The Spirit of Giving
… remember to pray and rejoice each day! Some days (many days) are extremely difficult, and it is easy to become frustrated. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 & 17 are my reminders and fit perfectly in this job – ‘Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing!’ Spending time with the students creates rejoicing and, as a superintendent finds out quickly, the job itself requires unceasing prayer. – Dr. Melanie Miller
Twenty-three years ago, Dr. Melanie Miller began her journey in the field of education as an intern in Georgia with 3,000 students. Dr. Miller remembers this entrance into being an educator as a “baptism by fire.” However, this time in her life also brought a lot of valuable life lessons and many blessings. “In Atlanta, I also worked with mentally challenged adults. We taught them life skills, home skills, and job skills.” Later. Dr. Miller would go on to spend time in Mexico before moving back to Tennessee to teach high school Spanish. This is something she “loved doing for ten years.” As Dr. Miller continued to teach Spanish to students, she realized she wanted to be able to reach more students so she worked as a counselor for six years and found it was something that she really enjoyed as well. “Again, I continued to think that I should still try to reach more students. I became an assistant principal, moved, into a principal-ship for four years, and I am now entering my third year as Superintendent of Sweetwater City Schools.
When asked about the things currently going on in the Sweetwater City School System that she is excited about, Dr. Miller mentioned the hearts and giving spirit of her students, especially during this season of giving with Christmas barely over a week away, was especially touching. “ … although our free and reduced lunch rate has exceeded 83 percent, our students are so willing to be a part of activities and opportunities to help others. The students at each school help provide food, clothing, and other necessities to those in need. The administrators and teachers create an atmosphere of caring and giving to others … important qualities and characteristics that can never be measured on a test.” Dr. Miller is also happy that the focus of quality instruction continues to improve in her schools system. “As I visit classrooms, I see high quality instruction with student engagement along with a positive atmosphere which is always exciting.” Sweetwater City has also “implemented two system-wide programs at all four schools – Quantum Learning and Learning Focused.” Dr. Miller goes on to explain that by the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year all four schools will have these programs fully implemented. She states, “The culture at each school was already positive; however, the combination of focusing on behavior and instruction together is powerful. Additionally, Learning Focused is truly helping all teachers to really ensure that every lesson is a quality lesson. We have great administrators and teachers who consistently want to improve and see their students succeed.”
Along with a spirit of giving, the Sweetwater City System also functions as a family, “We are a family in this system. We rejoice together and sorrow together throughout many personal and professional events. I am blessed to be a small part of this wonderful system,” Dr. Miller shares when asked her favorite things about being superintendent in Sweetwater it is the people, the students, the teachers, the administrators, the families, and the community members that top her list. “I know the students and families personally, and it is always a blessing to be chatting with those families and hear how pleased they are with the school system.” Reaching out to the community around her is not just something that Dr. Melanie Miller practices in her own life, but an action that she encourages others to take as well. When asked if she had any advice to give to new superintendents Dr. Miller replied,
Reach out to the other Superintendents and to those at TOSS. The superintendents and the TOSS staff are phenomenal individuals who are so willing to help … A camaraderie exists that cannot even be explained to those outside of [this] circle. I would also tell [a new superintendent] to never hesitate to call any of their fellow superintendents as there is not one who wouldn’t offer assistance, advice, or just listen. I feel blessed to a part of this great group of professionals.
As all our thoughts begin turning to family, love, peace, and giving during this special time of year where Christmas lights glow bright, cookies are decorated, and live nativities seen in front of local churches it was inevitable that I would ask Dr. Miller about her own special traditions and Christmas’ past. It is no surprise that many of the sweet things she shared included quality family time. When asked if her family has any special Christmas traditions she stated, “ … each of my daughters take an angel tree child and goes shopping to provide Christmas presents for her particular child. They take so much time thinking about the best gifts and wanting to do so much for someone in need.” Dr. Miller spoke of this wonderful season mentioning dinners, caroling, parades, but it was the family time that she enjoyed the most. “I have always enjoyed participating and watching my daughters participate in the Christmas plays at church. I never get tired of watching children be part of a living nativity representing the birth of our Savior. Also, one of our sweetest times is on Christmas Eve when all my family is together and one of the girls gets the Bible and reads the Christmas story aloud.”
When asked about a favorite Christmas she could recall, Dr. Miller describes a Christmas when her girls were three and four years old,
My husband and I had sat on their beds Christmas Eve night talking about Santa coming in the night and the importance of them not getting up and possibly scaring Santa away if they awoke in the night and came downstairs. The four year old asked how would they know if he was gone, and I told them that they should look out the window and if they could not see daylight then they should not get up since Santa could come anytime during the night. The next morning, my husband and I were up early before daylight, and I heard the girls talking. They were discussing whether it was daylight or not. I slipped up to the bedroom where I could see them and they were sitting on the window seat looking out the window. The discussion went on a little while and then they decided they would go down the stairs quietly to see. The three year old looked so seriously at her sister and told her that they had to be very quiet. They came out of the bedroom holding hands and sat down at the top of the stairs and scooted down quietly one step at a time. After each step they would look at each other almost holding their breath. By the time they had landed at the bottom step day was breaking. The three year old screamed, ‘It’s daylight.’ They looked at each other and jumped up and ran into the living room squealing and looking at the presents.
Do you still believe in Santa? I asked.
“Of course … I have always told the girls that when they stop believing in Santa those special presents on Christmas morning will stop!”