Congratulations to Rick Mills, selected Wednesday by the Manatee County school board to become the district's next superintendent. Should contract negotiations prove acceptable by all parties, the Minneapolis Public School District's chief executive officer will find Florida a bright and sunny place.
But the climate inside the Manatee school district is anything but. Mills knows this and appears poised to tackle the tremendous challenges facing the school board, district administration and school staffs.
Mills won the endorsement of many in the community, a significant development given lingering public distrust of the district after years of sharp criticism about the lack of transparency and accountability.
The Citizens Advisory Group embraced Mills as strong on financial matters with the abilities to clean up the district's budget mess. The committee also expressed confidence he could create positive change in the district's culture, one of the board's priorities after witnessing a lack of vigilance and responsibility. Mills also holds a proven track record in academics and improving student achievement.
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Some residents viewed his military background as a possible weakness. We believe it a strength. Nobody rises in the officer ranks without strong leadership, organizational and management skills. Plus, this school district would be well served by sharper discipline, a hallmark of the military.
During his 24 years in the United States Army, Mills ascended to the rank of lieutenant colonel and finished his military service as commander of the Third Squadron in the 16th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Knox, Ky.
During his two years as commander, he established curriculum learning objectives and authored lesson plans for training courses for more than 1,500 officers, ranging in rank from lieutenant to colonel.
Mills is also familiar with Florida. Just prior to being stationed in Fort Knox, he served in the United States Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa as the international program director and a chief adviser to the commander in chief.
Earlier in his service, he spent three years as an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy. Education has been a key component of his military experience.
In 2000 while still serving in the Army, he was recruited by the chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools to pursue a second career in education -- a testament to his skills and reputation as an educator. Mills retired from the Army in 2001, earlier than he'd planned, joined the Chicago district and rose to the position of area superintendent, finding success by improving student achievement and becoming the highest performing high school area of the six in the district.
For the past 20 months, Mills has directed the day-to-day operations of the Minneapolis district and successfully negotiated contracts with several bargaining units.
In a 2011 letter of recommendation, Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley described Mills as a "hard-driving, superb leader and administrator with great budgetary skills." Coming from such a top-ranking officer, this is high praise indeed.
Mills' outline for instituting changes in the direction of the district embraces one of the fundamental public demands: communicating his plan at community forums in order to solicit input and create support. He also intends to present his strategy to the district's leadership team, union leaders, faculty and even student government.
That's a refreshing change that should go a long way toward re-establishing trust between the district and public.
In accepting the school board's appointment, Mills told Herald education reporter Erica Earl he intends to build consensus among board members and form a strong team.
We welcome the appointment of Rick Mills. Manatee County will certainly test his skills. But we expect he'll find success here, too.