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Oklahoma Education Association’s ESP of the Year

Meet James Suttles

PHOTOS: Doug Folks

In the fall of 1985, James Suttles didn’t stray far from home when he started college at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. Suttles had attended Lawton schools all his life starting with Almor West Elementary School, Central Middle School, and Eisenhower High School where he excelled in football, basketball and baseball.

At Cameron, he immediately joined the Army ROTC program to begin a career as a U.S. Ranger.

“I went through the first semester of Ranger training,” Suttles has said in news reports. “But things change.”

Suttles became a single parent in 1986 and dropped out of Cameron. He worked as a dishwasher at a local restaurant while his mother, who operated a daycare center, took care of his son, James Jr.

Tragically, in 1989, James Jr. died in a car accident. Grief-stricken, Suttles decided to dedicate his life to helping children and young adults in the name of his son.

“Because I lost my child, I want to save as many kids as I can save in my lifetime,” Suttles has said.

Unwavering in his loyalty to Lawton and promise to his son, Suttles has served as a custodian and coach in Lawton Public Schools for 28 years. His decades of service and dedication were recently acknowledged by the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) when they named him the 2017 Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year.

“James Suttles is a unique individual in that he is a head coach for junior high basketball and track and field teams as well as a building custodian,” says OEA President Alicia Priest. “His energy and desire to help kids transcends his job classification and is something every ESP strives to achieve.”

PHOTOS: Doug Folks

Suttles has been based for the last 10 years at Tomlinson Middle School. He is currently the school’s varsity boys’ basketball and track coach. He also contributes time and energy as an Amateur Athletic Union coach for girls and boys’ basketball.

“All I have to do is mention his name in my English classes to one of his players, and any poor behavior usually improves immediately,” says Arlene Cudd, a teacher at Tomlinson and president of the Professional Educators’ Association of Lawton. “He sets a fine example for everyone because of his work ethic.”

In partnership with OEA, Suttles was also named the first Oklahoma ESP of the Year by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. The award is a response to an OEA New Business Item passed during the 2016 OEA Delegate Assembly and the result of a collaboration between Priest and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

“OEA’s Education Support Professional award would serve as a great model for a state or national ESP of the Year Award,” Priest says. “The honor recognizes outstanding contributions to public education by a support professional.”

The Oklahoma nomination criteria considers the nominee’s contribution to his or her job, professional association and community. The winner is chosen by a committee of ESP volunteers.

As OEA’s ESP of the Year, Suttles has been nominated to represent Oklahoma at the 2018 NEA ESP Conference March 23-25 at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Hotel in Florida. Each year, one ESP receives the NEA ESP of the Year Award in recognition of their outstanding contribution to their schools, communities, and profession. The NEA ESP of the Year serves as an ambassador for ESPs across the nation promoting the value of ESP members at national and state conferences. The annual award is NEA's highest for an ESP.

“James is able to interact with students in different ways, helping the students individually while also supporting the education process,” Priest says.



ESP Video Animation

Don't miss the video Education Support Professionals: Meeting the Needs of the Whole Student. Through the eyes of Sofi, a middle school student, see how Education Support Professionals (ESP) make a difference in the lives of their students, both in and out of the classroom

NEA ESP Conference

Click here to learn more about the NEA ESP Conference, NEA's premiere national conference tailored to provide professional development for education support professionals annually.