Meet CEC's Teachers of the Year

Karen Barnes
North Dakota CEC Teacher of the Year

Karen Barnes, a special educator in Minot Public Schools, has been an education professional for more than 30 years. She has worked as a Title I teacher and aide, classroom teacher for grades 3–5 and a librarian. Karen strives to find strategies that are simple and work for her students. Her support of CEC has been unwavering as she has been an active board member for both the local and state CEC. In 2010, Karen received the Founder’s Day Award given annually by the Minot PTA. Karen is a respected team member for her ability to work well with parents, students and peers. One of Karen’s nominators said, “The quality that impresses me the most with Mrs. Barnes would be her professionalism. Whether it be with a parent, student, or peer, Mrs. Barnes always models respect when interacting with these individuals. This is a skill that I feel has been lacking in our profession and Mrs. Barnes is an excellent role model for her peers.”

Marcy Boudreaux-Johnson
Louisiana CEC Teacher of the Year

Marcy Boudreaux-Johnson has been teaching early childhood special education for nearly 16 years. She is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of Exceptional Needs.Marcy is a highly effective teacher, providing a multisensory approach to learning and providing differentiation in her instruction in order to meet her students where they are and incorporates various learning strategies into each lesson. One of her nominators said this about Marcy, “Collaboration is essential to working with other individuals who are involved in working with students with special needs. Marcy works with general educators, families, service providers, and others. They work together on teaching strategies to better carry out and plan for each individual student. She also works along with them to utilize the newest technology, learning techniques, and strategies that are available. Being innovative in her teaching, communication with parents, and collaboration with other providers displays her effectiveness as an educator and love for what she does.”


Ritu Chopra
Colorado Teacher Education Division Teacher Educator of the Year 

Ritu Chopra is the Executive Director of the Paraprofessional Research and Resource Center and Assistant Research Professor at the School of Education and Human Development of the University of Colorado Denver. Ritu has been responsible for grant administration, training, research and fiscal management at the Center for the last 18 years. Prior to moving to the United States in 1990, Ritu worked for more than 10 years as a teacher, trainer, researcher and administrator in her native country of India. She is currently the principal investigator on three personnel preparation projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and two Transition to Teaching projects funded by the Office of Innovation and Improvement. In Ritu’s own words: “My most gratifying accomplishment has been designing and implementing programs that have provided opportunities, supports and incentives to paraprofessionals and other non-traditional students to become teachers serving students with special needs in some of the most challenging and diverse schools.”

Kelsey Feyes
Kansas CEC Teacher of the Year

Kelsey Feyes is a special education teacher at West Elementary School in Wamego, Kansas, where she teaches reading, math and social skills to students directly on her caseload, other special education students in the building and general education students through an RTI system. She also serves on an autism intervention team to help teachers in her district and neighboring districts best meet the needs of students with autism. Outside of CEC, she is a member of TASH, and NEA and sits on the board of 3 Rivers, a center for independent living, where she advocates for people with disabilities in the community and surrounding counties. One of Kelsey’s student’s parents said, “When we met her for the first time, she immediately put my son and I at ease. She is enthusiastic and goes above and beyond for the good of her students. I cannnot count how many times she has reassured me on my child’s progress, nor can I count how many times she has celebrated with my child when he has had a success.”

Swaleha (Sally) Mohamedali
Division of International Special Education and Services Teacher of the Year

Swaleha Mohamedali, known as Sally, has been teaching for 26 years, and for the last eight of those years as a teacher at the Jaffery Academy in Arusha, Tanzania. Her first teaching career started in 1987 in Mombasa, Kenya, and since then she has taught in a number of diverse communities in countries, including Kenya, Botswana and Tanzania. She specializes in early childhood development, as well as learning and intellectual disabilities in children. In her time at the Academy, Sally has managed to establish a distinct special education department and resource center for students with disabilities within the privatized mainstream school, as well as introduced inclusive education to the Academy and re-emphasized it throughout the country. She has also brought oral examinations into the national curriculum for 4th graders, and conducts workshops and acts as an education consultant for the Arusha City Council and other organizations in addition to holding counseling sessions for high school students.

Claudia Otto
Oklahoma CEC Teacher of the Year

Claudia is a special education teacher at Ponca City Senior High School and is a doctoral student currently working on her degree in professional educational studies from Oklahoma State University, where she works as a graduate associate. Claudia also works as a Spanish interpreter for students and families in her district and is an active member in the school and community partnership that assists the high school in serving the needs of students diagnosed with mild and moderate disabilities. As a teacher of students with ASD, Claudia is willing to try new interventions and think outside of the box when it comes to adapting and modifying strategies to meet students’ individual needs. As a result of her work, Claudia has presented about classroom strategies for students with ASD at the Oklahoma CEC Conference. Claudia’s principal said of her, “Claudia has always displayed a high degree of integrity, responsibility, and ambition. She is a leader in education, not a follower.”

