Teacher of the Year

PatLeader Student Mom

Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille Instruction 

Every year, Braille Institute recognizes teachers of the visually impaired for their hard work, dedication, and innovation. The Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille Instruction award is an opportunity for all Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs) to be recognized on a national level for the indelible contribution they make on students who are blind or have severe vision loss.

Any teacher of the visually impaired in the US or Canada can be nominated by peers, students, or others. The Teacher of the Year is selected by The Braille Challenge National Advisory Committee.

Patricia Leader was awarded the 2015 Teacher of the Year for Excellence in Braille Instruction.

Ms. Leader, pictured above, received an all-expense paid trip to The Braille Challenge June 20, 2015 in Los Angeles. While at the Braille Challenge Awards Banquet, she was presented with a cash award and a BrailleNote Apex QT 32 Braille Notetaker thanks to support from HumanWare. You can learn more about her as well as all the nominees below.

Thank you again to all of our nominees and to those who nominated them! You are an inspiration to many! For more information, contact Christine Pak (323) 663-1111 ext. 1321 or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Patricia Leader - 2015 Teacher of the Year - Winner

Patricia Leader, VI/O&M Specialist,
SELPA II Program in Visual Impairments, Cupertino School District, California

Pat was co-nominated by the President of the American Foundation for the Blind and the Superintendent emeritus of the California School for the Blind. She is recognized as a strong proponent of the braille code and an active leader in professional organizations both nationally and in her community.

Pat combines her knowledge and expertise in braille with creativity and passion for teaching. Colleagues describe her as energetic and dedicated – putting students at the top of her priority list. As the VI/O&M Specialist and Coordinator for SELPA II Program in Visual Impairments at the Cupertino School District, Pat teaches preschool through post-secondary students. She is admired by her peers for developing her own tactile materials to encourage exploration and engagement. She also provides supervision of the VI Program for instructional assistants and staff.

Pat is admired for going the extra mile in providing daily support for students and their families, as well as her own colleagues. Students say she encourages them to be independent, confident, and self-advocating. She ensures that all her students have course materials in braille and has access to large collections of books. She encourages them to read as much as possible.

Among several accomplishments, Pat is the former President of AER, a Trustee for the American Foundation for the Blind Board of Directors, a Life Member of the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped, and a member of the National Braille Challenge Contest Development Team. She has volunteered as a Proctor at both the regional level and national finals. Additionally, she is an Adjunct Professor at San Francisco State University in Advanced Communication Skills for Learners with Visual Impairments.

Pat earned her M.A. from San Francisco State University and graduated Magna Cum Laude, with a major in Visual Impairments and a minor in Physically Handicapped. She also earned a B.S. from the University of Southern California.

Quoted from her nomination statement: “Everything that Pat does, she does well and with a whole and giving heart. It is the combination of excellence in direct service methodology coupled with her total devotion to her students and to our field that makes Pat so special.”

Beth Newman - 2015 Teacher of the Year Nominee

Beth Newman, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments,
School District #72, British Columbia, Canada

Beth was co-nominated by colleagues who say she is a tireless advocate of full literacy for students who are blind or visually impaired. She has worked with students across British Columbia, encouraging them to use their skills inside and outside the classroom.

Beth is also commended for learning how to navigate the accessibility features of various i-Devices and using social media to help her students maintain their skills with peers. She is also credited for her involvement in community-based projects and initiatives. Beth volunteers at early intervention camps through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and participates in youth leadership training offered by Blind Beginnings.

Among her accomplishments, Beth is the former President of the BC Vision Teachers’ Association and has served the BC/Yukon chapter of AER.

Beth earned her diploma at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. in Education of the Blind and Visually Impaired. She also earned her B.A. in Psychology from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.

Quoted from her nomination statement: “What has been described paints a picture of a highly talented, dedicated educator who is always looking beyond the traditional roles and responsibilities of the teacher of students with visual impairment to see the bigger picture, where these students have the knowledge and ability to make meaningful contributions to life at home and in their communities.”

Carol Gamble - 2015 Teacher of the Year Nominee

Carol Gamble, Braille Teacher,
Maryland School for the Blind

Carol Gamble was nominated by a colleague at the Maryland School for the Blind. She is admired for thoughtfully aligning classroom instruction with the strengths and needs of her students.

Carol makes learning braille fun for her students by designing creative lessons in reading and vocabulary using dot riddles. Carol is not only instrumental in the classroom, but with her colleagues by providing professional development. She creates and administers braille exams for teachers seeking recertification and serves as a “Braille Help Desk” for staff.

She also is known for supporting the sighted family members of her students by creating print versions of braille homework which encourage parents to help their children and monitor their progress. Additionally, Carol is instrumental in helping students and staff transition to UEB, as a member of the Maryland State UEB transition work group.

Carol earned her M.S. in Special Education with an emphasis in Visual Impairment from The Johns Hopkins University. She also earned a B.A. in Mathematics from Goucher College.

Quoted from her nomination statement: “Carol values her relationships with her students and she provides them with the support, encouragement, and expectations to be confident and successful students and individuals.”

