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FHHS teacher chosen Southwest Regional Teacher of the Year

Forest Hills social studies teacher Jennifer Whitley is the Region 6 Teacher of the Year. She was surprised with the award in the media center at FHHS. She is pictured with her husband Chad.

Jennifer Whitley, a civics and world history teacher at Forest Hills High School, has been chosen as the 2014 Southwest Regional Teacher of the Year.

Whitley was called to the school’s media center and surprised by the announcement Monday (Nov. 24, 2014). FHHS staff, students, various school and elected officials, and her family were in attendance for the presentation.

Whitley said she was humbled that the Region 6 team considered her the best teacher in this region for this year.

“I’m excited and overwhelmed,” she said. “There are so many great educators out there. I’m really excited that Forest Hills is going to be showcased in an even larger arena.”

Whitley said she was surprised by the announcement. “There’s always that competitive edge that makes you want to win, but I never thought it would be a reality. You always want to do the best you can when you’re representing the school. You want to win, but when it happens it seems so surreal. This is very exciting.”

It came as no surprise, however, to her fellow educators, who described her as a rigorous instructor who runs an engaging classroom, treats her students as if they were her own and uses her experiences to empower her students and prepare them for life.

Whitley’s students describe her as always happy, a teacher who will work past the regular school day in order to help a student, a teacher who makes unforgettable projects and someone who knows how to do things differently in a non-stressful environment, a real mom away from home, while parents say she keeps her students motivated, and has a heart for their children.

During the ceremony, FHHS Principal Dr. Kevin Plue said Whitley can teach any child, no matter what level or background.

“That is a special teacher who can teach kids who are going to any four-year university, but also can teach a student who struggles every day to get out of bed and come to school,” Plue said. “She teaches all those students equally well. I’m very proud to have her on the staff.”

UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis congratulated Whitley. “You embody the very best that we have to offer, not just in Union County and North Carolina, but in the United States. For someone to dedicate their life to children, there doesn’t get any higher calling than that.”

Whitley said in front of fellow educators and students that this recognition is not just about her. “This is a reflection of the total teamwork at Forest Hills High School,” she said. “It’s not just me. It’s really each and every one of you because if you’re not successful, then we haven’t done our jobs and that’s why we come to work every day. It’s about the students.”

Whitley explained the motivation behind her coming to school every day. “Even though they may not all be excited about learning that day, it’s just the anticipation of what I can bring to them and how maybe I can help shape their lives a little more each morning.”

As the Regional Teacher of the Year, Whitley will serve as an ambassador for the Southwest Region and have the opportunity to network with other regional teachers of the year throughout the state.

“These are bonding opportunities for them to collaborate and find ways to help improve education across the state,” said the 2014-15 North Carolina Teacher of the Year James E. Ford, who made the announcement.

Regional Education Facilitator Dr. Karol McNeil-Horton said now Whitley will compete against the state’s other regional winners. “The announcement will be made in April. If she wins that, she will become the state teacher of the year, and move on to compete nationally.”

Whitley will represent Region Six which includes Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Stanly and Union counties.

This is the third time in recent history that a UCPS teacher has won the Southwest Regional title.

Former Marvin Ridge High School science teacher David Dahari was the 2010 Southwest Regional Teacher of the Year and former Porter Ridge High School Spanish teacher Jessica Garner was the 2009 Regional Teacher of the Year. Garner went on to win the 2009-10 AT&T North Carolina Teacher of the Year.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Nov 24, 2014 by Melissa Howell

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