Source: Santa Barbara County Education Office
Joanna Hendrix, a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, has been named the 2023 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year. The Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO) and County Board of Education made the announcement today at their regular board meeting.
Hendrix is a special education teacher employed by SBCEO, serving preschool, transitional kindergarten, & kindergarten students from the Santa Maria and Orcutt regions. Her classroom – housed on the campus of Ralph Dunlap Elementary School within the Orcutt Union School District – is one of 17 special education preschool classrooms operated by the Santa Barbara County Education Office countywide.
As the recipient from Santa Barbara County, she becomes eligible for the California Teacher of the Year award.
“I’m incredibly humbled and honored to have been selected for this prestigious recognition,” Hendrix said. “I hope that throughout the coming year, I have the opportunity to highlight all of the ways that the Santa Barbara County Education Office team supports students with disabilities and students within special programs in each district, which includes adaptive P.E. specialists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, audiologists, school nurses, interpreters, paraprofessionals, school psychologists, vision specialists, special education teachers, and teachers of the deaf. I look forward to sharing this news with my mentors, my colleagues, and most importantly my current and former deaf and hard of hearing students-along with their families.”
Susan Salcido, County Superintendent of Schools, who presented Hendrix with a commemorative plaque, called her an exemplary teacher. “Our selection committee was unanimous in choosing Ms. Hendrix from a very impressive pool of candidates and remarkable finalists. Ms. Hendrix embodies all of those qualities the most exemplary teachers possess. She creates community and connection in the classroom and beyond. Her unique expertise in language acquisition and development – and in building meaningful relationships with her students and their families – enable her students to thrive, grow, and express themselves with confidence. We congratulate her on this recognition and thank her for her 21 years of service to students of Santa Barbara County.”
Choosing the Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year is no easy process. In the fall, all Santa Barbara County school districts are invited to submit a nomination, and educators may nominate themselves. Applicants must have 8 full years of classroom teaching experience. The SBCEO Teachers Network and a dedicated team of selection committee members conduct an extensive review of all applications and letters of recommendation. Four finalists are selected for an interview round where they are asked about their unique instructional practices and philosophy of education. The selection committee also does a classroom observation of each finalist at their school.
For the past 21 years, Hendrix has been employed by the Santa Barbara County Education Office as a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. She received her B.A. in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a Deaf Education emphasis and M.A. in Deaf Education from California State University, Fresno.
Hendrix teaches students with a range of hearing ability, language development, and literacy skills. Her students are culturally and linguistically diverse. The languages spoken in their homes consist of American Sign Language, English, Spanish, and Mixtec. Many arrive to her classroom with insufficient early language exposure, resulting in absent or weak language foundations.
Hendrix shared that her philosophy of teaching is rooted in cultivating strong, personalized relationships with students and their families.
“Developing and maintaining relationships with students and parents alike is embedded in the foundation of what I do as an educator. My philosophy on teaching is simple and straightforward: relationships first, everything else second,’’ Hendrix said, adding this includes making home visits and communicating with parents digitally about their child’s daily progress at school. From doing so, she learns the strengths of a family and their individual needs, whether it be sharing with them the process of obtaining an interpreter for a recreational soccer league, facilitating enrollment in community ASL classes, or connecting them with other parents who share their home language.
Hendrix said her classroom is a “place of transformations.”
“Students often arrive shortly after their third birthday with insufficient early language exposure, often frustrated by their inability to understand the world around them and unable to express themselves fully. Our goal is to ensure students obtain the necessary language and academic readiness skills to transition into kindergarten ready to learn, to partner with and empower parents in making informed educational choices, all while learning alongside a critical mass of same-language peers.”
“My classroom space is an extension of my home,” Hendrix added. “I aim for our space to be inviting, safe, inclusive, accessible, and a visually stimulating environment, a place that allows for shared spaces to play and learn both independently and cooperatively, a place where language is accessible, and where my students can blossom and thrive.
Despite the frequent assumption that my class is quiet, my deaf students are a lively and boisterous group of inquisitive young learners. My preschool and kindergarten students are ACTIVE learners, they use the materials and learning opportunities in their environment to explore, to solve problems, and to learn about the world around them. We laugh, we dance, we explore our community, we make mistakes, we try again, and we celebrate each small success, fostering positive relationships through communication and play.”
Santa Barbara County Board of Education member Marybeth Carty served on the selection committee this year.
“During our classroom observation, we watched Joanna skillfully and playfully deliver a lesson plan that utilized multiple learning modalities, and multiple languages! She simultaneously spoke English, Spanish and American Sign Language while actively employing body language. Her students are primarily English language learners, low-income, with little access to early language. She forms a close alliance with families, and together, each child is seen, heard, and encouraged to find their voice. It’s all in a day’s work for this remarkable teacher.”
Kirsten Escobedo, SBCEO Assistant Superintendent of Special Education said of Hendrix: “The foundational joy Ms. Hendrix brings to her work is evident in everything she does: the delivery of lessons; the daily interactions with students, staff and families; the advocacy for her students; her commitment to supporting newer educators; and her humility in learning new processes and reflecting on her practice. She is well respected by teachers, interpreters, paraprofessionals, related service providers and administrators throughout the county.”
Hendrix’s former student, Antonia Rodriguez-Nuñez added: “I can honestly say that I have not met any teacher like Joanna, who is a true definition of a teacher that every student should have. I genuinely believe that I would not be where I am today without the encouragement and life-long lessons that I have received from Joanna.”
Hendrix, along with other top teachers from Santa Barbara County, will be officially honored at SBCEO’s annual Salute to Teachers event to be held on November 5, 2022 at the Music Academy of the West.
In 40 years, since 1991, only one other SBCEO teacher has received this distinction.