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Two organizations honored Jan Witt's 46 years of working to make lives better this week.

Witt, a longtime Hamilton High School Special Education educator, received the Montana Council of Exceptional Children’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement award as well as the Council Administrators for Special Education’s Distinguished Service Award on March 1.

The Montana Council of Exceptional Children recognized Witt as an “outstanding individual who has made continued and sustained contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities.”

Mandy Hickle of the MCEC said they were extremely impressed that Witt has dedicated all 46 years of her teaching career to creating opportunities for some of the most difficult and challenged learning individuals.

The Montana Council Administrators for Special Education’s 2018 Distinguished Service Award recognized her contribution to the education of exceptional youth and for the lifelong impact she has made on so many young lives.

Jan Witt is retiring this year after 46 years of service to special needs students. She worked with youth in Wahpeton, North Dakota, for the first 34 years of her career before working at Hamilton Middle and High Schools for the last 12 years. She spent 25 summers teaching English to migrant workers’ children and 25 summers teaching citizenship classes to refugees seeking US citizenship.

Always humble and pursuing the background rather than the spotlight, Witt said she feels undeserving of the awards.

“I was very much surprised and very honored,” Witt said. “This is because of the wonderful Hamilton School District, support staff, everybody involved in making this.”

Eric Larson, director of Student Services at Hamilton, attended the awards.

“It was awesome, she was really humble and didn’t know she was going to receive them,” he said. “What she continually does for kids is something that is awful special. She is going to be missed as she retires this year.”

Larson said Witt is “more than deserving and continues to be an amazing advocate and resource for many students.”

“Jan’s passion, positive energy, and wonderful laugh are contagious to everyone around her,” Larson said. “The relationships that she develops with students, colleagues and families are truly special and her commitment to students with unique needs is second to none.”

HHS Principal Dan Kimzey called Witt a “tireless advocate for special needs children.”

“Jan consistently goes above and beyond to provide opportunities for her high-needs students to develop meaningful life skills and forge bonds with the various assets in the community which will lead to a richer and more productive adult life for our graduates,” Kimzey said. “Jan’s lifeskills program focuses on exposing those highest-needs kids to meaningful and rewarding work that fits their individual skillsets, from growing produce in the department’s greenhouse for use in our school lunch program to recycling the school’s waste products to operating a professional latte/espresso bar.”

Kimzey praised Witt for her ability to forge relationships with community agencies that work with high-needs adults.

“Her focus on adult transitions is truly exemplary and our lifeskills graduates leave Hamilton High School with an immediately implementable plan for adult living and working,” Kimzey said.

Michelle Fitchett teaches Special Education at Hamilton Middle School and works with Witt.

“Teaching special education is not Jan’s job but her absolute passion,” Fitchett said. “There is nothing typical about the way she approaches her calling. With her never-ending energy, she sets high standards for each of her students and supports them in actively seeking purpose in their lives. She has a gift for seeing the talents and capabilities of each student and in developing their proficiencies to the fullest.”

Fitchett said Witt has created the most effective and powerful transition program she has ever seen - matching students with job internships in the school and community.

“She has established a system where her students have ownership of their ‘individualized education program” (IEP) and become strong advocates for themselves,” Fitchett said. “[Her students] develop skills, connections and the confidence to pursue their dreams in the same way as their non-exceptional peers. There are no excuses in Jan’s sphere of influence; every person has absolute dignity and endless possibility.”

Fitchett praised Witt’s exceptionalities class where typically functioning high school students work hand-in-hand with exceptional students for high school credit.

“Students in her exceptionalities class learn empathy, patience, and respect for exceptional learners,” Fitchett said. “Many of these students are currently studying to be special educators or are already working in the field. The influence of this program is changing the culture of not only our school, but our entire community.”