'Quiet Giant' Retires

'Quiet Giant' Retires

Lucketts-area resident Wayne C. Mills has been attending school for 58 years.

First, it was mandatory school, then college to earn a bachelor's and later a master's degree, followed by being at the right place at the right time, the crux of the 63-year-old's philosophy of life. "I don't know what I wanted to do then and still don't know. I'm waiting to grow up and decide and am still deciding," he said.

In 1957, Mills graduated from high school in West Virginia, where he was born and raised, and from Shepherds College in 1962 with a bachelor's degree in physical education and biology. He wanted to find a physical therapy job at a veterans hospital after training at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., during spring semester 1962. He happened to be at the college's campus that semester when a recruiter stopped him for directions or something like that, then asked him if he was looking for a job. He said yes and was hired on the spot to teach at a high school in Moorefield, W.Va. He got paid $3,000 a year to work in that "lovely place in the mountains of West Virginia," where there was fishing and hunting but not much else, he said. "Because where I was determined what happened."

A YEAR LATER, Mills applied for teaching positions in five or six counties in the area, including Loudoun County, and was hired to teach sixth grade at Lovettsville Elementary School. Since then, he served as principal of three schools, staying at the last, Rolling Ridge Elementary School, for 28 years until June 30, when he plans to retire.

"I'll miss his leadership, his quiet demeanor and his calming manner," said Elizabeth Greenblatt, attendance secretary at Rolling Ridge, adding that Mills believes in not worrying about things until needed. "He has a great way of putting it all into perspective."

Mills first became a school principal in 1966. He applied for an open position at Aldie Elementary School after hearing that another inexperienced principal was hired by the public schools. He had some experience from a school program he oversaw during the summer of 1966 when the principal was in ill health, his "first taste of administration," he said.

Mills served as principal at Aldie until 1968, when he was appointed to open Sully Elementary School and serve as the principal there. That same year, he earned a master's degree in administration and supervision from the University of Virginia.

In 1975, Mills opened Rolling Ridge and decided he had enough of opening schools, of the bringing together parents, students and teachers from various schools into one school. "It's not real pleasant to try to create a new situation for people. People don't like change," he said.

SINCE THEN, Mills declined any offers to open new schools, staying at Rolling Ridge for 28 years. "Why would I want to do that?" he asked. "All of these people are loyal to me because I hired them."

Staying for so long has allowed Mills to see children of students who attended Rolling Ridge. "That's a neat feeling for parents. My principal is still there, now he's your principal," he said.

"I just think the measure of Wayne Mills can be seen in the students he has educated, and now he is into the second generation," said Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick, who has known Mills for more than 30 years. "I don't think it's an accident those parents chose to have their children attend the same school under the leadership of the same principal. He has worked with his faculty to create an excellent school. ... The school itself and all of its accomplishments stand a testament to his leadership."

Mill's philosophy of education is "if it's good for the kids, OK. ... That's what we're in the business for. We're in the business to educate kids," he said.

Mills noted changes in the business, including the increasing accountability required from the state and federal governments and the behavior of students, who are now more worldly with the advent of technology. "The biggest change that has occurred in education is kids don't respect much, and they have very poor manners," he said, adding that when he taught at Lovettsville Elementary School, students knew how to act, said "please" and "thank you" and did not interrupt.

The lack of manners today is the "biggest disappointment" in his career, Mills said. Even so, "I always liked to teach. I always liked to help kids."

IN 1998, Mills was awarded the Washington Post Distinguished Leadership Award, the "nicest thing" that happened to him in education, he said. He was not so much interested in the award but liked the fact staff took the time to write out the application and said "nice things" about him, he said.

As Hatrick said, "He's a quiet giant. He never raised his voice to get our attention."

Mills could have retired in 1993, but he would have felt guilty, he said. As for his plans for after retirement, he does not have any. "I'm really looking forward to letting the day happen. I haven't done that since I was 5," he said, adding that after attending some kind of school for 58 years, retirement will take "some getting used to. I'm going to give it a try."

Mills said he likes wood working, working in the yard and for a good time, mowing the grass and smoking a cigar.

"[Mill]'s got a great sense of humor, and I'll miss that. Yep," Greenblatt said.

Since his retirement announcement, Mills was interviewed several times. "I'm more interested in [remaining] in the background and placing the teachers and students in the foreground, because they're the ones doing the work," he said.

"He's going to be sorely missed by us, but if anyone has earned a happy retirement, it's Wayne Mills," Hatrick said.

Mills' wife of 15 years, Susan Mills, is principal at Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg. Mills has a 33-year-old son in Berryville.