She was a schoolteacher and she is a natural schoolteacher. I’m probably the only student who really failed from her learning. She now does mentoring, which is an extension of her teaching capacity. She made the point, and she was right: It’s always about the teacher. Whatever we do, we are not able to substitute for the talent and the skill of the teacher. That’s why rewarding teachers, appreciating teachers is so very important, and something that we have not done enough of, frankly. We’ve talked about a lot of other things. We’ve talked about funding and tests and evaluations. We do not say, “The talent of the teacher and the drive of the teacher is the most important” in this state, so we set out to find the best teachers in the state. We have 200,000 teachers in the State of New York. 200,000. We said, “We want to find the best teachers in the state. The best 60 out of 200,000, which is something like .03 percent.” Who’s good in math here? Anybody? Okay, then let me say that authoritatively. It’s .03 percent. If the Governor says it’s .03 percent, it’s .03 percent.

This is the handful of the best of the best teachers and we wanted to say thank you. There is a teacher who has been here since 2016 who has been an actor and a director and a playwright and a choreographer and a costume designer. He was a politician and a set designer. I want to see if you were paying attention. He was not a politician. He’s too smart for that. Before he started at the Frank Sinatra School he traveled to schools that could not afford an art program, and designed an arts program for them. He worked with homeless LGBT in a facility called Sylvia’s Place which is just a remarkable, remarkable facility. He loves what he’s doing, so he’s not just teaching, he’s still learning. He’s pursuing his doctorate at the NYU Steinhardt School. He loves the arts. He loves teaching, and he loves his students. We are pleased to award a $5,000 stipend to one of the premier teachers in the State of New York, but even more than the money, it’s our way of saying that we love you, Jamie Cacciola-Price. Congratulations.

About the Empire State Excellence in Teaching Award
A total of 61 winners were selected from all ten regions of the state. These individuals have been selected as representative of the over two hundred thousand dedicated teachers across New York who work nights and weekends correcting papers and writing lesson plans; teachers who take time from their families in the evening to call parents to talk about students’ progress; teachers who come in early and stay late to tutor students who need extra help, and much more. A list of this year’s winners by region is available here.

Awardees will receive $5,000 to use for professional development activities, including coursework to enhance expertise, attendance at a state or national education conference, or enrollment in a summer institute or certification program. In addition to the award of professional development funds, winning teachers will also serve as Teacher Ambassadors be invited to share insights and knowledge with university, workforce and policy leaders around the state. Awardees will receive additional information on these activities later this summer and throughout the year.

Winning teachers were selected by a panel of education leaders with diverse expertise across the state. Members of the panel include:

  • Kevin Casey, Executive Director, School Administrators Association of NYS
  • Catalina Fortino, Vice President of the New York State United Teachers
  • Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers
  • Robert Reidy, Executive Director of the NYS Council of School Superintendents
  • Bonnie Russell, President of the NYS Parent Teacher Association
  • Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY

For more information on the Empire State Excellence in Teaching Program, please visit:

VIDEO of the Governor presenting the award to Mr. Cacciola-Price is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the Governor’s remarks is available here.

PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor’s Flickr page.

Contact the Governor's Press Office

Contact us by phone:

Albany: (518) 474 - 8418
New York City: (212) 681 - 4640