Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 20, 1999
Superintendent wants to bring hope
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
There are no long-winded and emotional explanations why Eugene Miller wanted to become an educator.
"Gerry Eckert, Grade 5."
That's the reason Miller, 55, is sitting behind the superintendent desk for the Elk Island Catholic Regional Division.
"I went to a one-room school in a rural area of Ontario. In Grade 5 the teacher we had, his name was Gerry Eckert," Miller said. "One day he came out and played soccer with us. I discovered that teachers were human beings too.
"He was the one that planted the seed for me."
The seed obviously blossomed.
Miller graduated from that one-room school and went on to the University of Waterloo for his bachelor of arts then completed a master's in educational administration at the University of Alberta and a doctorate from Gonzaga University.
"I bring a passion for Catholic education," said Miller who settled into his new superintendent position Sept. 1.
Miller, the former superintendent of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Schools, based in Leduc, has been a superintendent for the past 20 years. He moved from a teaching job in southern Ontario where he taught for 10 years, to head Grande Prairie Catholic Schools.
Having spent more than 30 years as an educator, Miller knows what his mission is when he walks into the office.
"Faith is mainly the responsibility of our Church and parishes. Schools are responsible for bringing hope to children.
"I say to the staff that it is our responsibility to our children, some of whom live in despair, to give them that hope. Whether it be teaching them computers or any subject, we give them that hope that they can achieve.
"We are here to serve children, that's an awesome undertaking. We're making a difference in children's lives. We're planting that seed, like Gerry Eckert planted the seed for me."
As the new big man on campus at Elk Island, Miller joins a district "with a very good reputation. My biggest challenge will be to maintain and enhance what is already here."
Miller replaces Patrick Maguire, who retired in June.
Elk Island, with schools in Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan and Camrose, is twice as big as the St. Thomas Aquinas district, which means Miller will not have the opportunity to visit as many classrooms and schools as he would like.
"The one thing I'm concerned about is that I really won't get to know all the people who work here," Miller said.
Like his fellow Catholic school superintendents, Miller's priority is maintaining the faith environment in the schools.
"We offer a dimension for the child that the public school can't," said Miller, the father of three children. "As parents, (my wife and I) feel it's important that our goal is to have our children come to know Jesus Christ. I'm sure this is what other Catholic parents want for their children too.
"We have to be vigilante this is what we want for our children in our schools. With a stroke of a pen, we can lose our Catholic education. I'm not a paranoid person or anything, but there's nothing that says we won't lose our Catholic education."
Talks like the recent one between the public and separate school systems in Edmonton on shared facilities are "just a step down a slippery slope where people start asking 'Why do we need two school systems?'
"There are ways it can be done so that we can continue to operate separately, but we have to be careful how we do it."
"We need to be true to who we are," Miller said.