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Profile                                                            Page 51

 

 

From Canada, With

Collaboration    

 

BY MARIAN KISCH 

Robert Mills
Bob Mills

When Bob Mills attended a business lunch last year at a local Marriott Hotel, he left his business card with the sales department with instructions to contact him about planning an upcoming meeting. He never got a call back, but several weeks later he received a letter offering him a janitorial position — on the night shift.

Lucky for him, he already had a steady job as director general (equivalent to superintendent) of the Lester B. Pearson School Board, a 28,000-student district in Montreal, Quebec. His promotion in 2006 from assistant director required a move one office down the hall, but he likens it symbolically to “a tsunami.” He had watched his predecessors serve in the top post and figured he was ready. “But the shock was beyond understanding,” he quipped. “Everything falls onto the director general’s desk.”

The Montreal native has devised a way of working through tough spots. “I listen to the situation and ask those who run the department or who are on the front line for their recommendations and solutions. Only then do I make a decision,” he says. “It’s all too easy to have information on paper, but I need to see the passion in the person.”

A retired director general of Lester Pearson, Catherine Prokosh, calls this Mills’ “unique scientific approach.” When the school district needed to find alternative placements for a group of 4-year-old preschoolers on short notice, Mills listed the relevant factors and constructed a grid to aid in the delicate assignment.

A biology teacher at the start of his career, Mills has had ample opportunities to put his process to the test. A 13 percent decline in student enrollment since he took the leadership post has forced some difficult decisions.

“To close a school is to stab a community where it hurts,” says Mills, who’ll spend up to 18 months collecting stakeholder views before recommending such action. He’s closed three schools and opened two others in the past five years.

At the same time, Mills has innovatively countered some of the losses. He’s recruited tuition-paying international students to attend up to two years of high school, in the process exposing the Canadian students to diverse global perspectives. He converted an unused school into a dormitory for 95 students from South America, Europe and Asia.

The Lester Pearson district, one of five located in Montreal, has 57 schools, and Mills enjoys visiting them to connect with youngsters.

In his role as an AASA Governing Board member (and since last year his country’s lone delegate on the Executive Committee), Mills has often taken to explaining to his American colleagues how school districts in Canada are organized differently — for one thing, K-11 versus K-12. In Quebec, parents in the Lester Pearson district can choose one of two instructional routes for elementary pupils: 50 percent English/French or 85 percent French.

Mills has served as president of a half dozen administrator groups over the years, including the Canadian Association of School Administrators.

He says his goal in voluntary leadership is to “give back and share trends and successes” and to pass along knowledge to the next generation of leaders.

Marian Kisch is a freelance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. E-mail: mariankisch@verizon.net 

 

BIO STATS: BOB MILLS

Currently: director general, Lester B. Pearson School Board, Montreal, Quebec

Previously: assistant director general, Lester B. Pearson

Age: 62

Greatest influence on career: In every position, I had the good fortune to work with a direct superior who was an absolutely excellent mentor.

Best professional day: Learning our success rate of the graduating students of our district was the best of the public school boards in Quebec. That same day, I presented a quarter-billion-dollar budget to our board that was balanced.

Books at bedside: The Leader in Me by Stephen Covey; and Global Voices: The Compilation: Volume 1 by Craig and Marc Kielburger

Biggest blooper: Using our integrated messaging system, I enthusiastically sent a voicemail to all the parents in my school, to be delivered between 7 and 8:30 p.m. I always included my name as the last contact on the list. Much to my chagrin, I received a message at home at 2:30 a.m., indicating most parents had been called in the early hours of the morning. I remained awake the rest of the night constructing my apology — which I made absolutely certain was delivered at a more appropriate time. 

Why I’m an AASA member: To be an active participant in the vast knowledge pool that exists within AASA’s membership and to make every effort to include many of my Canadian colleagues.
 

 

 

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