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Published: Wednesday, 8/25/2010

New school chief drawn to Ottawa Hills

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Kevin Miller hadn't been actively looking to leave his job as the superintendent of schools in the Defiance County village of Hicksville, in the northwest Ohio farm country where he had grown up and worked his entire educational career, when the job in Ottawa Hills came open this year.

And while he had thought that a suburban school district might be his next career move, a community as small as Ottawa Hills hadn't been foremost in his mind - until he started looking into that specific opportunity.

"It's not the size I thought I was looking for, but it was the size I've been used to," Mr. Miller said last week in the superintendent's office into which he had just moved a few weeks earlier, taking the district's reins after Cathleen Heidelberg's July 31 retirement.

The Ottawa Hills schools' $13 million annual budget is about the same as Hicksville's, he observed, though more of it goes into academic programs because Ottawa Hills doesn't provide bus service or have school cafeterias.

And more than the village schools' "size, setting, or anything else," it was the district's academic excellence that attracted the new superintendent.

"What I was looking for was a school district where my family and I could establish our roots," Mr. Miller said.

"We have felt incredibly welcomed here at Ottawa Hills, and in our new neighborhood. It was very emotional for me to leave [Hicksville]. I was very anxious about it. But with the welcome we have received, I know we made the right choice."

Mr. Miller, 49, brings with him his wife of 12 years, Carla, and four young children, ages 8, 5, 3, and 1.

He also brings a record as a successful levy campaigner in Hicksville, where he spearheaded the passage of four levies and a bond issue during seven years as superintendent and oversaw the construction of a $28.5 million consolidated school building for the district.

That's an attribute the Ottawa Hills Board of Education specifically noted when it announced Mr. Miller's hiring in June, and one that will be tested promptly.

The school board voted last month to place a 7.6-mill levy request on the Nov. 2 ballot, both to offset ever-rising operating expenses and cover the budgetary impact of falling real estate values that have affected affluent Ottawa Hills at least as hard as other Toledo suburbs, if not harder.

"Levies are one of the challenges I enjoy, and in Ottawa Hills, every three years or so, because we're largely residential, we're seeking a levy," Mr. Miller said.

But because he is living in the village as well as leading its school system, "When I ask people to increase their taxes, they know I am personally affected too."

Mr. Miller said he also views Ottawa Hills' academic superiority and strong community involvement in education as a challenge.

"What is the next level, and how do we get there? The hallmark of a high-achievement school district is that you're not happy with the status quo," Mr. Miller said. "You're always asking, 'What if?' and 'What else?' We will define what excellence in education looks like."

Mr. Miller credited his fourth-grade teacher at Grover Hill Elementary School in Paulding County as the inspiration for his interest in becoming an educator. Though other careers tempted him - he enrolled in Defiance College with plans to major in accounting, then later was accepted to law school at Ohio Northern - the pull of teaching was too strong.

He taught high school English in the Wayne Trace district in south-central Paulding County for 13 years before becoming an administrator in that district for six years, then moving on to Hicksville.

"I miss teaching, but I also love what I can do as an administrator, as far as impacting whole districts full of children," Mr. Miller said.

Besides his bachelor's degree from Defiance College, Mr. Miller has a master's degree from Indiana University/Purdue University at Fort Wayne, his superintendent certification from the University of Dayton, and a Doctorate of Education in organizational leadership from Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Since arriving in Ottawa Hills, the new superintendent has been meeting with village officials and community groups, and is the guest of honor at a parents' reception scheduled for Sept. 15, at 6:30 p.m., in the Community Room at the elementary school.

Mr. Miller said parents and students can count on his regular presence at school activities including sporting events, school musicals, and band concerts.

"Sports and extra-curricular activities are absolutely vital to creating a well-rounded school," he said. "I don't believe all education takes place within the four walls of a classroom."



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