WATAUGA — Watauga County Schools named the Rookie Teacher of the Year and the Teacher of the Year on May 14.

Benjamin Brown, an agriculture teacher at Mabel and Cove Creek schools, was named Watauga County Schools Rookie Teacher of the Year. Mabel and Parkway School music teacher Erin Ellington was named Watauga County Schools district-wide Teacher of the Year in a surprise — and appropriately socially distanced — visit to her home.

The newest addition to WCS’ yearly teacher recognitions — Rookie Teacher of the Year — is awarded to a teacher in his or her first year of teaching full time. Candidates are nominated by principals, assistant principals, central office directors and first-year teacher mentors for their outstanding work ethic, dedication and skill.

Tierra Stark, Benjamin Brown

Watauga County Schools CTE Director Tierra Stark congratulates Benjamin Brown for his award, as she oversees the WCS Career and Technical Education Program that brought on Brown last year as its first middle school level agriculture teacher.

Brown, a West Jefferson native, graduated from Appalachian State University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in career and technical education. Before beginning his teaching career, Brown worked in the Upward Bound program and developed extensive experience in the field he’d go on to teach, working in various capacities in the local farm industry.

Mabel School Principal Elin Reuben said Brown had quickly become an important part of her school’s staff and a favorite of his students.

“Mr. Brown possesses all of the qualities of an outstanding first-year teacher,” Reuben said. “He has a hands-on and interactive approach with the students and a willingness to go above and beyond with the Mabel faculty. He has instantly become a valued member of the community.”

Ellington was presented the award on her front porch by Superintendent Scott Elliott, and was joined by her family, neighbors, WCS Central Services staff and outgoing Teacher of the Year Mitchell Wright who cheered Ellington on from her front yard.

Each year, Watauga County Schools celebrates its Teacher of the Year winner with a surprise ceremony. Thanks to the coordination of her family, Ellington became the first teacher of the year to be awarded at her home rather than in a classroom or school assembly.

Erin Ellington

Erin Ellington opens her door and is told she’s been named WCS Teacher of the Year by Superintendent Scott Elliott.

Mabel School Principal Elin Reuben said Ellington was a student-focused educator who is completely dedicated to the success of her students.

“Erin Ellington is an exceptional educator who is student centered, inspires her fellow teachers and embodies what it means to be an educator,” Reuben said.

Parkway School Principal Patty Buckner said Ellington creates fun and engaging classes in which every student is successful regardless of their musical ability.

“Whether she is teaching a class, working with her chorus, or directing our school musical, Mrs. Ellington gives everything she has to the task at hand,” Buckner said. “Her unique ability to deliver rich content in such a fun, creative way is the reason why she is Watauga County’s Teacher of the Year.”

Elliott said he was proud to call teachers like Ellington his colleagues.

“Our Watauga County Schools teachers make up a truly remarkable group of educators,” Elliott said. “Every day, Mrs. Ellington’s positive attitude, skill and ability as a teacher has a tremendous impact on her students and colleagues alike. It is the highest honor to be selected by your peers to represent them as a teacher of the year and Mrs. Ellington’s passion and dedication to her students has well and truly earned her that high honor.”

Watauga County Schools Teachers of the Year are selected by their peers at each school. The Watauga County Schools District-wide Teacher of the Year is chosen through a process that includes interviews, unannounced teacher observations in classrooms, and a review of a written statement of teaching philosophy prepared by each candidate.

This year’s selection committee included Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton, last year’s Teacher of the year Mitchell Wright, School Board Vice Chair Brenda Reese, WCS Testing and Accountability Director Wayne Eberle and outgoing Rookie Teacher of the Year Kari Riddle.

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