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School system honors teacher of the year

Mills River Elementary School students celebrate Teacher of the Year Ryan Mitchell. Mills River Elementary School students celebrate Teacher of the Year Ryan Mitchell.

Ryan Mitchell, a 2nd grade teacher Mills River Elementary, was named Henderson County Public Schools’ 2021 Teacher of the Year on Thursday at the award luncheon sponsored by AdventHealth and Boyd Chevrolet at Jeter Mountain Farm.

Mitchell joined the HCPS Family in 2012 when he began teaching at Sugarloaf Elementary, and earned the designation as Sugarloaf’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. Three years into teaching 2nd grade at Mills River, Mitchell is once again representing his school as its 2021 Teacher of the Year, and now has the additional honor of representing the district.

Traditionally, HCPS Teachers of the Year winners receive a commemorative plaque, an all-expense paid trip to a state education conference of their choice, a Teacher of the Year class ring by Jostens, and $1,000 from a sponsor. Beginning last year, that $1,000 cash award is generously gifted by the Henderson County Education Foundation. And for the first time ever, the HCPS Teacher of the Year was surprised with $4,500 towards a vacation getaway of his choice, gifted by Boyd Chevrolet.

“Ryan is probably one of the most positive, energetic people I’ve ever met in my life,” says Assistant Principal Mandi Fletcher. “He carries that over into his teaching as well. He has the classroom that everyone wants to be in,” Fletcher says. “It’s not surprising to walk by and see Ryan with a cowboy hat on teaching students how to ‘round up’ details in their reading.”

Whether it’s in in Mitchell’s classroom, on a bus, in the halls, or in staff leadership meetings, Mitchell is the school cheerleader who finds the positives and encourages his teammates, Fletcher says. He always has a smile and an encouraging word as he walks through the halls, and is an active co-chair on the school’s Lighthouse Team charged with cultivating the leadership culture that has made Mills River Elementary a successful Leader in Me school.

Mitchell knows the importance of building relationships with students, and makes a point of getting to know every student in his circle. In the mornings, that means knowing the name and grade of every single child on his bus route, so Mitchell can wish them a personalized “good day in class” when they hop off his bus. And during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it meant making extra time to sustain connections with his students virtually.

“When everything was the hardest, Ryan was meeting with every single kid, one-on-one or in a small group, every day,” says Fletcher.

The phrase, “Every Child, Every Day,” guides Mitchell’s teaching style. “I need to be whatever each child needs, day in and day out,” says Mitchell. “‘Every Child, Every Day,’ doesn’t just refer to their academic needs, but also their social-emotional and personal needs. I am their advocate. I am a teacher for them but also because of them. So they will always be my number one priority.”

Following Thursday’s reception at Jeter Mountain Farm, Mitchell returned to Mills River Elementary, where he was paraded through a car rider line full of students returning the beaming smiles he always gives them. Streamers and handmade signs accompanied excited cheers, and staff celebrated Mitchell with an ice cream treat.

Like all 23 nominees from each elementary, middle and high school, Mitchell was nominated by his peers for the designation of his school’s Teacher of the Year. Following extensive interviews with a selection committee comprised of an administrator, parent, board member and the previous teacher of the year, Mitchell was selected to represent Henderson County Public Schools as its 2021 Teacher of the Year.