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Jamaican-American educator gives back

Published:Monday | August 11, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Audrey Hinchcliffe (right), chairman of the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), shares some of the school's curriculum with Rose-Marie Mills, superintendent, Office of Adult and Continuing Education, New York City, at the JFLL launch of the High School Diploma Equivalency Programme at the JFLL Headquarters, 47B South Camp Road, recently. - Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer
Rose-Marie Mills in an interview with The Gleaner at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel last Wednesday. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
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Daviot Kelly, Staff Reporter

Don't let the title 'superintendent' confuse you; she hasn't sworn to serve and protect.

But Rose-Marie Mills has sworn to better the lives of others through education. A lifelong educator with more than 30 years experience in the field, Superintendent Mills is currently in charge of the New York City Department of Education's Office of Adult and Continuing Education, the largest adult-education programme within the United States. It caters to some 50,000 people a year.

"I've always wanted to be an educator. I had a great elementary schoolteacher who inspired me and I had a principal whom I just adored," she recalled in an interview with The Gleaner last Thursday. "So I thought, 'That's what I want to do'." She started going to school early, so she "grew up in school".

BORN IN WESTMORELAND

Mills was born in Westmoreland, Jamaica, and attended The Manning's School, St Joseph's Teachers' College, the University of the West Indies, and Fordham University in New York City. St Anne's Secondary was her first job, teaching mathematics. After moving to the New York middle school system, she taught grades six to eight mathematics, science and technology. After moving up through the ranks, she was appointed community superintendent, in charge of more than 30 middle and elementary schools. Two years ago, the switch to adult education came. She's always worked in tough districts, but has received various accolades and achieved much success.

"So when there was a need for reform in adult education I was asked, but at that time I think I was 'told' - 'We need you there'," she laughed. "And when the chancellor tells you, you say yes." She said she wasn't apprehensive about the new role as she had some experience as a principal with an 'adult ed' programme for parents. She admitted there are many challenges.

"I think the first part of it is really to get that high level of respect for adult ed," she said. "You have to really work hard and break down walls so that people see adult ed as education, just like in other areas." Of the numbers she receives annually, Mills estimates roughly 70 per cent are immigrants. She opined that education globally is seen as noble, but when it comes to adult education, some see it as secondary. She believes the opposite.

"You may invest in elementary education ... but at that tender age where students require those basic skills, you need parents as well," she said. "All the statistics have shown that the students who do well have some sort of support other than school," she opined.

Mills was back home to support the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) launch of the High School Diploma Equivalency Programme. The programme is a direct response to the growing demand for education and skills training for the adult learner. It will cater to adults who have exited the formal education system and require a second chance to access learning opportunities to pursue their personal, academic and professional goals. Mills feels that by educating adults, you aid nation building.

"You diminish people's dependence on the social services," she said. "It's a huge mistake for any government not to become involved in that," she added.

Mills visits Jamaica up to five times a year and her family still has a home here. Describing herself as a "diehard Jamaican", she said liaising with the JFLL is one way for her to give back.

"The foundation of my education was here," she said. "And despite what some people may think, we have world-class education here. We just need to take advantage of it."

daviot.kelly@gleanerjm.com