The Salem School Division Teacher of the Year for 2017 knew she wanted to be a Special Education Teacher long before she was out of elementary school.
“It started when I was 8-years-old and one of my babysitter’s daughters had significant disabilities,” says Karey Henzey, Salem’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. “She was blind, she was in a wheelchair and she had significant cognitive impairments. Even at that age, I knew she was different, but I was just drawn to her. I told my Mom that one day I wanted to work with kids just like that little girl.”
Henzey has been a special needs teacher at West Salem Elementary for the past decade, but her heart has been open to helping others for much longer. In high school in Northern Virginia, when many of her classmates were uncertain of their futures, her career path only intensified.
“As a teenager, I was able to volunteer at a self-contained school for students with disabilities and I eventually got a job there in the summer,” she says. “These were 7, 8 and 9-year-old kids with intellectual disabilities and I loved every minute of it. I just knew this was what I wanted to do.”
After graduating from Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, she earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Longwood University. She taught seven years in Montgomery County before joining the staff at West Salem Elementary.
“I am really fortunate to work in a building where the teachers respect and embrace the village mentality when it comes to our children,” she says. “We have such a community of respect here and everyone is valued.”
Especially, Karey Henzey.
“Mrs. Henzey is like a jack-of-all-trades and someone who truly can do it all,” says Debbie Carroll, West Salem Elementary School Principal. “She is willing to go the extra mile to help others in our building and she always finds a way for her students to experience success.”
“My licensure states I am a special education teacher, however, in my school I am referred to as a resource teacher,” says Henzey. “I like that better because I really try to be a resource for my students, parents and other teachers.”
During her time in public education, Henzey has helped children with autism, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and other health impairments. The strategies used to further educate those children have evolved significantly over the years.
“I work with students who learn differently and that may mean that they need a longer time to learn, or that the material must be presented in a way that helps them show what they know,” she says. “‘We are all unique learners and some kiddos just need the material presented differently.”
Henzey says she is humbled beyond belief that her co-workers would select her for this honor. She plans to honor them and her students by constantly looking for ways to improve her techniques and results.
“This is my 17th year in teaching, so I am always looking to learn, ask for help and find something new that can work,” she says. “You always have to seek other tools that make you better for your students.”
To that end, Henzey has earned Wilson Reading Level I certification to enhance her work with students with dyslexia and she is currently in the final stages of earning the distinguished National Board Certification, the gold standard for professional teaching recognition.
“It is a real honor to be selected for this award,” she says. “Special education is a calling for me and it means a great deal that my peers voted for me.”
Henzey and her husband, Tom, have three children who are students in the Salem School Division. In her minimal amount of spare time, she serves as a co-leader of a Girl Scout Troop, teaches preschool Christian Formation at her church and serves on the board of her Neighborhood Organization.
The School Board will honor all five teachers of the year during a special reception on March 28. The other Teachers of the Year representing the five remaining Salem schools are:
Susan Bowles Music Education South Salem & East Salem Elementary
Amy Johnston First Grade Teacher G.W. Carver Elementary
Katie Morris Sixth Grade Language Arts Andrew Lewis Middle School
Laura O’Dell Business Education Salem High School