Robin Mills, a nationally board certified special education teacher at Washington Irving Elementary School, has been selected as the 2017-2018 Edmond Teacher of the Year. Superintendent Bret Towne made the announcement April 20 during the district’s Celebration of Excellence produced and hosted by the Edmond Public Schools Foundation.
“To watch Robin Mills engage with her students is to witness love in action,” said Towne. “People are often moved to tears when they visit her classroom and observe her interaction with students. Some days her classroom can resemble a pediatric medical unit, yet despite the immense challenges of caring for students with such a variety of disabilities, including some with life-threatening illnesses, she works tirelessly to ensure that every student receives a meaningful education. I am in awe of her passion for and commitment to her students.”
Mills has been in her current position for 20 years. She was inspired to enter the field of special education because her brother John was born with special needs.
“My involvement with my brother and his challenges has driven and inspired me to give my students the best opportunity to be productive and feel valued,” she wrote in her teacher portfolio-a requirement for all teacher of the year finalists. “I love teaching Edmond’s most significantly challenged and helping others to see the possibilities in the most difficult of circumstances.”
Special Services Director Nancy Goosen said Mills is an innovative problem solver who never gives up on her students.
“Others might view a student’s circumstances and say, ‘It’s not possible,’ but Robin’s response is always, ‘let’s find a way to make it happen.’ She collaborates with all of the professionals involved with our students to foster a multidisciplinary approach to learning so that they can achieve successful outcomes in communication, socialization, academic and cognitive skills.”
Several years ago, Mills undertook the enormous task of starting a musical program for her students to give them the opportunity to be on stage. The first one lasted just three minutes. Today, the program is a major production complete with ornate hand-sewn costumes that is performed in front of the whole school and visiting dignitaries.
“The reality is that the life span of my students is short,” Mills writes in her portfolio. “I did not realize the impact of these performances until I started attending the funerals of my students who had been cheered while on the stage at Washington Irving. The magnitude of those few minutes on stage is powerful, the laughter is cherished and the memories coveted.”
In her letter of recommendation for Mills, Lisa Lawter, Project Coordinator of the Oklahoma Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project, wrote that Mills is “the best special education teacher in the state.”
“The children she works with are unique-some have rare syndromes, life threatening medical conditions as well as physical limitations,” said Lawter. “Robin takes these issues as a challenge whereby she spends hours talking to parents, asking questions of therapists, doctors, speech pathologists and conducting her own research to gather the most information she can to build an educational plan to meet the needs of each child.”
Mills was chosen by the district’s professional development committee following a comprehensive process that involved interviews as well as submission of a portfolio, a letter of recommendation and a video showcasing her teaching style and philosophy. The other finalists for EPS Teacher of the Year were Eric Dabney from Central Middle School, Wes Self from Heartland Middle School, Anissa Angier from John Ross Elementary School, and Jody Webber from Cimarron Middle School.
“The Edmond Public Schools Foundation is honored to produce the annual Celebration of Excellence to recognize the achievements of these outstanding educators,” said Foundation Executive Director Lori Dickinson Black. “The site teachers and finalists are reflective of the passionate, dedicated educators who fill our classrooms.”
As EPS’ Teacher of the Year, Mills will now compete in the state Teacher of the Year competition facilitated by the Oklahoma Department of Education. The state Teacher of the Year will be announced in September.