Mills River Elementary sports teacher of the year Farmer, new principal Auten


Pete Zamplas –

The reigning Henderson County Public Schools Teacher of the Year is Meghan Beckett Farmer of Mills River Elementary, which has a new principal in Chad Auten as among school administrative changes for the new academic year.

Farmer has taught for seven years. She instructed first grade in Mills River for the past three years. Her award is for the new 2013-14 academic year that starts this month. She received it and $1,000 for her professional advancement in May, at a luncheon in Hendersonville Country Club sponsored by SunTrust Bank.

Her new supervisor, Auten, replaces former Hendersonville High athletic director Todd Murphy as principal of Mills River in the West Henderson sub-district. Auten served the last six years as Edneyville Elementary principal. That job now belongs to Donna Brackett.

There are two more new elementary principals in that same North Henderson sub-district. Peggy Marshall takes over from Sallie Carr at Sugarloaf, after serving as Rugby Middle assistant principal. Lynn Metcalf is now principal of Clear Creek Elementary.

She was athletic director of West Henderson, and an assistant principal along with Auten’s wife Shannon Auten. In turn, West’s A.D. post is now filled by its quick star quarterback of two decades ago, Luke Manuel, and by current football head coach Paul Whitaker.

Manuel, 36, was head coach at North Henderson. He was Hendersonville Middle A.D.-assistant principal, for the past five years. “It’s really exciting,” he said of returning to the West nest. “I’m looking forward to working with people who have mentored and coached me, in high school. They made me who I am today.” He said the “Falcon Way” is about “character on and off the field.” He and wife Beth have a son Truitt, 8, and daughter Sawyer, 4.

Manuel is proud that West has topped its 3-A/2-A conference for the last 11 years, in the Wells Fargo Cup for how far various sports teams advance in playoffs. He said “we have a good overall sports program.”

In a major promotion, six-year East Henderson principal Matt Gruebmeyer is the school district’s director of Title I and homeless Education. He replaces Dr. Anita Owenby. East’s new principal is Scott Rhodes. He built up North Henderson High’s baseball program. He was assistant principal there, then Flat Rock Middle principal for four years. Brackett was an East assistant principal.

Auten: Spurs Reading

Chad and Shannon Auten’s children are Patrick, age four, and two-year-old Kaitlyn. As an elementary principal, Chad Auten, 38, is a father figure to about 530 students. He learns each child’s name. He said it is critical to “get to know the kids, and develop a rapport with their families. Let the kids know you love them, that you’re going to take good care of them.” He learns their hobbies, and extra-curricular activities such as music, sports or cheerleading.

He compliments their academic strengths, such as in reading. “Reading is the most important skill we teach,” as a springboard to other learning. “We give a pat on the back, reinforcing a love of reading” and avid reading at home. He noted children enjoy reading most by starting with a narrow niche, a fun topic such as athletics or cars, then expanding interests.

Auten grew up in Peoria, Ill., a key vaudeville circuit stop. It spawned the national test-market phrase “will it play in Peoria?” Auten is confident that, as in Edneyville, promoting reading will “play” well in Mills River. He also values importance of computers from PCs to iPads, from six years of teaching technology education at Apple Valley Middle.

Meghan Farmer: Relates, Encourages

Auten praised award-winning teacher Meghan Farmer, for “dedication and energy that’s contagious with the kids.”

Farmer said that “your being excited to teach it gets them excited to learn it.” Further, for “hands-on learning, I get down on the floor, to their level.” She builds a bond. She told her students about her “baby’s name, the shows I watch on TV, what I like to do. I write about those things. I let them into my life.”

That prompts them to open up about their interests. Then she better customizes lessons in small groups, and challenges students to explore interests beyond basic curriculum. “I know their hobbies, what is fascinating to them. I match my instruction to their interests.” And the pupils contribute. A boy related farming and a girl pottery, from their ancestors, to go with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Big Woods on pioneer life. “They ate it up. So, I extended that lesson.”

The Appalachian State alumnus graduated in 2001 from West Henderson, where she cheered and enjoyed musicals. “I wanted teachers’ approval, and rise to their expectations,” she recalled. “As a teacher, I set expectations very high. I say ‘this is what I’m expecting. And I know you can do it.’ The cheerleader in me comes out.”

She liked drama as “fun and hands-on,” appreciating teacher Mary Davis’ style and personal attention. “She allowed us to have friendships in her class, work with each other, encouraged us to encourage others. She was the only teacher (I recall) that asked me about my life … When I didn’t feel like I had a friend in the world, I still remember how much that meant to me that she took the time to notice I was sad and ask me about it … I loved the class so much because I loved the teacher. I hope my students feel loved by the relationship that I try to establish with them.”

Nick and Meghan Farmer’s son Xander is age two. In summers, Meghan also tutors her niece Aurora Briggs, 4. This has “definitely given me huge insight and understanding about the development of kids in my class. I can spot strengths/weaknesses right away. It inspires me even more to understand the interests of each of them. Since that is how my own child and niece learn best, at home.”

She reads daily to Xander and develops preschool skills pertaining to “colors, animals, counting and tons and tons of vocabulary. He sits in my lap, and tries to say what flash card’s picture is. His interest is trucks, anything with wheels. So for color identification, I ask which one is red like a fire truck, or yellow like a school bus, or green like a tractor. He totally understands his colors now, and can show me the exact marker/crayon. With counting, we count his little match box cars.”

She reads a harder book to Aurora each day, gets her to script, and films her to make YouTube tutorial clips. “She loves it. This gives me tons of ideas for the classroom, such as for I-movies and writing activities.”

Meghan Beckett Farmer volunteers in mentoring college education interns. She blogs for educators worldwide, sharing teaching tactics.

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