New GAP principal gets students back in the race

 

“It’s like a pit-stop in a NASCAR race. Our students spend a small amount of time off track, but when they re-enter the race, they are in much better shape to finish and place higher than they were when they entered,” says Mike Miller, newly appointed principal of GAP (Georgetown Alternative Program). He’s determined that students who get on track through GAP will find a high school diploma and college readiness at the finish line.

Miller has made a pit stop or two along the way himself. After graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in science education in 1982, Miller taught school for a year in Lake Travis ISD. He then detoured to Dallas to pursue a master’s of theology in Bible exposition and worked as a bank teller while seeking his route in life. Then he returned to teaching. Miller taught school for ten years while earning a master’s of education administration and principal certification from Texas State. In 1999 he was hired as an assistant principal in Belton before coming to Georgetown High School, where he served for eight years as assistant principal. When the GAP principal position became available last spring, he jumped at the opportunity to lead his own campus in a different kind of setting. “It was time for a new challenge and to learn something new,” he explains.

GAP is an alternate setting for GISD students in grades six to twelve who have violated the secondary schools’ Student Code of Conduct through drugs and/or alcohol use or who are unable to function in the traditional school environment. Factors that contribute to placement typically include family issues, academic difficulties, or emotional difficulties. Placement time at GAP ranges from thirty to sixty school days, with the average at about forty days.

A day in the life of a GAP student begins with a check in and search by GAP personnel at 8 a.m. With “All present and accounted for, sir!” it’s off to PT (physical training), led by one of the three drill sergeants, whom Miller describes as “flesh and blood Ritalin.” First, second, and third periods consist of academic instruction. Then, after lunch, it’s more PT, Military Science, and Drill and Ceremony, which are elements of Armed Forces BMT (Basic Military Training). Misbehavior is dealt with “swiftly and effectively through verbal redirection and calisthenics” administered by the drill instructors. The day concludes with fourth period, checkout, and clearance for the bus ride home at 3:30 p.m. Miller’s says his role during the school day is “to provide support when and where needed. I deal with students who choose not to comply with all three drill sergeants.”

While the outward academic climate might not reflect his own personality, Miller says that more than anything he wants “to remain positive and encouraging in my role as principal here. I also try to keep things light with my staff members.” Miller brings his offbeat sense of humor to work each day but admits “some may not understand my humor,” especially “the drills,” who are very regimented and serious at work. “The principal, not so much,” he says, but adds that even the drill instructors have grown accustomed to his wit. “I want it to be a place where each staff member feels valued and wants to come to work each day to make a difference.”

Miller believes he has already made a difference at GAP by hiring two new teachers to complement the staff already in place. “All three of our teachers are on board with the philosophy of starting where kids are and working toward mastery of new skills. They work hard, and they expect students to do the same.” In addition to improved academic performance, positive decision-making, and social skills, self-discipline is also a component of the GAP program because it satisfies the innate craving youth have for boundaries and structure.

Miller finds it interesting though not altogether surprising that, when asked about future plans, many GAP students point to the military as a career choice. Miller comes from a military background himself; his father was a Marine drill instructor during World War II. Miller is comfortable in his new environment, where discipline and academics come together to improve the performance of GAP students.

“I want students to leave GAP in better shape academically than when they entered. I’m not necessarily talking about grades or credits but about skills and ability,” says Miller. The lower teacher-to-student ratio allows GAP teachers to work more closely with students to ensure goals are met. “Instead of trying to make sure we are keeping up with each home campus teacher of each student, we are going to assess where the student is with respect to skills and ability and start there with lessons. Neglecting to do this means that the student’s time at GAP is wasted,” says Miller.

Students at GAP are those who have gotten off course, but Principal Mike Miller is committed to getting his students back in the race. And with Miller in the driver’s seat, GAP is sure to remain a well-oiled machine.

By Karen Lange
Photos by Rudy Ximenez

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