Alumni Update: Sarita Whitmire-Skeith

Sarita Whitmire-Skeith: Thinking Outside the Box to Help Students Succeed. By Kathleen Kohler.
Posted on 10/01/2019
Senior picture of Sarita Whitmire-Skeith.

Sarita Whitmire-Skeith: Thinking Outside the Box to Help Students Succeed

 by Kathleen Kohler

While Sarita Whitmire-Skeith graduated from Sultan High School (SHS), she didn’t grow up in the Sky Valley. During the second semester of her junior year her family moved here from Hereford, Texas known as the “Beef Capital of the World,” where her mom and stepdad both worked as meat inspectors. Her older brother, Charles, four-years her senior, chose to stay in Texas with their father when her family relocated to Sultan.

Transitioning from a farm-ranch community to a suburb of the greater Seattle area wasn’t easy. Fortunately, Renee Talmadge, an assistant in the high school’s counseling office befriended the new girl, and helped her through that challenging period. “She was amazing,” Whitmire-Skeith says. “She was my go-to person, and like a second mom.”

A sports enPicture of Sarita Whitmire Skeith with her diploma from Sultan High School. thusiast Whitmire-Skeith kept up her grades while she ran track, and played volleyball and basketball for the Turks. A biology class in Texas and Dave Vail’s English class at SHS proved her favorite subjects, while she admits she tolerated the rest of her academic studies. Fascinated with biology, she considered entering the medical field. “At one point I wanted to go into sports medicine. In fact, that’s what I went to college for.”

After Graduating SHS in 1992, her first year of college she attended Wenatchee Community College on a Sports Medicine Scholarship. She then transferred to Eastern Oregon University (EOU) in Le Grande, Oregon, where she minored in sports medicine. As a female with a sports medicine background she soon learned she only had two options, to be an athletic trainer at a school or to work in a clinic. With no desire to practice in a clinic and unsure about a career as an athletic trainer in a high school, she explored other opportunities.

The university hosted a track program for students with disabilities so she began working with the Special Olympics program. “I loved that. And I found there were not a whole lot of activities for students with disabilities regarding recreation.”

Inspired by her work with Special Olympics and the students she met, she thought, “I want to get my master’s and learn more about students with disabilities.”

She graduated from EOU in 1996, and in 1998 received her Master’s of Education Degree with a special-education emphasis from Idaho’s Boise State University (BSU). And who do you think attended both graduations to celebrate her achievement? If you guessed Renee Talmadge, SHS’s former office assistant, you’d be right. Through the years the two have continued their friendship.

Earning her master’s, she transitioned from student to employee at Boise State. Through a college grant, supplied by the Albertson Foundation, she worked as a research/office assistant helping Dr. Robert Barr and Dr. William Parrett grow Idaho’s National Board program at BSU. During her time there she helped develop professional teaching standards for the Board, and assisted students with earning their National Board Certification.

She also collaborated on books focused on students at risk with Dr. Barr and Dr. Parrett. As their research assistant she traveled to the East Coast to study alternative education programs. With her vast experience in alternative and special educations she says, “We’re not a one-size-fits all when it comes to learning.”

In 2,000 when she first applied for a position with the Sultan School District, she says her mentor at Boise State, Dr. Barr, sat her down for a conversation. “He asked me, ‘Why do you want to go into education? What do you want to accomplish?” Reflecting on her mentor’s questions she answered. “One of my whys is I want to help pave the path for students to be successful.”

Since 2000 she has taught P.E. at Gold Bar Elementary and SHS, served as a volleyball coach, ASB Advisor, Director of Human Resources for Sultan School District, Principal of Alternative Programs, and Director of Sky Valley Options before becoming the SHS Principal.

 Photo provided by Kathleen Kohler. Sarita Whitmire Skeith, principal of Sultan High School, honors students at the 2019 Senior Tea.

Both a solid background in special education and research in alternative education have influenced the work she does today. Meeting students from a variety of backgrounds she understands the need to establish a learning program to benefit the individual. “That’s thinking outside the box,” she says. “It’s pushing them to know the road is not always going to be easy, but they can overcome whatever obstacle is in front of them.

Whitmire-Skeith’s commitment to education has not gone unnoticed. This June, she received the Trademark Women of Distinction Honor for 2019. Selected from candidates across the country, the prestigious award is presented to women who stand out as leaders in their field, who set a high professional standard, and who strive for excellence.

When Trademark phoned to inform her of the award, Whitmire-Skeith laughed, “Are you sure you have the right person?” The woman asked if she had a staff member by the name of Kathy Teel. “I’m still in shock,” she says. “I was extremely surprised, but very honored that a first-year employee [Kathy Teel] would go that extra mile to nominate a first-year principal.” A beautiful plaque now hangs in her office.

Integrity, humility, and compassion, are only a few of the attributes Trademark used to describe our beloved high school principal.

Dedicated to her position, she considers the most rewarding part of her job the phone calls, Facebook messages, and emails she receives a couple years after students graduate. Like a recent message from a student that read: “Thank you for never giving up on me. You are the tough love and discipline I needed in my life. Thank you.”

And when graduation roles around in June, watching students walk across the stage to receive their diploma is one more reward for the time she invested in their lives and education. Committed to her students, she says, “I love to teach. I love to be around kids. The most exciting thing is to watch them be successful. Watching that light go on when they accomplish their goal. And letting them know everyone has a purpose. And it’s helping students find that purpose.”

Sarita and her family take in a Chicago Blackhawks hockey game at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.When she’s not helping students, time with her family tops the list of activities she enjoys most. Married nearly two decades, she and her husband have an eighteen-year-old son and a twelve-year-old daughter. Active in their church, their family attends First Baptist of Monroe. They also enjoy camping and traveling. “I love the heat. Hawaii is my favorite place to be.” She favors Maui, but if she can’t make it to the islands she says, “I take our travel trailer and if there’s a pool or a nice fresh lake, I’m beside it soaking up the sun.”

As parents send students off to start a new school year she encourages people, “Come get to know me, and get to know our school. If you have questions, come talk to us and be a partner. Jump on board. We’re all working, doing our best to educate our kids so they are prepared for the real world.”