“I’ve lived in Walker County for 31 years,” said Willerson, whose wife and two children also work in local schools. “My whole family is in education.”
Despite never having served in public office, Willerson feels compelled to try his hand in the political arena.
“This is a new venture for me. I’ve never been in politics before in my life.”
As a man with a variety of professional experiences, Willerson feels he has the credentials to best relate to the needs of the students and parents in Walker County.
“Aside from educational issues, I think one of the things I bring to the table as far as relating to the people is I’ve been a blue-collar worker. I know what it’s like to get laid off like the people at BlueBird...I’ve been a manager in the private sector for several years. I spent ten years in the military, both Navy and Air Force. And I spent 20 years in education as a school psychologist. So when it comes to relating to the people in the county, I think that’s important,” said Willerson.
Willerson has studied at and received degrees from numerous institutions across the country, including the University of Maryland, Central Michigan University, St. John’s University and the University of Tennessee.
“In Walker County, we have a very good system. ... I’ve been in education for a long time, and in my opinion …. we’ve got some of the finest teachers and administrators in this country,” he said.
Nonetheless, there will always be room for improvement, and Willerson finds himself concerned about a few trends that have been emerging in education nationwide.
One of these trends that worries Willerson is the rising popularity of charter schools. Charter schools are small, privately-run schools that receive public money for operational costs yet are exempt from some of the rules and regulations by which public schools must abide.
“I’m not against charter schools,” said Willerson, “but I am concerned as to the effect it’s going to have on our current public school situation. Because what you’re going to end up with is a two-tiered educational system that is essentially in some sense supported by the government...How are we going to be able to fund both of these?”
“I think our brightest and best students in some sense may be taken out of the public schools. And I think we’re looking at future issues in Walker County.”
Changing tides in education?
“I’m a firm believer in public education,” said Willerson. And he believes that public education in general is on the decline, and that methods of instruction need to be carefully evaluated.
If elected, Willerson has identified perhaps his biggest challenge as preconceived notions toward teaching methods.
“I see as an obstacle here individuals who are unwilling to investigate new ideas or avenues of learning, or those who wish to eliminate older ideas or methods of learning that work just because the perception is antiquated.”
“Just because ideas are new or old does not mean that they will not or did not work,” he said. “I think it takes a combination.”
Should he be elected to the school board, Willerson anticipates difficult funding decisions in the years ahead.
Though he would hate to have to make a choice to cut any athletics or artistic programs, he admits that, to him, the priorities of education would have to be elsewhere.
“I’m a firm believer in athletics,” he said. “I think they help to develop the whole child. However, I don’t think that can take precedent over your maths and sciences and what a student needs to learn in order to survive in this economy.”
“I think the arts...those are part of the types of things that help develop a well-rounded person, and I think it’s unfortunate that many of those things have had to drop in the past...simply because of funding issues.
“Educational issues are emotional issues. But regardless of the emotion, we have to deal with the facts of the situation in order to make progress.”
Close-up with Dennis Willerson
Family: Married to Janet P. Willerson, a second-grade teacher at Rossville Elementary. Two children: Jared, a teacher and coach at Gordon Lee High School, and LeeAnn, a school guidance counselor in Signal Mountain; seven grandchildren and one Jack Russell terrier.
Clubs/organizations: First Baptist Church, Chickamauga; National Association of School Psychologists; Tennessee Association of School Psychologists; Tennessee Association for Administrators in Special Education.
Favorite books: The Bible, “Beyond Opinion” by Ravi Zacharias, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, “The Grand Weaver” by Ravi Zacharias.
Favorite movies: “True Grit,” “The Rookie,” “The Hustler,” “The Color of Money.”
Favorite quotes: “What a person does for himself dies when he dies, but what a person does for others lives on for eternity.”
“Your life is not determined by what you want, but by the choices you make.”
“You never fail until you stop trying.”
Hobbies: Pool, ping pong, golf, building, collecting (anything)
What is your philosophy or words to live by? Trust God, work hard, be genuine, and be considerate of others; everything else will fall into place.
How can voters contact you? 423-476-0620 (work); email@example.com