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Rodney Robinson

In a surprise Oval Office meeting, President Donald Trump on Monday congratulated Richmond Public Schools teacher Rodney Robinson, who last week was named the National Teacher of the Year.

Trump, bucking a presidential tradition that goes back to 1952, did not present Robinson with his award as the country’s best teacher, but he did host the 19-year teaching veteran inside the Oval Office. The president told Robinson that he was glad the teacher was giving students a second chance.

“I really thought this was a productive day for my students and my profession,” said Robinson, who teaches at Virgie Binford Education Center, Richmond’s juvenile detention center.

The visit with Trump was not originally on the agenda for Robinson and the other top teachers who traveled to Washington for the annual celebration.

“This entire day was an exciting surprise,” said Kelly Harper, a District of Columbia Public Schools teacher and one of four finalists for the award Robinson won.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos presented Robinson with the award in a ceremony before the Oval Office visit. Politico reported Monday morning that Trump’s schedule listed him as having lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, who also attended the Oval Office meeting, and hosting the Baylor University women’s basketball team to celebrate the Lady Bears’ recent national championship.

The White House ceremony was closed to the media.

“President Trump and I believe in the power of redemption,” DeVos said to Robinson and the other state teachers of the year during the ceremony honoring Robinson, according to her prepared remarks. “Your students are fortunate to have a teacher like you, Rodney. They, and all students, need more of all the great teachers here.”

She added: “Thank you for your dedication to the success of your students. They’re better for it, and our nation is better for it.”

Trump attended last year’s National Teacher of the Year ceremony when Mandy Manning, who teaches English to refugees and immigrants in Washington state, won the award.

Robinson is the first teacher from Richmond and the third Virginia teacher ever to be named the country’s best. Jason Kamras, superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, won the award in 2005 when he taught in Washington, D.C.

“Today we were basking in the honor of being celebrated by the president of the United States,” Robinson said Monday afternoon. “We can talk policy and things like that at another date, but today was strictly a celebration of us.”

Robinson was also recognized Monday by Gov. Ralph Northam as the governor announced a new education initiative.

“It’s a place where there are children that need a second chance and he’s there promoting equity across Virginia, and now he’s going to take that message to the rest of the country,” Northam said.

Robinson will return to the classroom for a few weeks before taking a yearlong sabbatical, in which he will travel across the country and the world to promote education.

At his first stop Monday at the White House, Robinson told Trump that his students need more resources.

“It was a really pleasant experience,” Robinson said.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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