By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
In a single moment, with an icepack on her elbow and a reformed student at her side, Patricia Miller’s belief — that you can change the world one child at a time — was reinforced.
“One of my students had picked up an incredibly large rock and was prepared to hurl it. I stepped out and put my arms around him. He tried to kick me and we both rolled down a hill and I hit my elbow,” said Miller, former Las Cruces Public Schools director of technology.
It was after the fall, said Miller, that the 10-year-old student accepted her guidance.
“He’s leaning against me and he said ‘You know what? I don’t think I like the way my life is going. If I keep acting the way I’m acting, I’ll end up in jail. I didn’t want to hurt you,’” Miller said.
Miller never lost touch with the once wayward student. Rather than going to jail, she said, he ended up a successful tradesman. He left an impression on Miller as well.
“What he did,” said Miller, “was validated what I always believed to be true — that if you could help children, you were helping the community as a whole.”
The Fort Sumner school board voted 3-2 on June 27 to hire Patricia Miller as new school superintendent.
She succeeds Lecil Richards, who retired earlier this year.
“She had the qualities we were looking for in a superintendent,” said Nick Cortese, board president. “Her main focus is keep kids first. She has a knowledge of how schools work and quite a bit of experience in a larger district.”
Board members Ellen Vaughan and John Stallard, who did not vote for Miller, emphasized that their vote was not against Miller, but for another candidate.
Miller will be paid $77,500 per year and will receive 15 days of annual administrative leave. She is limited, however, by board policy, to a one-year contract. The new superintendent is faced with a sizable transition. She will go from serving a Las Cruces student population of 23,500 to serving approximately 350 students in Fort Sumner — but the change, Miller said, isn’t daunting, but exciting.
“Rural school districts have different needs than larger districts, but there are some benefits to working with a smaller community. As a general rule, you have a greater sense of community collaboration. I am now going to know the name of every child (in the district). I am so excited,” said Miller, the tone of her voice revealing the sentiment as genuine.
The avid reader of science fiction and mystery, former drama teacher, and award-winning grant writer said she is looking forward to touching more students like the 10-year-old rock hurler she influenced years ago.
“I thought by moving into administration, I could help teachers be better teachers and positively impact children that way,” Miller said.
Now, says the 45-year seasoned educator, “I can touch more classrooms because I can touch more teachers.”
The Fort Sumner school board also named longtime science teacher, Patty Scott, principal of Fort Sumner High School.