Tours of Walla Walla schools give participants the super's view

Tours in the district throughout the school year pair participants with new Superintendent Mick Miller.

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WALLA WALLA -- Some things you may not know about Walla Walla Public Schools' new Superintendent Mick Miller:

He's a dedicated Washington State University Cougar. He was an English teacher, and also taught history and government before becoming an administrator. And he strongly believes every child can learn -- if the child is treated like an individual, and given the chance to learn at his or her own pace.

About 15 community members got better acquainted with Miller, his personal life and views toward education on Thursday during the first of four scheduled superintendent "Patron Tours."

Participants dedicated about four hours from 8 a.m. to noon to hear from Miller during a light breakfast at School District offices, then boarded a school bus for tours of Walla Walla High School and Edison Elementary. The tour finished with lunch back at the district office and a debriefing time with Miller.

Guests learned Miller's approach to education is knowing that relationships matter, and that the memory of a good or caring teacher or staff member will stay with a child for years.

"This is such a people business," he said about the education field.

He also passed on a life lesson that he learned from his father and has always taken to heart.

"Regardless of what people do, treat them with dignity and respect," Miller said.

At Wa-Hi, participants got tours of the campus with Principal Pete Peterson and Assistant Principals Kirk Jameson and Mindy Meyer, who split the 15 guests into groups of five to make separate classroom visits.

The Wa-Hi tour focused on highlights, but also some deficiencies at the school, which was built in the 1960s. Advances in technology, media and sciences have brought challenges to schools, with things as simple as needing more outlets for computers and other electronics.

"When you get inside, you realize for the most part, it's 1963," Peterson said.

But the tour also pointed out recent improvements, like the pruning of trees and shrubs along Yellowhawk Creek, which cuts through the school's grounds. The district also knocked down walls of two rooms in the upstairs part of the school's commons, opening up room for more students to eat during the lunch hour, and cutting the need for three separate lunches each day. The school now has two longer lunches with room for about 700 students inside.

Tour participants included sheriff's candidate John Turner, College Place Public Schools Superintendent Tim Payne, Norrie Gregoire with the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center, and Damien Sinnott with the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce. Many of the guests had children or relatives in the schools, or had children who had graduated.

The last half of the tour showed what the future of education in Walla Walla may look like with a visit to Edison Elementary. The older 1930s school was demolished and rebuilt to open for the 2009-10 school year. Principal Josh Wolcott, in his first year at the school, spoke of the many benefits but also some challenges of having a school that is currently serving just over 500 children -- including about 100 kindergartners.

During lunch, Miller sought feedback from the guests. Sinnott, whose son attends kindergarten at Sharpstein Elementary, said while the obvious hint of the tour was to help get Wa-Hi more on par with Edison facilities, he questioned whether a true vision had emerged for improving the high school.

Miller said he appreciated the comment, and that it might be time to develop a clearer vision for Wa-Hi's facilities, and one that the district could fully support before seeking input from the public.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.



FOR YOUR INFO

Superintendent Patron Tours will be held regularly throughout the school year. The tours are a chance for Superintendent Mick Miller, in his first year with the district, to get to know area stakeholders while offering some insights into the city's schools. It is primarily a chance to hear what the public has to say, while getting better acquainted.

Tours run about 8 a.m. to noon and include breakfast and lunch with Miller. The Oct. 14 tour will include visits to Lincoln Alternative High School and Sharpstein Elementary. Tours also are scheduled for Feb. 3 and April 21 and will each focus on two different district schools. To participate, contact the district's communications director, Mark Higgins, at 526-6716 or mhiggins@wwps.org.

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