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Liz Corey teaching a student at Genet Elementary School

Special Education Teacher Liz Corey working with a student in the 3-5 Language Concepts class at Genet Elementary School.

Schools and their educators are evaluated by how well they educate their students, typically through standardized tests. And while that data is necessary to assess how a student is learning and growing, nothing can compare to a high school senior returning to an event that honors her elementary school teacher she had nine years ago, delivering a speech to recognize that teacher in front of a crowd, and ending it with tears in her eyes telling her “Congratulations, Ms. Corey! I love you so much!”

That is the kind of impact Genet Special Education Teacher Liz Corey has on her students, and that is one of the many reasons she received the Mary P. Van Derzee Special Educator of the Year award given by the group Parent Support for Students with Disabilities at the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday evening.

Liz Corey teaching a student

Ms. Corey teaching a student in class.

Ms. Corey teaches the 3-5 Language Concepts class at Genet Elementary School. It is a 12-1-2 special education class with up to 12 students, Ms. Corey as the teacher and Courtney Mahar and Karen Rossetti as the two teaching assistants.

The class is designed for students with special needs in grades 3-5 who need more individual attention in the classroom.

While Ms. Corey is teaching students everything that regular education students are learning she is also a sort of air traffic controller. Her students come and go throughout the day as they attend their own grade-level special classes including art, music, library and physical education, as well as lunch and recess. But they also receive various related services such as speech and occupational therapy. All the while, Ms. Corey is teaching students, at different levels, in reading, math and social studies.

Additionally, many of Ms. Corey’s students are still learning how to be independent. She calls it “the hidden curriculum.”

Some students struggle to unpack their bag in the morning or how to transition to a special area class. Each student learns differently so Ms. Corey adapts to how they best learn as an individual. This could mean weeks of work including many steps. It means using reward systems to encourage students.

Ms. Corey takes special care to celebrate any achievement, however big or small it may seem. 

“To see them build independence is truly phenomenal,” she said.”So we celebrate every single moment.”

Liz Corey with former students and parents

Genet Special Education Teacher Liz Corey with former students and their parents at the Board of Education Meeting on Wednesday, October 26 (L to R: Katherine Maciol, Amelia Rizzo ’23, Liz Corey, Melena McDonald ’23 and Michelle McDonald.

Two of Ms. Corey’s former students and their parents spoke at the board meeting on Wednesday evening. They described her caring and positive attitude. They also said how once students move on from Genet Elementary School, she continues to be part of their lives and carry on those relationships.

“Ms. Corey was a great teacher,” said Amelia Rizzo ’23. “She made me like school again. She helped me make friends, and they are still my friends today. Now I am mainstream in regular classes at Columbia High School.”

Both Ms. Rizzo and Melena McDonald ’23 will be graduating from Columbia High School in June.

Watching the former students and their parents speak about Ms. Corey shows just how important teachers are in the lives of their students.

“Being a special educator is the most fulfilling career I could possibly have chosen,” Ms. Corey said after receiving the Mary P. Van Derzee Special Educator of the Year award. 

“I know how lucky I am to be part of something so special and life-giving,” she continued. “Thank you, East Greenbush, for the opportunity to teach the best students I know. I am so grateful to be part of this wonderful district.”

Congratulations to Liz Corey, the Mary P. Van Derzee Special Educator of the Year!

Mary P. Van Derzee Special Educator of the Year Recipients

  • Liz Corey – 2021-22
  • Bell Top Special Education Staff and Tamara Wager – 2020-21
  • Special Education Department – 2019-20
  • Helen Squillace – 2018-19
  • Jean Patrick – 2017-18
  • Megan Lopez – 2016-17
  • Cheri Walsh and Jacqui Perry – 2015-16
  • Paula Sobol – 2014-15
  • Audra DiBacco – 2013-14
  • Karen Anderson-Green – 2012-13
  • Lalena DeMarco – 2011-12
  • Vincenzina Farry – 2010-11
  • Jennifer Cavotta-Riley – 2010-11
  • John Rivera – 2009-10
  • Barbara Neiman – 2008-09
  • Tammy Kirwin – 2007-08
  • Kathy Rutherford – 2006-07
  • Joanne Smith – 2005-06
  • Laurie Mendrysa – 2004-05
  • James McHugh – 2003-04
  • Deborah Rubenstein – 2002-03