Three Kentucky teachers have been named finalists for the 2021 Special Education Teacher of the Year award. Sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Office of Special Education and Early Learning and the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children (KYCEC), the award is a way to recognize and honor an outstanding teacher in the field of special education.
The three finalists for this year’s award are:
- Stacie Hutchison, Glasgow High School (Glasgow Independent)
- Christy Pellerin, Hillard Collins Elementary School (Boone County)
- Jennifer Packwood, Newport High School (Newport Independent)
Hutchison, who teaches grades 9-14 for students with moderate and severe disabilities, also is an adjunct professor in the Special Education department at Western Kentucky University. She has been teaching since 2014 and was selected for the Leading, Educating, Advocating for Directors of Special Education (DoSE) grant to obtain her DoSE certification this year.
“My greatest accomplishment as a teacher has been the development of my students’ school-based enterprises,” Hutchison said. “Through a small tea business and errand service I’ve seen my students develop skills that stretch beyond their academics. I’ve seen students become problem solvers, develop professionalism, time management skills and a sense of pride over their accomplishments.”
Pellerin teaches students with muscular dystrophy, functional mental disabilities, other health impairments, visual impairments, hearing impairments, K-3 primary and K-5 for students with autism. She is an active member of the National Education Association and Kentucky Education Association.
“The relationships I have built with my students and their families are priceless to me. I have worked with hundreds of students over my 30-plus years, every one of them holds a special place in my heart,” Pellerin said.
“When I was learning and studying to be a special education teacher, I used to say I would feel successful if I made a connection and helped at least one child be their best self. When I reflect over the years, I feel I have met that goal many times over and enjoy the updates from former students and families. I have accomplished what I set out to do, in the place I was called to be, to help others live their best life with joy and purpose.”
Packwood has taught grades 9-12 for students with learning and behavior disorders and emotional behavior disorders since 2012. She also served as a mental health counselor in a school-based day treatment program for special education students in the Kenton County School District for 10 years. Since 2020, she has served as a teacher representative on Newport High School’s site-based decision making council.
“As a high school special education teacher, my greatest accomplishment is witnessing and assisting my students to reach their greatest accomplishment. The surface-level goal is, of course, graduation, but there is a broader accomplishment that I get to see each year in May with each new graduating class — and that is the maturity, confidence, independence and determination that I have seen my students develop over their four years in high school,” Packwood said,
“I love watching as they come in as 14-year-old freshmen, unsure of themselves, maybe lacking focus, confused on how they will ever pass their classes, to when they become 18-year-old seniors, who have worked hard, gained new knowledge and skills, and feel more confident in their abilities.”
Nominees submitted an application with three letters of recommendation, including one from their principal or supervisor and one from their district DoSE. Finalists also were required to submit a short video.
Each finalist will be awarded a one-year KYCEC membership and a cash prize of $250 from the KYCEC and the Kentucky Council for Administrators of Special Education (KYCASE).
The Special Education Teacher of the Year will receive $500 from the KYCEC and KYCASE, along with a scholarship to attend the Special Education Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.
The winner will be announced at the annual KYCEC conference, which will be held Nov. 21-23 at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville.