Alva Review-Courier -

Shaping our future

• One man's approach to life and learning


December 2, 2018

Photo provided

THE MILLERS – James Miller stands with his children and wife, who has since given birth to their youngest daughter.

At first glance, one may simply see a man with glasses, wearing khakis and a jacket embellished with a school mascot. One may draw the conclusion that he is either a coach of some sort or a really involved parent.

The smile he invariably wears might tell you he has it easy. He makes eye contact with all passers-by, meeting them with a cheerful greeting.

To some with a gloomier outlook on life, the sunny disposition could be construed as phony or even off-putting.

But to those who know him know there is nothing artificial about him; his smile is genuine, his greetings authentic. There is a depth to him that draws you in and keeps you hanging onto every word. Who is he?

His name is James Miller. He's not a coach (though he used to be), but is a really involved parent. In fact, he's not only a parent – the father of eight also cares for the well-being of about 70 other children. That care comes in the form of a school superintendent at Freedom.

Not your average administrator, Miller's out-of-the-box approach has the potential to place him in vulnerable situations, but it's his unique skill set that makes him an effective leader. His job demands not only working directly with others, but working well. His position requires a certain adeptness to establish working relationships inside both the school and community. These prerequisites suit him quite well because his life is centered around people.

Miller's take on education parallels that of his personal life. He believes in hard work, always taking things to the nth degree, as he likes to say. He speaks frequently of expectations. He knows as a parent and superintendent it's his job to keep the children safe, provide for their needs, all the while nurturing their growth and development, but he is a firm believer that the children have their own roles too. He acknowledges the fact that there will be situations where power struggles ensue, and when they do he knows he has to be ready to handle it effectively.

His approach? To get the child to think for himself and figure out on his own how to fix the issue at hand. The ultimate goal is to equip him with the tools to navigate through adverse life experiences and to teach the child responsibility.

"Kids will do what we expect of them when we give them the opportunity to do it," Miller says. "If you truly expect your kids to be the best and the brightest, here's a test: If you expect a student to bring a pencil to class, are your actions expecting them to bring a pencil? Do you have a pencil jar? If so, why? Don't you expect them to have a pencil?"

This is where it's easy to go wrong, he said. Sometimes when parents or teachers try to help, they subconsciously end up defeating their own expectations.

Empowering Kids

Miller also believes that exposing young ones to things they've never seen before is crucial; that life experience and getting outside of the proverbial comfort zone can best prepare kids for the real world.

"That is empowering kids," he said. "In the world today, kids are not empowered. They're told to just do what they're told. Just follow. Don't think."

Exposure to new things in the outside world gets more difficult as technology continues to evolve. The superintendent and father worries about cell phone usage and social media and just how dependent younger generations have become on their devices.

Things that used to garner attention and awe from students less than 20 years ago seem to have little effect on kids today. Miller said he remembers being huddled in the school auditorium to watch space shuttle launches.

"We didn't really even stop to watch the space probe land on Mars the other day. We always used to know when rockets were launched. I say all that to think about education; we're expected to prepare kids for adult life. But what is that going to be?"

Strong Core Values

The forward-thinker recognizes how many components are interlinked in both parenting and education, always striving to do what is best for the child and figuring out how to accomplish it. He says balance is key and if one is truly familiar with himself and his core values, he can fulfill his overall purpose in life. He said his balance comes from being a Christian first, a husband second, and a father third. He knows his roles as a son and as a school superintendent are important as well.

He stands firm in his convictions, and just like his belief in kids needing exposure to varieties of experiences, he believes Christians need experiences to exercise their faith, otherwise it never grows. He says mistakes and regrets can be turned into blessings to help others because those who are forgiven much, love much.

He credits his inner strength to God, and in almost-ironic fashion, the school mascot on his jacket is a symbol of strength: the eagle.


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