A woman in a black dress holds an award

Stephanie Hammonds , an exceptional child instructor at Paintsville Independent, earned the 2023 Kentucky Special Education Teacher of the Year award from the Council for Exceptional Children. Submitted photo

Sharing her love for education and students, Stephanie Hammonds is an exceptional child instructor at Paintsville Independent and the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps.

Hammonds, who has been in education for the past 30 years, said she found her passion for special education while tutoring students with dyslexia after she graduated high school.

“I was working with the students and one of my students that day was having a challenging time with the lesson plan. I decided to toss my lesson plan to the side and focus on what appealed to him,” said Hammonds. “At the end of the day, the two people over the program said I handled the situation perfectly.”

Hammonds was selected as the Council for Exceptional Children’s (CEC’s) 2023 Kentucky Special Education Teacher of the Year.

“During this whole process, I couldn’t have asked for better cheerleaders, even on the day that I got the notification,” she said. “I’m blessed working in both buildings and to have such great people.”

The Kentucky Special Education Teacher of the Year Award is open to any full-time special education teacher in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The Special Education Teacher of the Year award is a way to highlight the work of outstanding educators. Teachers may be nominated by students, parents, teaching peers, superintendents, directors of special education or anyone from the community interested in honoring an extraordinary educator.   

“You have a list of questions that come to you that have to be completed by the nominee, which was very, very extensive,” said Hammonds. “Each day, I would take a question and pick it apart and respond.”

This recognition is sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL) and the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children (KYCEC).

During a ceremony in November, Hammonds was recognized for the award and received a $500 award from the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children, along with a scholarship to attend the Special Education Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. 

In addition to being the 2023 Kentucky Special Education Teacher of the Year, Hammonds also earned National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) status in 2017, specializing in exceptional needs.

“When an educator is going the National Board route, we’re student-centered educators; we don’t aim for administrative roles we have no desire (for),” said Hammonds. “You learn so much about yourself and you’re Teaching when you go through that process.”

A first-generation college student, Hammonds earned a bachelor’s degree in learning and behavior disorders from Pikeville College in 1994. Pursuing her commitment to education, she obtained a master’s degree from Morehead State University.

Although Paintsville Independent employs Hammonds, she shares her time at Carl D. Perkins Job Corps in Prestonsburg, which helps students find a pathway through career training and education in a vocational alternative setting.

“It means a lot for me to be able to see them accomplish and get ready for the workforce; to know that we’ve given them the tools to go out and have a good life,” said Hammonds. “Now what they do with those tools you don’t know, but we know that we’ve done everything to prepare them.”

At the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps, Hammonds helps serve students who may not have their high school diplomas. Working with these students one at a time, her goal is to have them leave the center with their diplomas in addition to having specific trade skills for the workforce.

“To be able to motivate a child who is 15 or 16 years old whose school experience has been negative is so rewarding,” said Hammonds.

Following in her footsteps, Hammonds said her son is in his second year as a special education teacher and currently working on his master’s as a hearing-impaired specialist. She hopes to lead the way, encourage and support him throughout the many years to come in education.

“Receiving this recognition also meant a lot to me, because my son was down here celebrating with me, too,” said Hammonds.