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Mills River's Ryan Mitchell named regional Teacher of the Year

Under the ruse of a Monday morning pep rally for a canned food drive, district administrators gathered the Mills River Elementary school community to surprise second grade teacher Ryan Mitchell with the news that he is the 2022 North Carolina Regional Teacher of the Year for the Western Region.

The jig was up as soon as guest speakers Eugenia Floyd, 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year, and Susanna Cerrato, 2021 Western Region Teacher of the Year, were introduced — and then the confetti flew. Students popped up from their seats with handmade signs, teachers pulled out streamers they’d been hiding, and the school body started a conga-line style of high-fives and hugs to congratulate Mitchell.

Honored in May as Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS)’ 2021 Teacher of the Year, Mitchell advanced to and won the regional competition among his 14 peers representing the 14 public school districts in the Western Region.

“I feel very thankful just to be here in Henderson County and at Mills River Elementary,” Mitchell said. “And to be quite honest, just to be on the nomination ballot here for my school – where I’m surrounded by amazing teachers – that was enough.” He said, “I had no idea. Usually I’m not speechless, but I feel pretty speechless right now.”

“He’s going to represent our region really well,” said Cerrato, who served on the interview team for the 2022 Western Region Teacher of the Year, in her role as the Western Region’s current representative. “He brings energy to all he does, and none of it is performance. That enthusiasm seems to be contagious.”

Schools Superintendent John Bryant agreed, adding: “There is not a better representative of our profession than Ryan. He’s the real deal, in every way. You want every child to have a teacher like Ryan.”

Floyd said Mitchell’s energy and commitment to improving his craft as an educator is what has his students hooked on the learning process. “One of the things that I really enjoyed reading about Mr. Mitchell (in his nomination form) was that they wouldn’t mind being at school on the weekends with Mr. Mitchell,” she said. “He’s an example of what we need in our classrooms to keep our kids engaged.”

As a Western Region representative, Mitchell is now one of nine educators who will work as a cohort throughout 2022 to support and improve public education in North Carolina.

“He’s going to be an excellent member of the regional team,” said Cerrato. Floyd added, “Our regional teams have really been working to be a collaborative unit to support the 1.5 million children of North Carolina.”

Each of the nine regional representatives will also have the chance to represent educators statewide as the 2022 North Carolina Teacher of the Year. If selected, Mitchell will spend the 2022-2023 school year traveling across North Carolina as an ambassador for the teaching profession.

Mitchell joined the school system 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 second grade at Mills River, Mitchell once again represented his school as its 2021 Teacher of the Year, then earned the district designation in May, followed by today’s regional award.