Charlena Williams, Special Education Teacher at Hancock County Middle School, was honored at the Hancock County Board of Education meeting last Thursday evening for being one of the finalists for Kentucky State Teacher of the Year.
As a finalist, she is recognized as a Kentucky Teacher Achievement Award Winner.
From elementary, middle and high schools in Kentucky, eight teachers are chosen from each, equaling 24 finalists for Kentucky State Teacher of the Year.
Three of those are selected, and then one is named Teacher of the Year and will go on to compete nationally.
Williams was recently informed that she wasn’t one of the final three that were chosen, and said that it was a “joyous thing” just to know that she was nominated and chosen as one of the 24 finalists, out of 2,000 nominees.
“I’m thankful, and yet at the same time humbled by it,” she said. “The reason I am so humbled is that I look around and I see so many teachers that are just as worthy.
I see outstanding educators – I’m surrounded by good people and good things happen. It takes a team.”
She says she realized early in life that it takes everyone to make education excellent. Not just the teachers, but the custodian, and the ladies in the lunchroom. And, that it depends upon the leadership as well.
“Hancock County is blessed with good leadership,” she said. “The Principal here at HCMS, Traci Sanders, is an excellent leader.
She has great ideals to work with to help children to fulfill their full potential, and to get them as far as we can.”
At the end of 2021, Williams received an email that she had been nominated for Kentucky Teacher of the Year. She said she isn’t sure who nominated her, but feels very honored. She received a packet in the mail with questions to answer as her next step in the process.
One of the questions asked was, “What do you see is the most significant problem in education today?” “I feel like it’s mental health,” she said. “Everything goes back to mental health.” She had approximately a month to complete the packet and application process. She sent it in and waited, and was thrilled when she received a congratulatory email from GoTeachKY that she had been selected as one of the 24 finalists.
Her love for learning was instilled in her in first and second grade, she said, by her teacher at Saint Pius Church School in Troy, Indiana – Sister Mary Helen. “I had the most wonderful teacher,” she said. “She was before her time. She taught Project-Based Learning, and it wasn’t even called that at the time. I had the opportunity to go, before she passed away, and tell her what an impact she made on my life.”
Williams graduated from Tell City High School, and 16 years later went back to school to become a teacher. She has taught special education for almost 30 years now. She earned her Associate’s Degree in Education at Vincennes University in Jasper, IN, and transferred to University of Southern Indiana to earn her Bachelor’s in Education.
While working on her Bachelor’s, she also traveled to University of Evansville to earn her Special Education Degree – an endorsement in special education to enable her to teach children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD).
She graduated and while teaching for her first two years, took additional special education classes at Brescia University. When Brescia first starting offering a Master’s of Education, she was one of the first 7 to graduate, earning her Master’s of Education in Curriculum Instruction.
“I really feel that God has blessed me by putting me in this position,” she said. “This has been such a blessing. The people that I work with here – they’re exceptional individuals. I’ve always asked God to keep me in a Christian environment. I have amazing colleagues here. We pray for students together.
I work directly with Denise Roach (Instructional Assistant), she’s my right hand. Denise and I, most years, have had the opportunity to eat lunch together. We pray before we eat and we pray that our students are blessed and that we’re able to know what they need and meet those needs. She has been so valuable to me. She loves this community and she loves these children. She makes me look good. The administration is supportive. They try their very best to meet the needs of every child and what the teachers need.”
It is very important to Williams that parents know how thankful she is for the opportunity to work with their children.
“I’m thankful that they have given me the opportunity to touch their children’s lives. It excites me when I see and hear of their success in life.
The highlight of my life is knowing that my students have a good life, and I see that every day. I open the newspaper and I see what good things are happening for children. I just want people to know that this is a blessed community.”
No matter what the student’s disability is, Williams said that we have to look at their gifts and strengths before we look at what they can’t do.
“Let’s look at what they CAN do. And, that’s with any child,” she said. “We need to just look at our strengths, even within our County – let’s look at the strength that this County brings to the State. Look at the positive things that take place here in Hancock County.
We focus so much on what we need. Let’s look at the strength of what we have.” Williams wants her students at HCMS to know how much they mean to her as well. “They come to school each day eager to learn,” she said. “I have some of the best children in the world that come through my classroom.
They are exceptional.”
Williams grew up in Troy, IN right across from Camp Koch for Crippled Children. “I constantly wanted to be going over and volunteering,” she said.
She was one of ten children and had a lot of responsibility at home. She always tried to get her chores done quickly so that she would have time to volunteer at Camp Koch.
“Everyone has a purpose in this life,” she said. “Everyone is capable of doing great things – they’re just different things.
Everyone is capable of enjoying life to its fullest. God’s got a plan and it’s a good plan, and He’s holding us in the palm of His hand.
We’ve just got to trust Him.
I’ve had so many miracles, and I could talk all day on those. I’ve seen miracles in my life.”
Williams currently teaches social skills and reading within the special education program, and has been teaching at HCMS for 15 years.
She was a special education teacher for 2 years for K-5 at David Turnham Education Center in Southern IN, and started the half-a-day preschool program there, where she also taught. She taught special education for 10 years at Burns Middle School in Daviess County, before starting at HCMS.
Williams is 66-years-old now and says that she has asked God for a certain number of years so that she may have the privilege of seeing her grandchildren get married. Her husband, Martin Williams, is the After School Coordinator at North Hancock Elementary School, and also helps with the preschool there.
He is endearingly known as “Mr. Marty” by the children at NHES.
Their children are Nettie Boeglin, Charles Davis, and Jason Williams. They are blessed with 7 grandchildren: Dillon, Derek, Dakota, Ashley, Mackenzie, Lance and Naomi, and blessed with 7 great-grandchildren as well: Addy, Ashlynn, Brooklyn, Carson, Connor, Kenleigh and Mollie.
By Jennifer Wimmer