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Shenandoah County's top teacher named

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Rich Cooley/Daily Ashby Lee Elementary School teacher Karen Phillips works with Jose Maldonado, 8, of New Market, on his math skills in class recently. Phillips was named Shenandoah County’s teacher of the year. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

Karen Phillips was nothing short of surprised when she was named Teacher of the Year at Shenandoah County's annual banquet at the end of May.

While this year is Phillips' fifth with the county's public school system at Ashby Lee Elementary School, she's been an educator for 30 years.

"I've always tried to keep my foot in the door for education," she said.

At the elementary school, Phillips is an English Language Learners instructor working specifically with kindergarten through second grade students. She explained that the title is no different from English as a Second Language.

Phillips said she grew up with her mother speaking Spanish, but she and her brother never spoke the language in their home.

"I was a little rusty with the language growing up," she said. However, Phillips began volunteering as a translator in hospitals and soon enough decided to work her bilingual upbringing into an educational setting.

Stephen Povlish, principal at Ashby Lee, said that Phillips often goes above and beyond her normal duties as an ELL instructor.

"She's helped students get glasses and helped lead them in the right direction to outside agency sources," he said. "She's a main point of contact for the families."

Povlish said Phillips has taken her lunch break to visit students at home who might be sick, just to check on them.

"She epitomizes compassion toward her students, because she cares about their lives outside the classroom to make their experience that much better in the classroom," he said.

Phillips said her primary focus in working with the ELL students is to increase their basic vocabulary skills so they can communicate on a social and academic level, while also teaching them to read and write the English language. She meets with most of her students on a daily basis for about 25 minutes, and if not she will at least check in with their teachers on progress.

"It's so exciting teaching these children new things," she said. "The best part is seeing their faces light up when they understand something they'd been struggling with. It's just exciting to see the growth, however small."

Phillips was first nominated for the award by the faculty at Ashby Lee, which she said was "very humbling." However, when she was chosen as the winner in the whole county, she didn't believe it at first.

"She turned to me and said, 'This has to be a dream, this isn't happening,'' Povlish said.

Phillips admitted she was "shocked," but added that she's "honored to represent Ashby Lee as this is really a school award."

"We're extremely proud of her," Povlish said. "She's very deserving of the award, though she won't tell you that."

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