Marlene Holton always knew she’d enter the education field.
“I was a peer tutor. It just came naturally to me,” she said.
Holton was selected as the Cumberland County Schools Supervisor of the Year, selected by her peers, and the Upper Cumberland CORE Region Supervisor of the Year.
Holton grew up in Cumberland County, attending North Cumberland Elementary until the fourth grade and then moving to South Cumberland Elementary and graduating from Cumberland County High School.
She attended Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. She worked as a nanny for a special needs family while working on her degree.
“I felt like I had talents for patience and understanding for students with special needs,” she said. “I always knew special education would be part of my plan, but I didn’t know how that would work.”
She began her education career in Knox County teaching math in an inclusion classroom. Inclusion classrooms bring together students with and without learning differences to support student development.
She continued her education, earning a master’s degree in instructional leadership in 2010 and her education specialist degree in curriculum and instruction in 2011.
She later served as an assistant principal in the school system and focused on special education students within the system.
“I had 400 students. I became engrossed in special education law and being an advocate for students and families,” Holton said. “That became my passion.”
Holton and her family began making their way back toward the Plateau, with Holton working in Roane County and then taking a special education teaching position at Stone Elementary four years ago.
Last summer, the special education supervisor position was advertised and Holton decided it was time in her career to apply.
“I didn’t think I would have this opportunity this soon,” Holton said. “But I’m thankful for it.”
As the department supervisor, Holton has worked to be in the schools as much as possible.
“I want to hear from the families and the teachers,” she said. “I’m a team player, so when there’s a need, I always want to be helpful.”
“I think people realize I love the kids,” she said.
Holton likes to bring a new perspective to her role, looking at the reasons behind situations or difficulties and looking at both sides of situations.
“That’s my biggest strength, to be able to stay calm in heated situations and look at both sides of the matter,” she said.
The year has posed many challenges, she said.
“I want all children to have equal services and be able to be the best version of themselves,” Holton said. She wants the schools to provide options and advocate for students.
She hopes to expand community advocacy and education next year and work closely with The Arc of Cumberland County, a nonprofit organization providing support and services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
“Something we’re lacking is support for the parents and families,” Holton said. “There’s so many hoops to jump through and finding the services. Everyone you talk to has a different perspective.”
At the core of Holton’s duties is advocating for the students and their specific needs.
“That’s why I’m here,” she said. “I love the children and want what’s best for them. I hope my work represents my love and advocacy for the kids.”
As part of her application for state recognition, Holton is working a whole child approach to student instructional differentiation. This concept considers the best methods to help a student learn and grow. She will be looking at best practices for implementing those methods.
“When you implement one of those out-of-the-box ideas and you see a student be successful — that’s the reason I’m here,” she said.
Throughout her career, Holton’s family has been a source of support.
“I have a very large family. They are committed to helping me be successful,” she said. “They’re a huge support network for me, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
She and husband, Josh, were happy to return to Cumberland County, their “forever home,” with daughter Madison, a student at Homestead Elementary. Josh has a flooring business in the community.