Peeples named Distinguished Chair in Education at WT


By Chip Chandler

Dr. Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, will return to alma mater West Texas A&M University as its new Dr. John G. O’Brien Distinguished Chair in Education.

Peeples will join WT’s Department of Education on Sept. 1.

The O’Brien Distinguished Chair in Education was set up in 2008 by members of the O’Brien family to attract a nationally recruited instructor who possesses a strong theoretical and applied background in educational research.

As the Distinguished Chair, Peeples will collaborate with area school administration, faculty and community members to identify problems of educational practice in rural schools. She also will facilitate scholarly research by WT faculty members and doctoral candidates designed to produce regionally responsive, research-based solutions to the challenges facing rural schools and communities, all of which will benefit both the WT education program and area educators, in line with the University’s generational plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

“I didn't know about this position or even that it existed until after I graduated from Harvard,” Peeples said. “There's an expectation, as you leave the Doctor of Education Leadership program, that you'll be a systems-level leader of some kind when you graduate. But I wasn't convinced that a superintendency or say, a role in policy or philanthropy, was the best fit for me. What I did know is that I wanted to somehow stay connected to teaching and students because that's the center of my heart.

“This role, as a professor of practice, combines all of that but lets me add in what I've learned about adult development, policy, and strategic leadership from focused study at Harvard's Business School, Graduate School of Education, and the Kennedy School of Government,” she continued. “Three years of doctoral work that included residencies at both TED-Ed and the Council of Chief State School Officers helped to deepen my understanding of how sectors can work together to create a more just and equitable outcome for everyone.”

Dr. Eddie Henderson, dean of WT’s College of Education and Social Sciences, said Peeples’ hiring is “an outstanding accomplishment.”

“Dr. Peeples is a nationally recognized educator, author and scholar, and we are honored that she will join our outstanding faculty to help accomplish the vision the O’Brien family had when they established the Distinguished Chair,” Henderson said.

WT President Dr. Walter V. Wendler echoed Henderson’s welcome.

“Dr. Peeples will bring the kind of academic rigor we need to continue to grow WT into a regional research university, as well as having a real impact on how students are taught in rural schools all around the Panhandle,” Wendler said.

Peeples said she is committed to working with regional educators for the benefit of students around the region.

“To find the perfect position in my own backyard thrills me and makes me incredibly grateful,” Peeples said. “I cannot wait to dive in with my fellow educators — both on our incredibly respected faculty and among our talented, hardworking students — and address the real issues facing educators and students around our region.”

Endowed chairs provide the University a valuable tool in recruiting and retaining exceptional faculty. Funds from the endowment allow WT to reward scholarly excellence and encourage research while enhancing program growth and development.

Peeples took a circuitous route to the classroom, working as a disc jockey, pet sitter and journalist before returning to WT, where she earned her Texas teacher certification in 2003 through WT’s PACE program. Peeples taught at Horace Mann Middle School and Palo Duro High School in Amarillo. She earned a master of education degree from the University of Texas at Arlington before earning a doctorate in education from Harvard University in May.

John G. O’Brien was a prominent area oilman who ran Nabob Production, founded by his father in the late 1920s, until his death in 2012. A generous philanthropist, he made significant contributions to education through the Amarillo Area Foundation, the ACE Scholarship Program and the John and Mary O’Brien Foundation for Academic Excellence.

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