Amherst Regional administrator honored with lifetime achievement award



Published: 06-21-2017 12:41 AM

AMHERST — Longtime Amherst educator Mary Custard won the 2017 Louise Gaskins Lifetime Civil Rights Award from the Massachusetts Teachers Association on Friday.

The dean of students and former athletic director at Amherst Regional High School, Custard has worked in the district for 20 years, attending games and performances, organizing service trips and serving as a mentor for countless students.

“I was really emotional,” Custard said about hearing she’d won the award, trying not to get choked up again when speaking to the Gazette via telephone. “For one, it’s a lifetime achievement award so just being recognized for my life’s work, I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. I’m getting emotional again.”

Custard, 61, is an adviser for the People of Color United student group at the school, as well as the national Minority Student Achievement Network.

She has served as a member of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor’s Diversity Advisory Council and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Citizen Advisory Board, a role in which she has worked with students to help eliminate discrimination in schools and make them safer places of learning.

As she nears closer to retirement some day in the not-so-distant future, Custard said providing a diverse staff in the district continues to be a major challenge, especially as the number of students of color in the district grows.

“I really wish it was a priority for all of us, including the MTA, to understand how important it is for school staff, for teachers, to reflect the diversity of our nation and our world,” she said.

That was a topic she made sure to address in her acceptance speech on Friday. As part of that speech, Custard described teachers as “inherently courageous,” and urged them to be warriors for change.

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“So please, use that courage, be warriors for kindness and caring, warriors for truth and justice, warriors for social justice and anti-discrimination, warriors for learning and leadership, warriors for community building and service, warriors for the rights of our undocumented students, warriors for LGBTQ rights, warriors for Black Lives Matter, warriors for education as a right, not a privilege,” she implored.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at