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New principal chosen for Shea

June 13, 2012

PAWTUCKET — An assistant principal at Warwick's Pilgrim High School, who is technologically savvy and a self-described “innovative administrator,” has been named the new principal of the Charles E. Shea Senior High School.
Donald B. Miller, currently the assistant principal of grades 9 and 11 at Pilgrim High School, was hired by the School Committee at Tuesday night's meeting. Miller, who has been working at Pilgrim for the last nine years, was the top finalist of a search committee following a lengthy process. He was interviewed by the School Committee during an executive session on Tuesday, and his appointment was later announced during the open session. He also appeared with his family and spoke at the meeting.
According to school officials, Miller's hire will take effect as of July 1 and he is expected to receive an annual salary of $118,283. The salary is similar to that of Christopher Savastano, the newly hired principal of William E. Tolman High School, which, like Shea, is also operating under a state-mandated transformation plan. Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke has said that both principals are being requested to work an additional 20 days a year as part of the schools' improvement plan and are being paid accordingly.
Miller, originally from Syracuse, New York and now living in Lincoln, first obtained a bachelor's degree in history from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, and then a teaching certificate in social studies from the State University of New York-Cortland.
He went on to earn a master's degree in physical education and exercise science from the University of Rhode Island and an administrative certification from Providence College. He is married to a teacher and the couple has three children.
Miller told The Times that the “central leadership” that he met with in Pawtucket, particularly Cylke and secondary school transformation officer Patricia DiCenso, had a lot to do with his wanting the principal's job at the more urban high school. “They had vision and the drive to succeed,” he stated, of the plan to improve Shea's consistently low graduation rate. “Plus, I'm a very competitive person and I look at this as a challenge and an opportunity.”
Miller added that while working under a transformation plan can be “scary and difficult,” he also thinks it is “an opportunity to make a difference.” he added, “I want to share some of the different ideas that I had for improvement at Pilgrim.”
Some of these ideas include his creation of Project RESPECT, a local non-profit organization based on the ideas of California's Challenge Day that uses one-day workshops to promote a culture of acceptance and an appreciation for the differences of others. He also instituted an After Prom Extravaganze, known as APE, that offered students a safe and fun post-prom experience on prom night. “I will absolutely have both of these at Shea,” Miller stated.
“One of my passions is personalization. Developing a culture of school and relationships between students and teachers,” Miller said. “Showing the students that they have someone they can trust...someone to rely on is key.” He added that in the nine years he has been at Pilgrim, which has a slightly larger student body than Shea's of about 1,200, he has seen the school's culture change “for the positive” and thinks the “level of respect has improved.”
Miller is also active and adept with technology and social media and says he realizes that technology is the medium that today's students are using to learn and communicate. He is a frequent user of Twitter and has a blog, and also recently founded “edchatri, an educational “chat room” for teachers and administrators that fosters an exchange of ideas on educational initiatives in Rhode Island. Each Sunday night at 8 p.m., people can join in on Twitter and take part in a moderated discussion about various topics having to do with teaching and learning that are taking place throughout the state. “Twitter, done right, allows for professional development,” Miller said.
Miller maintains that collaboration at all levels, from students and teachers right up to the central office leadership, is key to improving the educational climate. Other things that he thinks are important to Shea's transformation are “developing a school culture of connection and support...a safe environment, with rules and regulations in place to provide consistency.”
In other matters, the School Committee on Tuesday also approved the appointment of Edna Coia, who had been acting principal at the Varieur Elementary School, as the school's principal.
The school board additionally voted to approve a new one-year contract renewal for Sodexo to provide the food services for the school district. Also agreed to was an increase in school lunch prices that was mandated by a formula under the U.S. Department of Agriculture for schools that charge less than $2.51. The price of an elementary school lunch will rise by ten cents to a new price of $1.50 and a secondary school lunch will increase by fifteen cents to $1.65.


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