Rick Mills takes over as Manatee schools superintendent

Herald Staff WritersMarch 20, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Rick Mills was sworn in Wednesday as the new superintendent for Manatee County schools saying he values the opportunity to lead the district after a career change, from the military to education, about a dozen years ago.

"I really value the decision I made," Mills said after a brief swearing-in ceremony at school district headquarters. "It was a good choice."

Mills, a former top official with the Minneapolis school system, replaces Tim McGonegal, who resigned in September after he revealed a $3.4 million deficit in the district's general fund, which auditors later determined was the result of mismanagement and other miscues. David Gayler had been serving as interim superintendent since last fall.

The school board voted in February to hire Mills, after a national search.

Several school board members, district employees and others crowded into the school board auditorium for the ceremony. Judge Thomas Gallen administered the oath.

Mills indicated he would not be pulling any punches as he gets to work.

“We have serious challenges to face and should be further along than we are,” Mills said. One of the first things Mills wants to implement is a data dashboard. Current systems are antiquated, and with no data dashboard, Mills said there is a lack of resources to pull information from to get to the roots of problems.

Mills would like to have teachers input data on regular basis, preferably every two weeks. With a continuous database, teachers would be able to flag a list of at-risk students and implement intervention strategies.

In order to improve the drop-out and graduation rates, the data dashboard will need to up to date. Improving the software program used by teachers, which is currently not up to par, training people to use it, and making sure the portal is large enough for the district will cost money, and the school board is currently in a period of taking austerity measures.

However, Mills said he believes that mandating the usage of a data dashboard will be great across the board.

“Following data is great in any school district. It is critical to delivering effective instruction, assessing shortfalls around students, and reaching state benchmarks,” Mills said. “We need data dashboard to measure effectiveness and make decisions to eliminate any initiative or programs that are not producing outcomes, which is something we need to see more of.”

Mills said using data will be key to improving the district's performance.

“For performance and growth, the Manatee County school district is 47th in the state, but I think we can get up to the top 25 percent with time and resources,” Mills said.

For more Rick Mills' first day, pick up a copy of Thursday's Bradenton Herald or check back with Bradenton.com.

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