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Portsmouth’s Ashley Adamson named 2021 R.I. Teacher of Year

‘She just gets it,’ principal says of Hathaway School teacher

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PORTSMOUTH — Since school is being taught remotely due to COVID-19, surprising Ashley Adamson with the news that she had been selected the 2021 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year proved to be a little tricky.

Mrs. Adamson, a third-grade teacher at Hathaway School, was lured to the school Tuesday afternoon on the guise of a professional development session. But when she exited the east end of the building at about 2 p.m., flanked by her co-team teacher Victoria Travis and Principal Lisa Little, she was stunned by the turnout of people who greeted her — all wearing masks and armed with noise-makers.

“She is an incredible teacher — very well deserving of this, and she will really prove to serve Rhode Island in an excellent way. We are so excited; she’s ready for this journey,” said Mrs. Little. “She gets it. She gets kids, she gets parents. She’s got a co-teacher (Victoria Travis), and she gets her colleagues. And she loves it; she’s got that energy.”

As Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Adamson will work with the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) throughout the 2020-2021 academic year to support education statewide, including a special focus on educator recognition initiatives. She is also eligible to represent Rhode Island as the National Teacher of the Year.

“First the state; now we gotta go for the whole thing. Your time is not over!” exclaimed RIDE Deputy Commissioner Ana Riley, the former school superintendent in Portsmouth.

“We know educators are the backbone of our schools, and Ashley is an outstanding representative of the dedicated teachers who come to work each day to support Rhode Island students and their families, and that certainly has never been clearer than during our statewide effort to keep students learning during this public health crisis,” Ms. Riley said. “She strived daily to make her students feel safe and make their voices heard.” 

Mrs. Adamson also echoes the “message to remember your ‘why,’ a project that encourages educators to take time to remember why they’re in the profession,” she added.

Elizabeth Russillo, a science teacher at Smithfield High School and the 2020 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year, was on hand to honor her successor. 

“You are awe-inspiring,” she told Mrs. Adamson. “Education over the last few months has been flipped upside down. One thing I’m certain about though, is your ability to lead teachers through these uncharted waters. Ashley is going to have a multitude of opportunities in the next year that range from professional learning at Google in California, to having the honor to elevate other Rhode Island teachers. You’re gonna bring your dedication and passion that has been shown here in Portsmouth across the state of Rhode Island. I’m so happy to pass this torch to you, knowing that I will actually have the opportunity to work with and learn from you over the next year.”

‘Genuine love of teaching’

Mrs. Little said Mrs. Adamson excels at every faucet of the job, whether it be leading professional development activities, interacting with students, or communicating with parents.

“Her knowledge of children and how they learn, and her genuine love of teaching, are extraordinary,” she said.

She also shared comments from students, colleagues and parents. One pupil said Mrs. Adamson “changed my life. She challenged me with math and reading and makes me feel that I’m capable of achieving any goal that I set for myself.”

Ms. Travis said her fellow co-teacher always puts her best foot forward in hopes of putting a smile on everyone’s face. 

“She just always believes in the philosophy that students don’t have a limit,” she said. “She wants them to reach their best potential and she really instills that in the families and the students. She never stops, from morning to night. She just continues and she truly is an inspiration. I love working with her.”

Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy said he knew last year that Mrs. Adamson would have a “very good chance” of going far in the selection process for the honor. “Thank you for what you do every day. You’re going to be a great representative, both for Portsmouth and the State of Rhode Island.”

Speaking over the din of blaring car horns — a drive-by parking lot parade in her honor was just arriving — Mrs. Adamson thanked everyone for the kind words. 

“I’m shocked, honored and so excited to represent the State of Rhode Island and all of the amazing educators that we have. I will enthusiastically represent the state proudly,” she said.

A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Mrs. Adamson has been a teacher for 14 years. She has taught in Portsmouth since 2010, and at Hathaway since 2015. 

Among other leadership activities, she has served as an instructor for the RICAS Ramp Up Program, a pilot teacher for new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, a presenter on social and emotional learning for fellow teachers, a robotics coach, and a coach for middle school softball, soccer and basketball teams. 

In addition to serving as the 2019 Portsmouth Teacher of the Year, she earned an Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Learning (ECET) Award in 2018 and received Carter Spark Grants in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Praise from the governor

“This pandemic has brought out the best in so many Rhode Islanders, but especially our amazing teachers,” said Gina M. Raimondo, who could not attend the event. “Ashley embodies the best of all our educators — she is focused on her kids’ learning and well-being, she is constantly working to improve her teaching, and she gives generously of her time outside the classroom.”

“Rhode Island teachers are showing the rest of the country what they can do, and Ashley is a perfect example of dedication, perseverance, and commitment to fun in learning,” added Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green in a prepared statement. “Ashley will be an incredible asset to RIDE over the coming school year as we focus on finding new ways to recruit, support, and reward our educators for the amazing work they do.”

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