Lifetime Achievement



For Karen McKenzie, being named Teacher of the Year for 2018-19 by the Beaufort County School District is a dream come true.

“I have known since I was 3 years old that I wanted to teach,” she said. “I was the youngest of a lot of children and I tried to teach all the neighborhood dogs and cats. That didn’t go very well. I was thrilled when my neighbors had a child I could teach. I always knew this was what I was meant to do, and I’ve never thought I made a mistake.”

Her classroom at H.E. McCracken Middle School, where she teaches eighth-grade social studies, is evidence of her lifelong devotion to education — and history, her other passion. The colorful decorations pay tribute to significant dates and documents, like the Treaty of Paris, the Articles of the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation.

She was “overwhelmed” when she learned she’d been nominated for Teacher of the Year, McKenzie said, since she’d been at McCracken for only three years. But her fellow teachers clearly didn’t need long to see how invested she is in her students, and they were happy to nominate her for the honor.

“It was more than just shock,” McKenzie said of winning the award. “It was overwhelming and kind of intimidating. There are so many exceptional teachers not only at my school, but in this district. In every school, there is an amazing teacher doing amazing things for our children and to be selected to represent that is overwhelming.”

Each school in the district selects its own Teach of the Year, nominating teachers who go above and beyond to work with and encourage students. Those teachers are then put into the pool for the district-wide honor. McKenzie was named Bulldog Nation Teacher of the Year at McCracken, and then was interviewed by community members as part of the process to select the district’s Teacher of the Year.

McKenzie, who has been teaching for 29 years — 18 of them in Beaufort County, in classrooms at Robert Smalls Middle School in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island — says she likes to take a hands-on approach with her students and is passionate about constantly improving the district’s curriculum.

“I do [curriculum instruction] with the district in the summer,” she said. “I have a passion for making curriculum engaging for kids and something they want to come school and do. I like the kids to have a lot of digital stuff because that’s the world we live in, but I don’t want digital for the sake of digital. We talk a lot about digital content. You are getting the content, you’re just getting it digitally because that’s what’s cool now. We do a lot of games and a lot of project development.”

And her work to improve curriculums don’t end with Beaufort County. She has her sights set on the Palmetto State’s dismal rankings when it comes to education — if Beaufort County can address its education needs and revamp its curriculum, she said, so can South Carolina.

“Beaufort County is the second fastest-growing school district in the state, and the district has a lot of things going on,” she said. “They are meeting those challenges head-on, and to represent that is amazing for me.”

As Beaufort County’s Teacher of the Year, McKenzie will represent the district in the South Carolina State Teacher of the Year awards later this year.