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Interview with Elizabeth Miars, June 12, 2008
June 12, 2008
Interview with Elizabeth Miars, principal of Rachel Freeman Elementary School and recipient of UNCW's Razor Walker Award.
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Interviewee: Miars, Elizabeth Interviewer: Carroll, Jones Date of Interview: 6/12/2008 Series: SENC Notables Length 120 minutes


Jones: Today is Thursday, June the 12th, 2008. I am Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass for the Randall Library Oral History Project and we are taping in special collections. Our interview guest today is Elizabeth Miars, recently honored by UNCW with the Razor Walker Award. She's principal at this time of Rachel Freeman Elementary School, now a magnet school for engineering, is that correct still?

Miars: That's correct.

Jones: Mrs. Miars has been a teacher in New Hanover County through many transitions, growth, changes and could well be referred to an expert in her field. Good morning, Ms. Miars, and thank you for visiting us. Tell us a little bit about you, where you're from, family, and how you got to Wilmington.

Miars: I was Elizabeth Herring and I was born in Goldsboro and I was the eldest of two girls. I grew up in a middle class family where my parents were both high school graduates but that was the extent of their education. Immediately left home to go to work. They instilled in me, by that, that the work ethic was the most important thing and that money didn't matter as much as your work ethic and that your work ethic would carry you through. So that was the resounding call that I remember all through my life. I remember being the obedient child. I was the one that did what my parents asked me to do and I had a sister who was two years younger that was the more rebellious. She wanted to do what she wanted to do.

Jones: She was normal.

Miars: So there was a real-- my parents had a chance to experience both kind of parenting. It was a household where, back then, mothers mostly stayed home but, for economic reasons, my mother went back to work when I was in third grade. She stayed home with me for the first years of my life and through my second grade year. When I became a third grader, she went back to work so we had to learn how to change like that. We had a, you know, series of people who I guess you'd say babysat, you know, they were home when we came home from school but we were always able to-- we walked the nine or ten blocks from the elementary school and it was a traditional public school education.

Jones: So you lived in the area where you went to school and it was a walk to school.

Miars: Mm hm. What I remember about my childhood mostly is that it was dominated by my mother, you know? Even though she was the one who did work a full-time job along with my dad, he was not-- there was not a lot of communication there. It was mostly with my mother. For example, he worked on Saturdays and what I remember about my Saturdays were that we'd get up and we'd go to the library, I always had a stack of books on Saturday to read and we'd come back and we'd clean the house. We'd have lunch ready for my dad because the big meal of the day was in the middle of the day. Then, in the afternoons, we could shop. It was girls' time. When my dad was home, it was meat, potatoes, vegetables. We'd only have spaghetti or different things like that when Dad wasn't home so I guess you could say my father dominated the household...

Jones: Typical.

Miars: ...but he was not interactive. He talked to my mother and my mother talked to my sister and I. Probably-- I've always wanted to be a teacher. I can remember that. I mean, it was not really a question. I went to UNC Greensboro but it was not really a question. I always wanted to be a teacher. What was the real question was how I was going to get there because my parents never went to college and they didn't know the value of that. They also didn't know the value of advocating for your children, you know? And I learned that becoming a mother myself, that that was what was important to me with my relationship with my children, that I was always an advocate because I can remember opportunities that I feel like now I may have been able to access but my mother didn't know how to put that extra effort and go and talk to the principal or go and talk to the teacher and make those things happen.

Jones: May I ask you something? In that time, were teachers more or less regarded by parents as the last word? They were people that you just accepted what they said.

Miars: Yes. My parents very much accepted what...

Jones: Yeah, I think that was...

Miars: ...happened in the classroom. I can remember learning that about teachers. That, you know, teachers could take, give you the extra or they could just give you the basic. For example, one of the things I remember is that, in my middle school, which was, back then, junior high school education, in the eighth grade, you could access Latin. I was on the cusp of their cutoff.

Jones: Oh, really?

Miars: And I really wanted to take Latin but I was the cutoff. And...

Jones: You had to qualify to take it?

Miars: And I didn't. So what happened is, if you didn't take Latin in the eighth grade for this elective period, then you were given an extra reading class. And the very first day in there, my teacher said, "You don't need to be here." So I became the teacher's assistant. I remember thinking that that was a wasted opportunity. Now, I can always remember the teacher that said that, Mrs. Hooks, and I remember appreciating that she recognized the fact that I was really-- had more skills than what was required from the class. But I can always remember that was the moment when I said, you know, if I ever have children, I'm going to remember that I need to be involved in what's happening with the children and get involved with their education. But where that led to, I went to high school and, when it came around to thinking about colleges, I kind of had to do that for myself because my parents didn't understand that process. We had a community college and I can remember Mom saying, "Well, start out at the community college. You've never been one to be away from home but start out at the community college and then we'll go from there." Well, I got a little bit bold and I joined with a group of friends who were visiting some colleges and I spent a weekend at UNC Greensboro and I said, "This is what I want to do." Mom would approve this. It's not like it would be go to do University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where...

