Karen J. Green didn’t set out to be a teacher of the gifted and talented. Or an administrator leading the teachers of the gifted and talented. But, when she found her place among them in McKinney ISD 18 years ago, she knew that she had discovered her passion.

And, she has run hard after it ever since.

For her tireless devotion to GT students, the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) has honored Green with the 2017 Administrator of the Gifted Award, one of three individual state honors awarded by the organization each year.

According to their website, the TAGT state awards “are presented in recognition of service, contribution and commitment to gifted education. Collectively, those being recognized are champions who are working to advance the world of gifted education.”

For those who have seen Green’s commitment and work ethic firsthand, that description certainly fits.

“I am extremely proud of the fact that Karen Green has received this recognition,” says MISD Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel. “She is by far one of the most loyal and driven professional educators that I’ve ever worked with. Her ability to take a vision and promote a program and see its development through from inception to a high-achieving level is one of her greatest assets. Proof of that is the Gifted and Talented program at McKinney ISD. It’s due to her leadership that the program continues to flourish and is set up to continue moving forward after she retires.”

There is obvious emotion in Green’s voice as she talks about the award, but she refuses to take all the credit for it.

“When you find your passion in life, you’re so lucky—so blessed to be able to find, ‘This is what I’m here for.’ Receiving this honor was very emotional for me because it validated my work, and it validated the work of all our GT teachers,” she says.

“Those teachers have huge jobs, and to me, it validated their work, my work with the counselors, the support I get from Dr. McDaniel. I can’t say it’s my award because I would have never received it if I didn’t have all the support that I have now.”

Jessica Fair is one of those GT teachers, and she nominated Green for the TAGT award. “I met Karen Green four years ago and am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with and become inspired by her,” Fair says. “She embodies all things gifted and has dedicated her life to extending and enhancing the learning experience for all high-ability and gifted learners in McKinney ISD. She is an innovative and dynamic leader, who always has the best interests of our students at heart. When you add up her passion, charisma and programs, there is not a person in this state that I believe deserves this award more than Karen Green.”

As successful as her career has been, Green didn’t start out on a path toward education.

“I’m an accidental educator,” she says. “I didn’t get into education through the normal route. I was in marketing and sales and real estate. My first career out of college was that I was a political consultant in Washington, D.C., and I was there for four years. I put together political action committees and worked in phone banks. And, that was exciting.”

Then she says that she met “the best salesman in the world,” a Texan who won her heart and her hand in marriage and brought her back to his home state where they started a family.

“Then the next thing I know, our daughter was identified gifted in the third grade and then was pulled out in the fifth grade because she was what they call ‘twice exceptional,’ and there weren’t really services for her. So, I supplemented at home,” Green says.

The work she did at home for her daughter prepared Green for a two-week opportunity to substitute for a GT teacher who covered three MISD campuses. When that two-week period was up—they offered Green a job.

They didn’t have to twist her arm.

“The kids had written me notes that said, ‘Don’t leave us Mrs. Green! Stay and be our teacher,’” she says. “So, I kind of really found my calling at…I won’t tell you the age…but, I found my calling mid-life and fell in love with these kids,” she says.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got my certification…’ So, I went back to SMU and got my master’s degree and my gifted endorsement and then I taught elementary GT for three years here in McKinney.”

And, she just kept rising through the MISD ranks. She became the middle school coordinator and served in that capacity for a few years until the district coordinator job opened up.

“It wasn’t planned…I didn’t say, ‘Ok, I’m going to be the coordinator,’” says Green. “I just truly wanted to service gifted kids and work with these teachers. I love teachers. I love being on campus. I just think it’s very important that we support these teachers.”

Green got some extra help herself this year when her elementary and secondary duties were split, and Trey Wright became the district’s elementary gifted and talented coordinator while Green has continued to serve the secondary students.

“She’s tenacious,” Wright says of Green. “She always advocates for the program. She has that mindset of, ‘What’s best for kids?’”

Even in the face of tight budget cuts a few years ago, Wright points out, Green was able to get the one-day-a-week GT format expanded to two days a week.

“She hears, ‘No,’ and that’s ‘Maybe,’ in her head,” Wright says. “She’s passionate about what she does, and it shows in everything she does.”

Green is largely responsible for bringing the successful Interdisciplinary Study and Mentorship (ISM) program to the high schools two years ago. That program connects juniors and seniors to real-world mentors in a career field they are interested in pursuing, and it puts students a step ahead as they move toward college and career.

She coordinates and helps run four student camps during the year—three in the summer and a Duke TIP camp in the fall. She’s constantly on the move, visiting classrooms, teaching students and coaching teachers. There is always a pile of paperwork waiting. There are always tests and assessments to tend to.

Green can’t say enough about the support she receives from the district.

“So, in the twilight of my career, working under Dr. McDaniel is pretty amazing,” she says. “He’s an inspiring leader, and he has motivated me to go beyond and to have the freedom to bring in ISM, to be able to do four GT sections at middle school. We only had three, and he said, ‘Why don’t we have social studies, too, to support the humanities?’

“He has that vision. He gets those GT kids,” Green adds. “He understands why they’re in humanities and that they need that higher-level thinking. I’ve never worked with a more supportive superintendent that really wants, ‘Ok, what can we do? We need to do more.’ When it comes from the top down, it’s a GT coordinator’s dream.”

While Green expects to retire in the not-too-distant future, those plans don’t really seem to involve slowing down much.

“I’m hoping to go back to UTD to get my coaching certification because I’m not ready to let go of the students and parents,” Green says. “I want to coach the academics, and I’ve talked to UTD, and they’ve been very positive about it. In fact, I get a lot of emails, ‘When are you starting? When are you starting?’ But, I don’t ever want anything I do outside of McKinney to take away from my job. I want to be there and available—and this is long hours. You do a lot of long hours. There’s a lot of paperwork. We have a lot of testing that we do.”

Paperwork may be the only thing that slows her down and gets her out of classrooms and sitting at a desk for a while.

And, someday—before too long—she’ll push that last piece of completed paperwork away from her, and it will be time to call it a day on a career that has impacted kids in more ways than she’ll probably ever know.

The career of an accidental educator—who discovered what she is here for.

Thank goodness she did.

Photo: Karen Green shares a laugh with Cockrill geometry teacher Galina Maki and her eighth-grade students.