BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. One and a half months after moving to Briarcliff, Neal Miller, the new Superintendent of Schools, said he is looking forward to getting to know more people and to improving communications within the school district.
"I take a lot of pride in being visible and around," Miller said. "I'm planning on interviewing 50 or 60 different people in the district to find out what makes the district tick."
Miller was one of 49 candidates who applied for the Briarcliff superintendent position, which was previously held by Dr. Frances Wills for 16 years, followed by Jerry Cicchelli for one year. He was interviewed twice by members of the Briarcliff Board of Education and appointed to start in the position on July 1.
Miller grew up in the Inland Empire, a region of southern California between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. After high school, he attended Harvard, where he majored in English and played on the varsity football team for four years.
Miller started his teaching career as an English teacher back in the Inland Empire. He then moved on to become a principal in Idaho.
Though they were not experienced farmers, Miller, his wife and four children lived with bulls, cows, chickens, horses and other animals in Idaho. Miller good-humoredly remembered calling the fire department there to tell them that his neighbor's fields were on fire, not knowing that controlled field burning after crops are harvested is something Idaho farmers routinely do to prepare land for replanting.
"They said 'Are you new here?'" Miller recalled with a laugh.
After three years in Idaho, Miller moved east to become principal of Williamsville East High School in East Amherst, NY, for 14 years.
Williamsville East is similar to Briarcliff schools in that there are many high-achieving students whose families are strong advocates for education, Miller said.
"It's neat because students think it's a good thing to be smart and get good grades," the superintendent said. "In a lot of other districts you're not cool if you're smart and getting good grades. In schools like Williamsville and Briarcliff, popularity comes with high achievers."
Miller's first schools superintendent job was in Medina, NY, a rural community in between Rochester and Buffalo. He stayed there for about two years before his wife suggested that he look for something closer to New York City.
Miller looked through a list of job openings and he had his first interview with the Briarcliff Board of Education online through Skype.
"I had a good communication with the board from the beginning," he said.
Miller already has his plans set for the first day of school on Sept 6: watch assembly presentations with freshmen at the high school, then go to classes at the middle school and Todd Elementary School before coming back to his superintendent's office to do work.
"I'm looking forward to getting to know more people," he said.
The new superintendent also has a new plan for Board of Education meetings that he thinks will be more effective for communicating with the public, but he declined to reveal his plan until the next board meeting.
"The important thing is that there's civility, that everyone is civil and professional. That's what this district deserves," he said.
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