Unsung Hero: Debra Mitchell, Ruffing Montessori School

Mitchell managed several construction projects and set a standard for sustainability, which helped Ruffing Montessori School become the first LEED certified building in their city.

Oct 2, 2020



The Will J. Hancock Unsung Hero Award is given to business officers who have made extraordinary contributions to their schools and exemplify exceptional integrity, knowledge and motivation. At the end of each school year, new Unsung Heroes receive their award from their head of school, often at a significant school occasion such as a board meeting or an all-school ceremony. What makes these Unsung Heroes so special? The highlights below come straight from their colleagues' nominations.

See a full list of the 2020 recipients. Find additional profiles on NetAssets.org.

Title: Director of Finance and Operations
School: Ruffing Montessori School, Cleveland, Ohio
Years in Position: 14
Years in an independent school business office: 14

Superpower: Sustainability pro: Michell was instrumental in establishing Ruffing as one of the first “green” schools in Ohio, guiding the completion of a $6 million renovation project that helped the school obtain LEED certification. She also oversaw the completion of a $500K construction project, the school’s Storm Water Learning Lab, which is a collaboration with the city of Cleveland Heights and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “The concept of reuse, recycle and repurpose is forever [a guiding force] in Deb's decisions,” said Head of School Kathie Freer.

Financial prowess: Mitchell developed an annual operating budget model and long-range budget model that enabled the school to complete two major renovations; maintain and improve buildings and grounds; hire new personnel; and invest in staff professional development and salaries in a financially sustainable manner.

Active contributor: “Between preparing statements, managing business staff, preparing budgets and updating the finance committee, Debra still finds time to be an active leader in several industry associations including NBOA, the Ohio Association of Independent Schools and the Cleveland Council of Independent Schools,” said Board Treasurer Hugh Slater. "She conscientiously prepares information that helps guide administrators and board members to make better decisions. I am certain that her acumen transfers palpably to these aforementioned associations.”

Community leader: Mitchell helped establish the school’s relationship with a local restaurant that trains formerly incarcerated adults in the areas of hospitality and culinary arts. She oversees donations to the institute, including clothing, furniture, teaching supplies and playground equipment. Mitchell also oversees outreach efforts to coordinate donations with other Montessori schools and local organizations in Cleveland.

Invaluable presence: “While she certainly works most closely with our Board Treasurer and me, none of us could do our work without her,” said Freer. “Regardless of the school’s leadership (Deb has worked for three heads of school to date), she is the person who [is most often] defined as indispensable.”

See a full list of the 2020 recipients and read more about the Will J. Hancock Unsung Hero Award.

Nominations for the NBOA Award for Professional Achievement in Business and Operations and the Jeffrey Shields Award for Innovation Excellence in School Business Operations — both new this year — are open through October 23, 2020. 



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