Leslie Rush
Arkansas CEC Teacher of the Year

Leslie Rush has been a special education teacher for the Arch Ford Educational Services Cooperative since 2007. She is an innovative educator with proven teaching, training and curriculum development skills. Leslie is dedicated to enthusiastic and dynamic teaching as a means of creating and nurturing a life-long love of knowledge in children. She plans and instructs each student using a wide variety of teaching aids, motivational and implementation strategies to engage students in active learning. Her affiliations include the Arkansas Council for Exceptional Children, the Division of Early Childhood, the Arkansas Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities and National Association for the Education of Young Children. One of her parents said, “Thank you for taking the time to teach us how to work with our child. Your caring spirit and enthusiastic personality shines above the rest.”

David Sudia
Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders
Outstanding Professional Performance Award

Dave Sudia works in the Intensive Center for Affective Needs Program at Birch Elementary School in Colorado. Within his first six months at the Center, Dave revamped the program to reflect a true RTI model and created a comprehensive behavior tracking program for all students, bringing referrals for Intensive Center students down by 64 percent and helping three students to make more than a year’s reading growth. David communicates daily with parents, general education teachers, specialists and other teachers within his district to help shape individualized programs for students. He was a founding officer of the Arizona subdivision of CCBD, is the membership coordinator for Colorado CCBD and has given numerous presentations at CCBD conferences in Arizona and Colorado. One of David’s nominators said, “In my 21 years in education, he is the best special educator I’ve ever had the pleasure of observing. His practice is cutting edge, he’s highly collaborative and forward thinking and the difference he’s making for kids and learning at Birch is unparalleled.”

Amanda Walkup
South Carolina CEC Teacher of the Year

Amanda Wallup has taught middle and high school in Greenville County for more than nine years, working with students in a self-contained classroom, an inclusion program and currently works as a learning disability resource teacher for mostly freshmen students. Amanda has leadership roles in the Freshman Pride Club, the Freshman Academy Students of the Month initiative and the Freshmen Orientation Day. She is also an active CEC and S.C. CEC member of more than 12 years, having served as chair for awards committees and the Student Chapter advisor, and currently serves as treasurer. Amanda was a founding member of the S.C. chapter of the Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities and has served as treasurer since its inception. In 2010, she became a National Board Certified Teacher as an exceptional needs specialist. One of Amanda’s nominators said, “She will go the extra mile to be sure her kids are treated fairly and have the work they need to be successful. They work hard for her because they know she cares about their lives Her desire to see them succeed is inspiring.”

Sarah Wareham
Indiana CEC Teacher of the Year

Sarah Wareham has worked as a special educator in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis for eight years. For six of those years, she worked as a primary inclusion teacher at Westlake Elementary School, where she also hosted student teachers from the University of Indianapolis. Her mentoring reputation among student teachers has become legendary, with students requesting placement in Sarah’s classroom each year. Her dedication has been recognized through an appointment to create a new program designed to meet the needs of students with autism. For the past two years, Sarah has been the lead teacher in the Connections Program, where she develops and implements components of programming using research-based practices for teaching students with autism. One of Sarah’s nominators said, “Sarah’s enthusiasm for teaching students with autism is only surpassed by her dedication to learning as much as possible about the evidence-based practices of doing so. I have spent countless hours in Sarah’s classroom observing her teach students. Even after more than four years, I can still say I learn something new every time I visit.”

Wendy Watts
Division on Visual Impairments Teacher of the Year

Teaching students with visual impairments is a second career for Wendy Watts, who was a classically trained pianist for more than 15 years. Wendy is very enthusiastic about her new career as a teacher of students with visual impairments, assistive technology manager and child find coordinator for Wood County Special Education Share Services Arrangement as evidenced by her infectious smile, which one of her colleagues describes as a “ray of sunshine.” This passion led to her dream of adding certification in visual impairment to her existing teaching endorsements as a generalist, reading teacher and special educator when she was diagnosed with cancer six years ago. As someone who has personally overcome adversity, Wendy is known for believing in the ability of her students, most of whom have multiple disabilities, to conquer their challenges in order to achieve their dreams. In several cases, such progress was made that Wendy’s students were able to return to instruction in the general education setting and lead active social lives. In recognition of her impressive teaching abilities, Wendy was the 2008 Gilmer Elementary Teacher of the Year.