Wister Teacher named Special Education Merit Award Winner

Known to her students as Mrs. C, Kari Clingan is the teacher who is willing to help anyone she can, even if it means taking on guardianship of a student.

Clingan has been the Special Education Director and High School Special Education teacher at Wister Public schools for more than five years. And she is now the 2020 winner of the Jonathan Tinney Special Education Educator Merit Award presented by the Professional Oklahoma Educators Foundation.

The statewide honor was presented at the foundation’s Excellence in Education Awards banquet on April 30 in Oklahoma City.

The award is named in memory of the late Jonathan Michael Tinney, infant son of Mike and Ginger Tinney. Jonathan was born with Down syndrome in 1989.  Even though he was an infant, he received services from a couple of very special teachers of Norman Public Schools. This award is underwritten by the Michael Tinney family to honor the tremendous dedication and very important work of special educators. 

“I am not just a teacher. I am a mentor. I am a counselor. I am an ear to listen. I am a shoulder to cry on,” Clingan said. “I have had guardianship of students signed over to me because the parent had warrants, no water and no electric. The student felt comfortable enough and loved me enough to ask to live with me rather than go into the foster system.

“I love my students. I have been on the poor side without the cool things that other kids had. I have had to work hard physically and mentally to get where I am today. Since I have been through many things that the kids in my district go through and endure, I can empathize and help them because of my experiences.”

And Clingan’s former students love her.

“The definition of teacher means a person who teaches,” said former student Makayla Hubbard. “That is exactly what Kari does. Not only does she teach special education she teaches love, acceptance and much more.”

Assistant high school principal and director of special programs Genia Harber says Clingan is a true blessing to Wister Public Schools. “She gives of herself personally and is willing to go above and beyond to reach any student who has a need,” Harber said.

Before serving at Wister, Clingan worked at Keota Schools and Ki Bois Community Action Head Start in Talihina. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Mid America Christian University and her Associate of Arts degree from Carl Albert State College. Clingan is a member of Professional Oklahoma Educators and the Arkansas-Oklahoma Barrel Racing Association where she is a board member. She is also secretary of the Heavener Round-Up Club.

The Excellence in Education Awards Banquet recognizes and rewards Oklahoma educators who demonstrate a commitment to their students in teaching strength of character and excellence in the school or classroom. Award nominees must go through a rigorous application and evaluation process.

According to POE Foundation Executive Director Ginger Tinney, “These awards serve as an encouragement to not only Oklahoma educators, but also to the many businesses, organizations, and communities that have a stake in the character building and intellectual development of the children who will shape our state in the future.” 


About POE Foundation: The Professional Oklahoma Educators Foundation is a nonprofit that serves as the charitable arm of Professional Oklahoma Educators. The Foundation serves as a support organization for POE and provides valuable educational training and services to teachers and students across the state. The POE Foundation is dedicated to promoting a world-class education for all Oklahoma students. 

About POE: Professional Oklahoma Educators is the fastest-growing education association in Oklahoma. POE is a non-union, nonpartisan professional association for all school personnel. POE members receive professional liability insurance, legal services, and lobbying representation. It is our commitment to these valuable services that make POE a positive and unmatched option for education employees in today’s teaching environment.

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