SuEllen Rice Whitson

SuEllen Whitson
2000 Distinguished in Education

SuEllen Whitson's earliest memories have to do with acquiring an education. Her father was going to college part-time while holding down a full-time job. She remembers his determination, sacrifices, and most of all, her wanting to help him. At heart, she feels she has always been a teacher, and for her talents in the educational realm, Whitson has been recognized as the 1999-2000 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Upon graduation from East Tennessee State University in 1980 with a bachelor's in education, Whitson's dream of becoming a teacher became a reality. She landed a "real" teaching position in a multicultural area of Dekalb County, Ga.

The mid-80s brought Whitson back to East Tennessee to accept a position in Unicoi County schools. She wanted to include all children into her classroom in some way, so she accepted the challenge to teach a regular curriculum to blind children. With eagerness, Whitson began to "see" into the world of a blind child. She obtained a master's in education at ETSU in the field of special education in 1990.

As the new school year began in 1993, Whitson once again encountered an educational milestone. She was asked to design, develop, and implement a special needs preschool for Unicoi County. She believes one of the greatest contributions in her career was the realization of the Unicoi County Preschool for Special Needs Children, and the experience of toddlers becoming self-confident, skillful, and self-directed.

In 1995, Whitson's life began to take many new directions professionally. She re-entered the elementary sector of education at Woodland Elementary in Johnson City. She developed an innovative way to teach expressive writing to students. The results of this approach was very effective, and the entire school, as well as other schools within Johnson City, adopted the curriculum. Other counties invited her to share her strategies at in-services and workshops. Also, she collaborated with other staff members to initiate an intermediate program for 3rd and 4th grade students. Whitson researched a multitude of multi-age students in a looping setting and helped develop a premiere program for Johnson City. As a pilot teacher of "Everyday Math," her classroom was visited often by educators throughout the surrounding area.

Concerned about violence in the middle and high schools, Whitson desired to enter the middle school mission field to join others in promoting a positive and safe climate for adolescents, so she transferred to Indian Trail Middle School. With a mission to ensure academic excellence while promoting a climate of mutual respect, Whitson began researching ways to create a positive climate where students wanted to be.

Today when Whitson visits her father, they compare their success stories. The common bond in both stories is their willingness to be lifelong learners. Whitson and her husband, Tom, live in Unicoi with their daughter Whitney Suzanne.