Mandy Perez, a 6th-grade English and language arts teacher at Crittenden County Middle School, has been named the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.
“I certainly wasn’t prepared for that,” Perez said. “I recently watched a video from our superintendent on opening day that left me with an inspiring message that said there’s a difference between wanting to be the best in the world and being what’s best for the world. I know each of us wake up everyday and we walk into our classrooms and do what’s best for our students.”
She also was named the Kentucky Middle School Teacher of the Year.
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and Valvoline, co-sponsors of the award, announced Perez’s selection at an in-person ceremony on Sept. 20 at the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda. Hopkins County’s Kelly Gates also was named the Elementary School Teacher of the Year and Woodford County’s Amber Sergent was named as the High School Teacher of the Year.
It was the first time the ceremony was held in-person since 2019. Also in attendance was Gov. Andy Beshear, members of the Kentucky Board of Education and legislators.
Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass thanked Perez, Gates, Sergent and all the Commonwealth’s teachers for devoting their lives to educating students. He said they continue to raise the bar higher every day.
“We host this ceremony every year in hopes of honoring the hard work and dedication you provide this profession,” Glass said. Kentucky has more than 42,000 teachers.
Perez has taught in Crittenden County Schools throughout her 18-year teaching career.
As a child growing up in Union County, she recalls asking teachers for extra worksheets at the end of the year to take home and teach her little sister.
Now, as the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Perez hopes to instill a love of reading in students across the Commonwealth.
“I love what I do. I love kids and I love teaching,” she said. “Teaching is the best profession in the world and as teachers, you know that. It’s tough. There’s a lot of days you don’t know if you can go back in, but we do. And every single thing we do matters.
“I promise to be the best spokesperson and role model I can be as your 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.”
2023 Elementary School Teacher of the Year Kelly Gates is a 5th-grade teacher at Pride Elementary in Hopkins County. She has been teaching there her entire 26-year career.
Gates works to shape the lives of her students, not just academically, but as future citizens that will lead their communities. She encourages students to participate in service-minded activities such as leading the school’s gardening club, where students donate cultivated produce to local food banks.
“As an Elementary School Teacher of the Year, I hope to advocate for my students and public schools because schools are the backbones of our communities,” said Gates.
Amber Sergent, the High School Teacher of the Year, is an 11th- and 12th-grade social studies teacher at Woodford County High School.
Sergent is intentional with her students in preparing them for the world they will inherit after graduation. As Kentucky’s High School Teacher of the Year, Sergent said she plans to ensure the stories of the staff who keep Kentucky’s schools running are told.
“My parents have taught of time and love,” Sergent said. “I know love. I know what it means. I know what it can do for a child. So when I walk into my room, no matter the content I teach, every child walks away knowing they are loved.”
The 2023 Teacher of the Year will receive a $10,000 cash award, while the Elementary and High School Teachers of the Year each will get $3,000. All three of the Teacher of the Year winners received a custom-designed glass award commemorating their accomplishments.
Perez also will receive an opportunity to serve a semester-long sabbatical with KDE and will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
The remaining 21 Teacher Achievement Award recipients each get $500.
The ceremony concluded with remarks from Gov. Beshear, who praised Perez and all Kentucky teachers.
“By helping a child discover a love of reading or helping them realize their talents as an artist, as a leader or whatever path they discover, you’re doing more than just teaching a subject,” Beshear said. “You’re changing lives. You’re building up lives. You’re breaking cycles of poverty. … The way that you care is pretty incredible and it’s something I wish we could put in a bottle and share around our Commonwealth and around our country, that we could all emulate every single day.”
The Selection Process
Three elementary, four middle school and four high school teachers were announced Aug. 2 as semifinalists for Teacher of the Year out of more than 300 applications received by KDE.
The semifinalists were chosen by a panel of veteran educators based on applications that included nominees’ teaching philosophies, experience and community involvement, along with letters of recommendation.
Each semifinalist had an interview and a classroom lesson review. The one with the highest cumulative score from the entire process was chosen as Teacher of the Year.
This is the 22nd year Valvoline, which is headquartered in Lexington, has partnered with KDE to honor Kentucky educators.
MORE ABOUT THE WINNERS …