Originally Published: November 8, 2012 10:04 p.m.
When Tri-City College Prep High School students complained that they had too much homework, Principal Keri Milliken went to a full schedule of classes for a week to look into it.
"It was an eye-opening experience," Milliken said.
Milliken was named leader of the year by the Arizona Charter Schools Association during its annual conference in Chandler Nov. 2.
"When something like this is brought to her attention, Keri says, 'Let's examine this,'" said Eileen Sigmund, president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. "In addition to all her work, she went to classes and did homework. How many principals would do that?"
Just before attending classes, Milliken's husband Michael bought her a new phone.
"As I worked on homework, I was sidetracked by text messages, phone calls, and all sorts of things," Milliken said.
Sigmund said, "The kids were deliberately texting her to ask her what she was doing that weekend and to check on student council activities to distract her."
When Milliken practiced a speech for English class in front of her husband, she said, "He started snoring, and told me I needed to make it more interesting. When I told him I got a 96 percent on it in class, he snorted and said, 'Why?'"
After that week, Milliken met with teachers and students.
"I asked them how many of them were doing homework on their computer, with Facebook open in another window, and talking and texting with friends at the same time," Milliken said. "We talked about how teachers could help students, and how students could help themselves."
Milliken spoke about what she learned during that week as part of a videotaped interview that students and teachers created for the Arizona Charter Schools Association, a nonprofit organization that provides support and services to 80 percent of the 524 charter schools in Arizona.
Twenty-five percent of Arizona's public schools are charter schools, and 12 percent of all Arizona public school students are enrolled in charter schools - the highest percentage for any state, and second only to Washington D.C., said Megan Gilbertson, communications coordinator with the Arizona Charter Schools Association.
"Keri listens to students' concerns, engages teachers in discussion, and communicates well with parents," Sigmund said. "She definitely leads by example. Her positive attitude and behavior sets the school's tone. Teachers and staff are invested in the school, because Milliken promotes a team environment and works collaboratively with the teachers to identify and assist struggling students."
Tri-City College Prep students also showed strong academic gains when the association looked at the school's test data, Sigmund said.
Milliken said she appreciated the recognition the award gives Tri-City Prep, and she enjoyed going to the conference with Bonnie Winters, a math teacher at the school who was a finalist for Teacher of the Year, and Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellen Halvorson.
"I think one of the reasons we are so successful here is that we all support each other and work toward our common goal to prepare students to be successful in college," Halvorson said.
Since Tri-City Prep is a small school there's more collaboration among teachers who are involved in many sports and after school activities and more opportunities for leadership, said Milliken, who also teaches a film studies class this semester.
Students in Milliken's class met in small groups Tuesday to plan a project where they'd create film trailers, after examining what works to target specific audiences.
"I never ask my staff to do anything I wouldn't do myself," Milliken said.
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