Dr. Kay Marie Pruett - 2015 Teacher of the Year Nominee

Dr. Kay Marie Pruett, Comprehensive Programs Braille & Reading Improvement Teacher,
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Dr. Pruett was nominated by the Principal of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He credits her with using innovative strategies to help students struggling with braille reading. In her quest to improve their skills, she searched for phonics materials in braille and discovered the Readers for the Wilson Reading System (WRS), a structured, phonics-based method of teaching remedial reading, available through the American Printing House for the Blind.

She is also credited for furthering braille literacy by designing and leading braille awareness lessons for sighted students who attend classes with students from the Texas School for the Blind. Additionally, she has provided opportunities for participants in TSBVI’s mentor center to observe in her classes.

Additionally, Dr. Pruett was selected as the 2014 Principals of Schools for the Blind Outstanding Teacher and has obtained her Texas Master Reading Teacher certification.

Dr. Pruett earned her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University in the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education. She also earned her M.A. at the University of Northern Colorado in Special Education: Visually Handicapped, Orientation and Mobility, and Severely/Profoundly Handicapped Blind. She earned her B.A. at the University of Northern Colorado in Special Education: Acoustically Handicapped and Elementary Education.

Quoted from her nomination statement: “She has not only been an excellent teacher of braille for our students, but also an outstanding supporter of the Braille Challenge in sponsoring student participation.”

Keith Christian - 2015 Teacher of the Year Nominee

Keith Christian, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments,
Anaheim City School District, California

Keith Christian was nominated by a peer at the California Department of Education. He is credited with finding innovative ways to teach students how to read and write in braille using braille writers, notetakers, iPads and a variety of accessible devices.

Keith uses his expertise in technology not only help students and parents, but other teachers of the visually impaired. He opens up his classroom to anyone who can benefit from his lessons.

Among his accomplishments, Keith has presented at the Best in Tech Conference since its inception in 2009. Keith has also served as chair of CTEBVI's K-12 Education Resource for the State of California.

Additionally, he is well respected by colleagues for being on the cutting edge of braille technology. He has worked closely with professors at the California State University of Los Angeles on developing instructional videos for training on the iBraille Challenge Mobile Application. He also works as a Technology Consultant to the Credential Program in Visual Impairments and Blindness at CSULA.

Keith earned his M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction at Concordia University Irvine. He also earned his B.A. in Psychology from California State University Fullerton.

Quoted from her nomination statement: “He models for his students how to use braille successfully. Students understand the importance of becoming proficient in reading and writing braille. Entering the Braille Challenge annually is the norm in his class.”

Kelly Ann Hendrickson - 2015 Teacher of the Year Nominee

Kelly Ann Hendrickson,
Pinellas County Schools, Forest Lakes Elementary School, Florida

Kelly Ann Hendrickson was nominated by a colleague at Pinellas County Schools, Forest Lakes Elementary School. She is credited for her enthusiasm for teaching and her proactive approach to braille literacy.

She is admired by colleagues for understanding that technology is essential for the on-going success of her students. Thanks to her determination as an educator, most of her students are well versed with using their laptops, iPads, and braille displays.

Kelly Ann also works closely with the families of her students in helping to maintain braille literacy skills outside of the classroom. She also invites high school Braille readers to lead monthly meetings with her elementary students. They participate in various projects and educational games.

Additionally, Kelly was instrumental in developing an extended school year program, helping students maintain their braille skills throughout the summer. The program is now referred to as “Braille Camp”.

Kelly earned her M.Ed. in Visual Disabilities from Florida State University and is Certified in Orientation and Mobility. She also earned her B.S. in Visual Disabilities from Florida State University.

Quoted from her nomination statement: ““Kelly establishes trust and a positive rapport with her students’ families. She easily connects with them, is empathetic, and works with parents to help maintain continuity in her students’ educational development at school as well as on the home front.“

Louis Flickinger - 2015 Teacher of the Year Nominee

Louis Flickinger, Vision Impairment Specialist,
Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative, Minnesota

Louis Flickinger was nominated by colleagues at the Minnesota Special Education Directors Regions 5 and 7. She is admired by colleagues who say she is the go-to resource for both students and staff.

Louise is described as gracious and always going above and beyond what is needed. She currently works as the Vision Impairment Specialist for the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative in Brainerd, Minnesota. In addition to teaching braille reading and writing, she also prepares students for transition services working with outside agencies and counselors. She is instrumental in setting up programs in schools for braille production, including training staff.

Parents admire her for her commitment to her students. It’s not uncommon to see her with students before and after school, during the summer and at various extracurricular events.

Louise earned her M.S. in Special Education from St. Cloud State University. She also earned her Bachelor of Elective Studies with an emphasis on Special Education from St. Cloud State University.

Quoted from her nomination statement: ““Louise believes whole-heartedly in the ability of every student she works with. She has mastered the art of being very firm with them, pushing them to be independent and advocates for themselves, but with a sense of humor and a knowledge of what motivates them as a person.”

Past “Teacher of the Year” winners

  • 2014 - Jan Zollinger, Idaho
  • 2013 - Christine Short, Iowa
  • 2012 - Dr. Laurel Hudson, Georgia
  • 2011 - Trina Britcher, West Virginia
  • 2010 - Rosalind Rowley, Massachusetts
  • 2009 - Carolyn Mason, Texas
  • 2008 - James Nezol, Oregon
  • 2007 - Sandy Serventi, Florida
  • 2006 - Graham Cook, British Columbia
  • 2005 - Anna Swenson, Virginia

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