Joanna Hendrix, a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing students at Ralph Dunlap Elementary School in Orcutt Union School District, has been named the 2023 Santa Barbara County Teacher of the Year by the Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO).
The announcement was made on Thursday at 2:10 p.m. during the regular board meeting of the County Board of Education. The Ralph Dunlap Elementary School is the host location for the regional Deaf Education Preschool Program.
Ms. Hendrix is in her 21st year of teaching and currently teaches preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students. Prior to working for Santa Barbara County, she has previously worked for the San Luis Obispo County Education Office and the Clovis Unified School District.
Ms. Hendrix explained how it felt to be named Teacher of the Year: “It is overwhelming. We get to work alongside a lot of districts. For me, I know that there are great teachers in the county education office, but I know there are great educators everywhere. It feels humbling.”
Coming from a family of educators and social workers, it is not surprising that Ms. Hendrix would be such a noted teacher.
“I came from a family of educators and people in the social services field. There is a long history of educators in my family. Social services and serving professions were part of the example set for me. I don’t know that I ever considered anything else really. I struggled in my first year of college and landed in an American Sign Language (ASL) class where my professor encouraged me to become a teacher of the deaf,” said Ms. Hendrix.
Ms. Hendrix received her higher education training from California State University in Fresno. She received her B.A. in Communication Sciences and Disorders with an emphasis in Deaf Education in 1999. She received her MultiSubject Professional Clear Credential with an emphasis in Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD) in 2000, and in 2001 she received her M.A. in Deaf Education and her Education Specialist Credential in Communicative Handicapped and Deaf/Hard of Hearing.
“The students enrolled in my class are eligible for special education and related services under the eligibility of hard of hearing, deaf, or deaf/blind … 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,” said Ms. Hendrix in her application for Teacher of the Year.
“Ms. Hendrix has consistently created an environment that integrates grade level standards with individual IEP goals, while developing strong relationships among staff members and students. After spending only a few moments in the class, the visitor realizes that the level of student engagement is due to the high quality instruction that Ms. Hendrix delivers in a student-focused, structured environment,” said Kristen Escobedo, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education for SBCEO said in her letter of recommendation.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that the sole focus is remediating the hearing with hearing aids, cochlear implants and other devices. It’s really about access to language and communication in whatever form that is. So we are really working with multiple language students transitioning from Spanish to English and students developing their first language as ASL. It’s really about building strong language foundations whether that be in English or ASL. Listening technologies benefit all kids but don’t ensure full language access,” said Ms. Hendrix.
Ms. Hendrix said her favorite thing about teaching is “the relationships I get to develop over time. I get to spend several years with the same students and families. We get to be in people’s homes and develop relationships with families. It is more than a student-teacher relationship and it cultivates a strong tie. When students have a good relationship with their teachers they are able to perform to their highest ability.”
Samantha Mullins, Coordinator of Special Education for SBCEO, said of Ms. Hendrix: “She invests the necessary time in each of her families, educating and empowering them to make informed decisions on what is best for their children. Joanna fosters a language-rich environment with printed and spoken English, Spanish and American Sign Language. She goes above and beyond to ensure her families have a thorough understanding of their child’s hearing loss and language acquisition.”
Ms. Hendrix gives this advice to fellow educators: “Teaching is about meeting students where they are at and making the accommodations they need so that they can perform at their best. It’s been truly difficult the last few years. I’m excited to see things turning around and that we are moving forward and what the next year brings.”