• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Teacher of the Year: Being in the classroom is ‘where I’m meant to be’

eing named Teacher of the Year at Woodford County Middle School – after her first year there – was “beyond shocking” for special education teacher Jenn Valeriote. Because she spends most of her day in “a co-teaching setting,” working alongside – and collaborating with – teachers in all different subject areas, Valeriote says she understands the “incredible amount of work and energy” that her teaching colleagues put into everything they do. “Here at Woodford County Middle,” she says, “all of the teachers are highly invested in all students. So it’s a real partnership with the regular-ed teachers, and they really take ownership of all students. “So there’s not a division like ‘my students, your students’ – it’s our students, which is really nice.” She says everybody benefits in a co-teaching environment. “We do so much collaborative learning,” explains Valeriote, “(our students) can truly work together.” And when needed, flexible grouping allows for more specialized instruction, she says. It’s her relationships with students that make Valeriote “a superstar” in the classroom, social studies teacher Charlie Kahn says while walking by her classroom. Yet, the former collegiate softball and volleyball player never anticipated a career in the classroom. Instead, Valeriote says she had dreams of becoming a sports photojournalist and earned a communication studies degree at California University of Pennsylvania. A move to Louisville became an opportunity to coach softball and become emergency-certified to teach at Eastern High School and Crosby Middle School. It was Valeriote’s experiences as a substitute teacher in a special education classroom at a Fort Campbell high school that made her realize “this is where I’m meant to be,” she says. This revelation happened to someone who never considered teaching as a career choice as a child, college student or young adult. Valeriote has now been an educator for 13 years, including eight years at Grapevine Elementary School in Madisonville, three years at Jackson Elementary School in Fort Campbell, and two years at Fort Campbell High School, but had not been in a middle school classroom for more than a decade when she was hired by WCMS. “I had to figure out how to build relationships and have conversations with 12-year-olds as opposed to 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds,” says Valeriote, who had spent most of her career in kindergarten classrooms. One of her biggest tasks was learning middle school content in social studies, math, science and language arts. The Toronto, Ontario, Canada, native says she relied on the seventh-grade teachers on her WCMS team, who are “truly specialists and experts in their field,” to help her make the transition back to the middle school classroom. “I just really got lucky and hit the jackpot with this job,” says Valeriote, who also coaches the middle school softball team and moved to Woodford County with her two daughters, Logan and Abbie, and husband, Mike Fry, a former Marine and retired firefighter. “This,” she adds, “is where I’m meant to be.” (This is the third in a series of seven feature stories about Woodford County Public Schools’ 2016-17 Teachers of the Year.)

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