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Q and A: Miller is a biology major turned principal

All the mayhem of the first weeks of school has passed, and new Boeckman Middle School new principal Dan Miller is ready to get down to the business of the school year.

The former assistant principal at Dodge Middle School - and the past Farmington Middle School West building - Miller is no stranger to Farmington students or the school district. He started his career as a life science teacher in Lakeville, and wound up at FMS West about eight years ago. He's lived in the community for 17 years. And, it turns out, in Farmington and in middle school administration is right where he belongs.

How did you get into education as a career?

That's a good question. It wasn't initially what I was probably leaning toward. I was a biology major in college. I had looked at some other tracks, or options, but I would say that when it probably first started to enter into the realm of possibility was, I was a T.A. (teacher's assistant) in some upper level anatomy and physiology kind of classes for my last couple of years ... and I really, really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed working with other students, and just kind of loved helping other people, I guess.

I probably spent a lot of my own time just working with kids who wanted or needed extra help.... When I graduated, I still wasn't exactly sure. Grad school and medical school ... I was being encouraged to do those sorts of things. It wasn't that I wasn't necessarily interested, it was more just that it wasn't in the cards for me. I took a little bit of time off, ended up out in Colorado at that time, and basically got back into an education program. I decided, after thinking about it a little longer and harder, that I really did like that experience and I really did enjoy working with students and kids, and I thought, "Maybe that's what I'm supposed to do."

I had some very good initial field experiences with some really great folks, and I think at that point, I was kind of hooked. It was really middle school, to be quite frank.... I would have never seen myself in that role. I was working with upper level college kids ... but my initial field experiences were in middle school and I just loved it. I loved it. I loved working with the kids.... I spent all of my time at the middle level, and once I got into it, I spent huge amounts of time just because I enjoyed doing it. And it wound up being great opportunities and great experiences for me... Things just kind of worked out. That's kind of what happened, I guess.

You became an assistant principal?

At West. It was Middle School West, I think it was 2005. It was very different. Having an 8-9 building, after those four years, it's very, very different than what it is now, and I think it is in so many ways. What we've done, as a district, with the structures ... the restructuring has been just a huge, huge positive. I think it's so much better for kids. Being able to get them and keep them during middle school years, and getting to know them for those three years, I believe very strongly that what we're doing right now is so, so much better.... Eighth grade year can be a very, very difficult year for kids. When they're coming into a building and you have no relationships with them - the staff doesn't, you don't - if they start to flounder it's really hard to help them if you don't have some of that relationship with them. I think now, it's infinitely better than what we used to do.

Tell me about why you decided to apply for this position here. ?

The principal position at Boeckman? I go back a little bit to when I first interviewed in the district, period.... I feel like we have a good team approach at the middle school. I've always felt that way. I think at the heart of it, what it goes back to is a couple of things.... I've lived here for 16, 17 years, and my kids are in this district. I had worked in another district for 10 years ... but I felt like I wanted to impact change here. The best way for me to do that was to get involved, to make the move to another district.... And I feel like that kind of applied to this position as well. You have some opportunities to impact change, to continue to make a difference, and as a principal you're expected to take the lead on that.

And I love this age level of kids. Do I want to work with a different age level of kids? Maybe at some point, but I just don't see it. I really don't. This is where I want to be. If I'm going to be in education, then this is the age level that I want to work with. The kids are very special. They go through a lot of different stuff. I feel like I can connect with them. It can be crazy and chaotic, but you have to be willing to just go with it. I love that piece of it. You never know. I would venture a guess that the staff would probably say the same thing. I never know, when I wake up in the morning, what the day is going to look like. Really, on a day to day basis, in terms of what you might experience with middle school level kids, you really don't know. You never really know what they're going to throw at you. Some days, you'll walk by and hear a kid say something and you just have to laugh or smile at what they say or how they interpret things. That's the beauty of it. They're great. It's a challenging job, but they make you laugh. They make you smile. They're the ones who make it worthwhile at the end of the day.

So how have the first few weeks gone? ?

I think it has gone well. The first few weeks of school, they're always pretty chaotic ... because there's just so much stuff that happens in the first days of school. Testing and things like that, when you throw that in the mix of teachers trying to get structures in place in their classrooms and you feel like you're disrupting it. There's so much of the initiation of the school year that takes place in those first couple weeks.... I really think that now we've kind of gotten through some of that stuff ... I think all of us now are in a position where we can get going with some sense of normalcy.

Are you glad you made the move?

Yeah, I am. I am. It's been a really good experience this far. I've felt very, very supported by staff. My biggest thing is, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I hope I can live up to their expectations, and move us in a new direction. As a district, that's where we're headed, and I feel very, very fortunate to be a part of that. There are so many things that we are having conversations about. It's stuff that I have believed in since I started in education ... and that just invigorates you. When you see how it impacts kids, and how they get engaged, I can't wait to see that on a larger scale.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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