Lawrence Toppman

Are a million bucks in Northwest teacher’s future?

Northwest School of the Arts’ Corey Mitchell, who won a Tony last year, has now been nominated for an international prize by the Varkey Foundation.
Northwest School of the Arts’ Corey Mitchell, who won a Tony last year, has now been nominated for an international prize by the Varkey Foundation. GARY O'BRIEN - gobrien@charlotte

Northwest School of the Arts teacher Corey Mitchell is in line to win $1 million in 2017. The odds are long. But they were even longer in 2015, when he won the first Excellence in Theatre Education Award at the Tonys.

Mitchell has been short-listed for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize, which drew more than 20,000 nominations and applications from 179 countries. The list of 50 semifinalists was announced Wednesday at www.globalteacherprize.org and will be winnowed to 10 finalists in February. One winner will receive $100,000 a year for a decade, with the provision that he or she remain a classroom teacher for five years. How big a deal is this? Pope Francis announced last year’s winner.

Mitchell answered a September invitation from the Foundation that required 11 essays, submitting those two days before they were due. After hearing he made the cut, he said, “It’s exciting to be in the field with so many amazing teachers. One of them is teaching dance in (Kenya) and trying to put toilets in his school. It’s hard to top that.”

Since winning the Tony, Mitchell has spread the word that small towns need culture, too. Programs such as Northwest’s may flourish in cities, but “if you drive 25 miles outside a city – or 50 miles outside Charlotte, to where I grew up in Statesville – it’s hard to get funding and exposure for really good arts programs. I would use my winnings to help spread (culture) beyond the cities.”

The U.K.-based foundation, run by philanthropist-entrepreneur Sunny Varkey, gave its 2016 award to Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub and its 2015 prize to American Nancie Atwell. Mitchell is one of five U.S. teachers on the 2017 short list, which covers 37 countries; the other four come from the Bronx, N.Y.; Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.; and Alabaster, Ala.

All 10 finalists will fly to Dubai for the ceremony at the Global Education and Skills Forum in March, when the victor will be announced live. That person will serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation, attending public events and speaking in public forums about improving the prestige of the teaching profession.

Mitchell gave a shout-out to the students and staff at Northwest – “I am representing something way bigger than me at this point” – and the school has indeed had a remarkable year.

Alumnae Abby Corrigan and Eva Noblezada are touring in “Fun Home” and preparing for Broadway’s “Miss Saigon,” respectively, and theater arts teacher Bonnie Fraker recently won the N.C. Theatre Conference’s K-12 Theatre Arts Educator Award. It goes to a current or former teacher who has demonstrated classroom excellence and overseen superior productions while serving as a leader among peers.

Fraker has been associate producer of three Broadway shows (including “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”), produced more than 300 nationally televised commercials, been a 25-year member of the Directors Guild of America and produced many shows at Northwest that have won local or regional recognition.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

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