SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Classes don’t start until tomorrow, but the Sioux Falls School District kicked off the new year today by honoring its longest-tenured teacher.

The breakfast for staff at Whittier Middle School has been on the calendar for months, but for special education teacher Sue Bills the recognition that came with it was a shock.

“It was a big surprise. I thought we were just having a breakfast and everybody was just getting together before school started and yeah, couldn’t believe it,” Whittier special education teacher Sue Bills said.

As the Sioux Falls Public Schools Education Foundation marks its 15th year, staff decided to seek out the most experienced teacher in the district, and the search led to Bills.

“She’s starting her 44th year in special education at Whittier, it was like you couldn’t have written a better script,” Education Foundation Executive Director Allison Struck said.

Allison Struck is the Education Foundation Executive Director.

“Four decades in any career is pretty much unheard of now, but to do 44 years in education is phenomenal,” Struck said.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been here for 44 years. Every year is a new start, I love the kids, I wouldn’t do any other job,” Bills said.

Bills is originally from Worthington, Minnesota, attended college at Augustana, and has seen more than four decades worth of changes here at Whittier.

“1980 the school had, I would say over a thousand students in it and it was crowded. It was a junior high school at that time, and eventually it changed to a middle school, we got rid of the big, tall ninth graders,” Bills said.

It’s the kids that keep Bills coming back year after year.

“I think the joy of seeing the kids finally figure things out. I teach reading too, and when they finally can get it, they’ll jump up or they’ll give me a hug, they’ll say I want to call my mom and so we stop and do that,” Bills said.

As for how long Sue will continue to teach…

“I don’t know. This might be my last, but you never know. 50? I don’t know,” Bills said.

The Education Foundation plans to host events throughout the school year to celebrate its 15th year.