For nearly four decades, Sandy Smith was a fixture in Sequim schools.
The teacher died Dec. 17, at age 61.
Smith, who ended her career as a teacher at the Sequim Alternative School, was named Secondary Educator of the Year in 2008 by the Washington Alternative Learning Association.
Smith started as a sixth-grade English teacher at Sequim Middle School in 1971.
"She was an incredible person," said Annette Hanson, Sequim School District's resource coordinator. "(She was) one of my all time heroes: truly a brilliant, gifted and caring person. What a role model for students and staff."
Much of her work was with students who, for a variety of reasons, struggled with schoolwork.
Patra Boots, principal at Sequim Community School, recalls Smith missing just one day in 38 years of education.
"I recall a day when it was snowing and I had to call Sandy and make her go home," Boots said when she presented Smith with the WALA honor last year.
"Sandy is one of those rare teachers who follows up on her students long after they leave the public school system," Boots said.
For all her accomplishments, Smith said her work has been easy.
"We have high-ranking, clever students," she said last March. "I've had the pleasure of having three generations of them."
Smith started her career in the Sultan School District at Sultan High School, teaching English, French, speech and special education for a school year before taking a position in Sequim.
From 1971-1975, she taught classes at the middle school before taking the special education position at SMS from 1975-1990. From 1990-1997, she was a work experience coordinator, history and English instructor and special education teacher at Sequim High School, then she returned to the middle school for five years to run the school's Title I program, which helps economically disadvantaged students meet educational goals.
She initiated Project Paper, a citywide business paper recycling program that was run for eight years by Sequim special education students, and she was instrumental in the development of Snap, an ongoing program for the developmentally disabled.
She was described as a pioneer in the integration of technology into learning and teaching and would refurbish computers and send them home with her students.
She was a pioneer in other ways. For almost 40 years she lived in a cabin adjacent to Olympic National Forest, using solar power and other alternative energy sources because she was miles from the nearest power line.
From 1999 to her retirement in 2008, Smith worked at the Sequim Community School's alternative high school, teaching environmental science and geography. She was also the school's Career Choices teacher and work experience coordinator.
Smith was known across the school district for her grant-writing skills and was published in several medical journals, including Journal of the American Medical Association, Remedial and Special Education, Annals of Dyslexia and Neuropsychologia.
She loved the outdoors and had hiked 400 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. At the time of her death, she was newsletter editor for the Admiralty Audubon chapter.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in French and Spanish from Seattle Pacific University and her Ph.D. in the genetics of learning disabilities from The Union Institute in Cincinnati.
In 2007, Smith was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
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