During her remarks for the 2023 Robert W. Hughes Teacher of the Year Program, Buchholz High School teacher Karen Kearney reflected on her love of teaching, which began when she was child and taught her first class to a small group of stuffed animals.
Kearney was one of 39 teachers honored during the annual Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) celebration held at Trinity United Methodist Church on Thursday evening. The event featured videos of each teacher honoree working in their classrooms with students and talking about their goals for those students.
“For several years, I worked in an entirely different field as a chiropractor, but the yearning to teach was just too strong to deny this profound desire to become a teacher,” she said. “And I didn’t want to be 50 or 60 years old thinking, ‘gosh, I wish I would have.’ So, I followed my passion, went back to school and became a teacher.”
The three finalists for the districtwide honors this year included Kearney, Kanapaha Middle School dean Richard Thomas and Sidney Lanier School behavior resource teacher Lilliemarie Gore. Current students introduced all three.
Colin Nechodom, a senior at Buchholz, talked about Kearney’s impact on her students.
“Twenty-one years of Dr. Kearney’s teaching career, and she still devotes herself to the success of her students,” said Nechodom. “She utilizes hands-on practical labs, as well as ‘fun sheets’ to help us students digest challenging material.”
Kearney has been teaching for 21 years, all of them at Buchholz High School. She’s taught anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry and physical science. She also participated as a PTSA member, wellness coordinator, teacher mentor, department chair, assistant wrestling coach and sponsor for several school clubs.
“For me, teaching has always been about the students,” Kearney said. “I have cried with them through heartbreak and difficulties at home. I have loved them as they reached or fell short of their goals. I have reassured them as they have worried about exams and deadlines. I will treasure the relationships I have built with my students over the years.”
Following the announcement that she’d been selected as the ACPS Teacher of the Year, Kearney thanked her “village.”
“I continue to work alongside the best educators who value a student’s light bulb moment,” she said. “I have had a village of friends and family support me along the way. Thank you for always believing in me even if I couldn’t and reminding me that everything is temporary and that I need to weather the storm.”
This year’s celebration was organized by The Education Foundation for Alachua County Public Schools and was hosted by Jayne Moraski, the Foundation’s executive director. It also included remarks from ACPS Superintendent Shane Andrew, School Board Chair Tina Certain, and representatives from the event’s primary sponsors, including Cox Communications, Florida Credit Union and SWI Photography.
Each school honoree receives a $500 award and other gifts donated by local businesses, organizations and individuals.
Kearney will now represent ACPS in the annual Florida Teacher of the Year recognition program.