LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Karen Rice Ward, a fourth grade math teacher at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in LaRue County has been named Teacher of the Year, and the first ExCel Award winner for 2016.

The presentation of the ExCel Golden Apple was made in ceremonies at Lincoln School on the morning of January 6.

Rice Ward is a longtime resident of LaRue County who started her journey through the local school system as a kindergarten student. She has taught at Abraham Lincoln since 2011 and is currently the team leader for 4th grade math.

During the school day, all fourth grade students will visit her room, where she constantly monitors their progress and adjusts her teaching to the needs of the students.

Karen says she struggled with math as an elementary student and has a special understanding for students who have a difficult time learning math concepts.

The new ExCel winner comes from a family of educators. Her father was an elementary principal and as young Karen Michelle Rice, she learned to love and respect education by visiting his school.

Colleagues described Rice Ward as a determined teacher, who will never give up on her students or her class.

She is also a volunteer coach and instructor for youth softball and basketball leagues. Karen was an outstanding softball pitcher in softball and her father was her coach.

The Ward family is expecting a new addition in February. Karen will be going on maternity leave until late March but the school already has a retired ExCel Award winner in the wings to temporarily fill her place.

Karen Rice Ward is the 12th ExCel Award winner from Larue County. The program has been honoring great teachers in the country since 2005.

Superintendent Sam Sanders says the ExCel program has raised the bar for education and encouraged high levels of achievement for LaRue teachers.