Donnie E. WhitsonDonnie E. Whitson
East Hills Middle School
Greenwood School District
Greenwood, Arkansas

Here is Donnie Whitson’s list of the most important things schools can do: “relationship building, acknowledging student achievement, addressing social and emotional needs, ensuring a safe environment, and creating a caring, comfortable culture.” Whitson has been principal of East Hills Middle School since its opening 10 years ago. Within four years, he had led the site to become a top-achieving middle school in its state. Situated in a small town, East Hills counts 778 students in grades 5 through 7. Whitson’s accomplishments include initiating a classroom model that doesn’t isolate students who have special needs. Instead they participate in a regular classroom with a dual-certified teacher and full-time instructional assistant. Two years of data show that students with and without special needs excel in this setting. The change has reduced the stigma of special education for students. Whitson also has successfully integrated into regular classrooms students who previously were in alternative settings due to behavior problems. Whitson eliminated the alternative placements by providing support in classrooms from school administrators, counseling staff, and school-based mental health staff members. To involve parents in his school, Whitson invites fathers to volunteer as “Watchdog Dads.” This program ensures male role models in classrooms daily. Whitson earned a B.S. from Arkansas Tech University and an M.Ed. from the University of Arkansas.