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Henry Clay has Kentucky's Teacher of the Year

Karen Gill, who teaches physics and other science classes at Henry Clay High School, is Kentucky's Teacher of the Year for 2009.

Gill found out about the honor at a ceremony Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

She will receive $10,000 and embark on a year of activities that include making speeches and representing Kentucky teachers on the national level. But she said she would probably turn down a semester off, saying the money that would be used for a replacement should instead go to Henry Clay's science department.

Gill was a runner-up for the Teacher of the Year honor last year. She was surprised at the win this time.

"When you work with so many amazing people, it's hard to think anything you do is going to be outstanding," she said.

Her students say she certainly is outstanding and works to make what could be dreary memorization of formulas a fun, interactive event.

"She's really good at making sure we don't just take notes all day," said Erin Wrightson, one of four seniors from her Advanced Placement physics class who were pulled out of a class to talk about their teacher.

The students laughed when one of them described Gill as "very enthusiastic" about teaching.

And the laughter spurred a small flood of examples:

When talking about the the center of gravity, she is able to put her hands on the edge of the table and, her body rigid, balance at what the students considered an impossible angle.

Centrifugal force is demonstrated in her class with a spinning platform. Draw your arms in and you spin faster, spread them and you slow down. Gill is the first one in the room to hop on the platform.

Then there are the songs, like changing the lyrics to Michael Jackson's Beat It to say something about circular motion. And the movies: A scene from Jurassic Park was tied, somehow, to the concept of torque.

Even when the material is hard to comprehend, the students said, Gill is willing to take extra time with individual students to help them understand.

Some other classes are fun but don't pack a lot of learning, they said. Not Gill's.

"Before every unit, we will do an activity so we can see how it works, then she will teach us the equations so we can figure out how everything works," Leigh Allin said.

"You can really wrap your brain around the concepts when you do them that way."

Gill has been a teacher for 18 years, 16 of them at Henry Clay.

Her husband, Scot Gill, teaches physics at Tates Creek High School.

Both Gills have previously won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. And both have had students who won a national math and physics challenge sponsored by Insight Communications and ESPN.

Twenty other teachers were honored along with Gill at the 2009 Ashland Inc. Teacher Achievement Awards.

They included the middle-school teacher of the year, Willow Hambrick, a language-arts teacher at Royal Spring Middle School in Scott County; and the elementary teacher of the year, Lisa Wathen, from Freedom Elementary School in Bullitt County.