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Jean Gray Litterer, MA’68, EdS’71, PhD’81: Influential Nashville Educator

May. 14, 2020, 3:58 PM

Jean Gray Litterer, a longtime Nashville-area education leader who started her academic career in a one-room East Tennessee schoolhouse, died Jan. 21. She was 91.

Litterer was born in 1928 in Lone Mountain, about 50 miles northeast of Knoxville, and started attending school in the one-room schoolhouse at Ball Creek. She went on to earn a bachelor of science from the University of Tennessee, a master of arts and an education specialist degree from George Peabody College for Teachers, and a doctor of philosophy from Peabody after it merged with Vanderbilt.

Litterer’s career in education spanned 58 years, including many as a classroom teacher at Nashville’s John Overton High School. In 1979 she became principal of Hillsboro High School, where she became best known for the growth and many accomplishments the school achieved in multiple fields during her tenure. Under her leadership Hillsboro was named a United States Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. The library at Hillsboro is named in her honor.

In 1999, Litterer retired from Hillsboro after 47 years with the Nashville school system—the fourth-longest tenure of any district employee at that time—and became interim director of the University School of Nashville, adjacent to the Vanderbilt campus. She then went on to serve as assistant director of Davidson Academy, followed by an engagement with the Tennessee Department of Education. She was the first woman to serve on the board of the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

But her commitment to public education in Nashville did not end there. In 2007, Litterer joined a group of educators who committed to helping troubled schools around the state, with Litterer focused on Stratford and Pearl Cohn high schools in Nashville.

Litterer was preceded in death by her husband, William Litterer III. She is survived by a daughter; brother; granddaughter, Mary Britt Nichols Murphy, BS’11, EMBA’19; a great-granddaughter; three step-grandchildren, including Heather Nichols Starnes, BS’92, MBA’99; and five step-great-grandchildren.

THE TENNESSEAN

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