With a bird’s eye view high in the sky, Mills Elementary School Principal Mike Rio got a special “thank you” for 12 years of principal service from almost 1,200 students Wednesday morning.
In neat rows, led by teachers and staff, the students broke out into a well-rehearsed dance routine to “Moving On Up,” the theme song from The Jeffersons. The students and staff kept the routine secret from Rio for more than a month.
“Our shock is that not one of them told him about it,” assistant principal Debbie Riley said.
The students, after performing their routine, shouted “Rio” over and over again to honor their principal.
Manatee County is definitely home.
Mike Rio, Mills Elementary School principal
During an interview earlier with the Bradenton Herald in his office, Rio was called out to the bus loop on his walkie-talkie, saying there was something out there he just had to see. Although he knew something was up when he got the call, he said he had no idea of the scope of the surprise. He was escorted into a lift decorated with blue and orange balloons, so he’d be able to see all his students at once.
A Manatee County product, Rio has been the one and only principal at Mills Elementary School since it opened in 2004. When school ends on Thursday, he’ll transition to a district-level position, serving as one of two executive directors of elementary schools. Freedom Principal Jim Mennes will step into Rio’s place.
A Manatee High graduate, Rio worked as the Palmetto Elementary School principal before opening Mills. Before that, he also served as the assistant principal at Palmetto Elementary. He’s also worked and coached at a number of schools, including Daughtrey Elementary, Oneco Elementary and Myakka City Elementary.
“I’ve never really thought about going anywhere else,” Rio said.
Rio said he is eager for the opportunity to work with more schools and students in his new job, but said it was very difficult to leave Mills Elementary. Rio said he wants to help change the long-standing lack of trust between those at the school level and those at the district level, because those at the district level are away from the front lines with the action.
“My hope is that I’ll be able to bridge that gap,” he said.