Marie Owens McNair, a special education teacher at Brooklawn School (Jefferson County), has been named the 2017 Special Education Teacher of the Year by the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children (KCEC).

McNair has been a special education teacher in Jefferson County for seven years and has spent two years at Brooklawn, where she teaches science. She previously worked as an instructional assistant, then enrolled in an alternative certification program and earned a master’s degree.

“I love teaching, but I just felt like I could do more with kids who need some extra support and help,” McNair said. “Some of our students come from very hard situations, but they still need a good education. I base my teaching on what each student needs.”

Brooklawn is a state agency school operated by Uspiritus, a psychiatric residential treatment center and private child care residential facility for adolescents and children in need of intensive therapeutic support to overcome the effects of abuse, neglect or other family crisis situations. Its educational program is operated by Jefferson County schools and is designed to enable its middle school and high school students to make a successful transition to a public school.

“It’s all about relationships,” McNair said. “You have to take the time to learn about them. You learn what triggers them, what motivates them. And then you find a way to reach them. We do a lot of hands-on projects and have lots of discussions. It’s their classroom – I am just the facilitator.”

Sam Casper, the vice principal of Brooklawn, said McNair is a true team player who communicates well with her cooperating teachers, the students’ treatment team and the entire school staff.

The average length of stay at Brooklawn is six to 12 months. The school calendar includes a summer program consisting of 33 half-days, so while many teachers are off during the summer, McNair continues to teach.

“I love my kids,” she said. “The best part of the job is when a student tells me that my class is their favorite class or that I am their favorite teacher. I work hard to establish relationships with them and I think that really matters. I have found that many times, they are willing to do the work because of that relationship.”

McNair was recognized at the Kentucky Exceptional Children’s Conference in November in Louisville.