Jones: No, [inaudible] women's college...

Miars: ...[inaudible] that's too big. And it's a lot of women, a lot of girls are there so, you know, she'll think that's okay. And, sure enough, you know, I applied and got in and went to UNC Greensboro and they helped me out with the first year and then I remember them saying to me, "Well, you know, I don't know necessarily if we can afford all four years."

Jones: Were there scholarships available then?

Miars: Well, that was something I didn't know anything about.

Jones: And knowing...

Miars: And that's where your guidance counselors are extremely important...

Jones: Yeah, exactly.

Miars: you those opportunities. But I knew how to go to Financial Aid and I had always worked. I'd always had a job and so I knew I could make money to keep myself going. So I went down to the Financial Aid office and I'll never forget. I got $1,000 for each of the last three years. So I graduated from University of Greensboro. I majored in mathematics. I majored in mathematics because of teachers because I always wanted to be an English major, literature. I wanted to write or be involved in that realm. But grades were subjective, you know? They would ask you to write a critique on something and you'd give it your very best effort and then they'd say, "Well, that's a B." And I never could understand that because, if you're asking me to write what I think, then I don't have the same perspective as the teacher...

Jones: Exactly.

Miars: ...or as the person who wrote the book.

Jones: Exactly.

Miars: What's wrong with that? So that's when I said, "I'm majoring in mathematics." If I get the right answer, it's not taken away from me. And that's why I majored in math. I never wanted to get away from teaching the other skills but that was important.

(crew talk)

Jones: Excuse the interruption. Go ahead. So you majored in math.

Miars: I majored in math and, at that time, in the early '70s, all the math majors were going one way or the other. You were either going into computer programming or you were going into teaching math.

Jones: Of course, yeah.

Miars: And so I went both ways for awhile. I took as many computer courses as I could get in along with...

Jones: At that time. And they've all changed.

Miars: And, at that point, we were key punching our cards. We were feeding our cards into a terminal. The program we wrote was being sent to Durham, the big computer in the sky for North Carolina. Then your program came back on yards and yards of green bar paper and then you'd go through and you'd see what errors and you would spend nights in the computer lab because you'd key punch the changes you needed to make, you'd feed it back into the terminal, it went to Durham to the big computer in the sky. So, to go from there to where we are now, I just think it's absolutely...

Jones: That's right. That was the beginning of the research triangle area. Yeah.

Miars: That was the beginning. And friends of mine and my colleagues in the math department who, they retired, you know? They went into computer programming, went to all the big industries and they retired long before the school teachers do. But it was, I mean, it was just, to me, it's unbelievable where we've come now...

Jones: That must have opened a tremendously new world for you, from what you said about your background and how you grew up, just...

Miars: The whole experience, the whole college experience was so different because I had very little exposure. Goldsboro was a small town. My mother made all of my clothes. She was an excellent seamstress and, I mean, down to bathing suits.

Jones: You were fortunate.

Miars: Yeah. She did. She made all my clothes. She took really good-- she is my, you know, she's my one true-- it brings tears to my eyes because she loves me unconditionally.

Jones: Is she still living?

Miars: Mm hm.

Jones: Good.

Miars: She's 86 and she loves me unconditionally.

Jones: That's wonderful.

Miars: That feels wonderful.

Jones: That is. So you graduated from UNC Greensboro and what happened?

Miars: Wilmington was the first place that offered me a job.

Jones: Really? Now, how did you go about...

Miars: They used to go-- the personnel department would go to the colleges and do interviews for a day and, at that point, I had become very familiar with Winston Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh and I thought I was going to stay there. We had every county came one day and interviewed and they-- I think school was out and they called me for an interview. Drove down here. I'd never lived in Wilmington before, never visited Wilmington before.

Jones: You didn't know anything about.

Miars: Interviewed for a job.

Jones: And what year was this?

Miars: It was in 1974.

Jones: Oh, my gosh.

Miars: And so they offered me a job at Chestnut Street School.

Jones: Oh, yeah.

Miars: In 1974 and I was a math major but I taught five classes. I was a seventh grade teacher, four science, one math. And gradually, each year, I would pick up one more math class and one less science class.

Jones: What was it like for a young graduate to teach seventh grade, particularly the courses you taught, in the 1970s?

Miars: Well, if you remember specific to Snipes or Chestnut Street School, as it was at that time, it was a K-8. There was no other elementary school that was a K-8 and we had also gone to ninth grade centers, remember?

Jones: Mm hm.

Miars: And so the ninth grade centers were kind of what I remember being talked about so much but, at Chestnut Street School, we also had all Creekwood children so I've come full circle in my career because, at this point this year, I'm back to-- after those years, they separated that housing area.

Jones: Right. But the area-- the times, then, they were a very difficult time. It was a changing time in the '70s. It was, what, rock groups were coming in and drugs were apparent and that sort of thing. Did this translate down to children of that age?

Miars: No.

Jones: They were still-- still had imbued in them that school was good, that teachers were premium.

Miars: What I remember is that you wanted to survive. The first year, you wanted to survive. You had such a learning curve and the transition between what you saw in your student teaching-- because I student taught in Winston Salem at Moore Laboratory School so it was kind of a different kind of a setting. It was an open classroom setting. It was very high socioeconomics. Then I came to this setting, K-8 school, very at-risk children. Now, there were a lot of-- you remember around Chestnut Heights, there were still a lot of high income families that lived in the older houses there.

Jones: Mm hm.

Miars: So we had the children that were very impoverished versus the other so it was a real dichotomy. But what you-- as a first year teacher, you wanted to survive. You knew, if you got to the point where you didn't have a new experience every day and you can anticipate, that you were going to be successful. We didn't quit back then. You didn't quit. You saw people who went in the profession and we had tough times and we stuck together and we cried a lot, sometimes, when we needed to but you were going to stick it out because this was your career and that's a big change now because people of today know, my children, they don't expect to be in the same career for 30 years. I did. I always knew I was going to stay in education and I was going to do the things that I needed to do to move up whatever moving up for a teacher was at that time. I didn't know I was going to administration. I knew that I taught for four years and then I wanted a master's degree and I was lucky enough, Wilmington was right here and had UNCW and I could very easily...

Jones: You got your master's here?

Miars: Mm hm. Take courses at night, one or two courses at a time, and it was either supervision or administration. And...

Jones: What was your...

Miars: ...I really wanted to facilitate. I really...

Jones: What was your master's in? Administration?

Miars: ...wanted-- I majored in administration because I wanted to be in a position where I could make things happen for teachers. I felt like an administrator's role was you do what you need to do so that teaching can happen in that classroom, be it how you spend your money, how you allocate resources, how you decide on who's teaching what and where and if you could make good decisions so that the teaching happens in that classroom and it's the very best situation for the teacher and the student, I just felt like I could make a big difference there.

Jones: In the 1970s, how many elementary schools were here in Wilmington? Do you remember?

Miars: No, because, at that time, I was-- what happened is that it was Chestnut Street School and we were there for '74, '75 and, at '76, they opened up Emma B. Trask Junior High School and so the staff at Chestnut Street School, who were seventh and eighth grade teachers, we moved over.

Jones: Oh, I see.

Miars: And then Snipes, it became Snipes eventually and it stayed K-6 until we went to middle schools, which was in '88. By that time...

Jones: So there are most of-- there must have been a period of-- there was a period of stagnation here as far as growth but, if they opened up a middle school, I guess they were anticipating or in a growth period beginning then.

Miars: Well, I think they transitioned to middle schools because, in seventh, when you had junior high schools for seven, eight and nine, that's where I spent most of my teaching years, in seven, eight and nine. I taught algebra and seventh grade math and eighth grade math and those kinds of things. But your ninth graders were the oldest group in your school. They were supposed to be beginning on their high school career but they really didn't see that because they were not in a high school arena. So the proponents of middle school felt like that the ninth grade just didn't fit and that they would be better in a high school setting. So they had to revamp the high schools to accommodate ninth grade and then we picked up sixth grade, which it was felt like, at that time, that sixth and seventh and eighth graders were more alike. And it's been a good...

Jones: And it worked.

Miars: You get more nurturing and-- because, you know, high schools didn't want you to nurture ninth graders. They wanted you to make independent ninth graders and that's really hard.

Jones: So you fed into only two high schools, three high schools at that time, right?

Miars: [inaudible]

Jones: It's amazing. That's really interesting. So where did you-- you moved over to a middle school.

Miars: Which was-- no, it was junior high school.

Jones: Junior high.

Miars: Mm hm. It was Trask Junior High School, seventh, eighth and ninth grade. And I worked on my master's degree and I finished my master's degree in '82 and, in '87, that's when I started interviewing for an assistant principalship.

Jones: Oh, really?

Miars: Mm hm. So...

Jones: This is something-- that was early on, then, you were pretty young to do that.

Miars: Yeah. I was pretty young but it was a transition period in Wilmington for school politics. When I first interviewed and I became assistant principal, it was Dick Flynn as a superintendent and what he did was hire a group of us to be assistant principles but we were between two schools. All of this new crop of assistant principles he hired were between two schools and what it boiled down to is that you were between a good school and a not good school. It wasn't said openly but-- so, my first year, when I came on board in mid-year, I went between Blunt and College Park. And, supposedly, College Park was, you know, what they were doing in their program was working really well and Blunt was not working really well. Blunt had a principal that had been a principal for many years. She was a woman in her 70s, a black woman in her 70s. So I saw a big difference. I could see the difference in the way the schools were run.

Jones: Sure.

Miars: The next year, with some school politics going on, there were some things that happened. They needed to make some changes and so I went to Johnson. Johnson was an elementary school that had been open for a few years. They removed all of the administration from Johnson and they put in new administration. And so I went in under the first year of Jackie O'Grady, who transformed that school into a real high performing school. I was there for a year and then Dr. Flynn decided he'd move us again. So the third year...

Jones: He didn't want to keep you too comfortable.

Miars: I guess. You know, I can't remember exactly what his philosophy was. But then-- so the third year, I went between Blunt again and Ogden.

Jones: Now, that's a-- that is a wide spread there.

Miars: So I had been...

Jones: Now, Ogden was a fairly new school at that time, was it?

Miars: No, it'd...

Jones: Was not?

Miars: ...been around for awhile.

Jones: Okay.

Miars: But it had a seasoned principal that was very highly regarded at that time. So I did that for awhile and, during my teaching years at Trask, one of the principals at Trask had been Hugh McManus. And so, during that year, she went to Hoggard High School and so he knew me and he knew what kind of work and so he started giving me a call, saying, "Elizabeth, we're going to have an assistant principal for every grade level."

Jones: Really?

Miars: "And I need somebody for ninth grade and you've had a lot of experience with the kids in junior high school, I want to make..." there's always been dropouts, you know? That's always been the driving force in a high school. We want to make things work for dropouts. Would you consider? And he talked to me and he talked to me. So I interviewed and I got the job. And I...

Jones: He is still regarded as one of the top, isn't he?

Miars: ...went into...

Jones: Marriage counselor at...

Miars: He-- I learned two things from him. I learned that, when you go into a school as a principal, that school is the very best and, when you talk about it, you talk about it everywhere, you talk about it as the best, you know? You treat it as your own baby and you regard it as the best and he did that and he did it all over town, you know? And that was why he was either highly regarded or people had a problem because he was so competitive, you know?

Jones: I've heard such good things about him.

Miars: But the other thing he taught me was that an unhappy parent tells ten and a happy parent may not tell anybody.

Jones: You're probably right. Isn't that too bad? Yeah.

Miars: So I want to Hoggard and I can remember the very first day, it was, like, what have I done? Why am I here? I can't believe I decided I was going to do this. Why do I want to come in a school of 2,000 where, you know, but he gave me a door. He said, "I want to keep the kids in school." Ninth grade is the defining year, you know? They're either going to stay with us or they're not...

Jones: I've heard. It's the dropout time or whatever.

Miars: ...and he gave me an open door to do whatever I could do. So I was there, loved it. Really enjoyed what I did. At the end of the year...

Jones: Now, you're-- at this point, you have children of your own or not yet?

Miars: I did. I had young children.

Jones: You did.

Miars: I had Elizabeth in '85 and I had Will in '88. So I had Elizabeth right before I became assistant principal, a couple years before, and then Will, I was at College Park and transitioned to Johnson...

Jones: So you're dealing with children in a transition period, ninth graders, and then you're going home to little wee people, who need mommy.

Miars: And I always said that I would be one of those longitudinal studies that would make a decision whether I was a good mother or a not good mother but I loved what I did, you know? I had a purpose. I wanted to be there. I wanted to work with kids and I knew my children were going to be okay. I just made the decision that half of my salary would go to childcare. I brought somebody into my home who stayed with my children until my youngest was 16. So it was a second mom.

Jones: Someone told me, a principal told me this, a local who is still a principal, that if a teacher loves children, the children will understand that and react and that only a teacher who loves children should have children of their own.

Miars: They're usually the group that doesn't want children. You would not believe the number of teachers that I've had in my years of being a principal who have opted not to have children. But they give so much of themselves...

Jones: They have so many.

Miars: My children tell me now, Will is 19 and Elizabeth is 22, and they were very appreciative of the fact that I was in education because they felt like that I made-- I helped them make good decisions about how to do things and what to do and I was able to go to bat for them when I needed to and so they're very appreciative of the fact that I was. They're also appreciative of the fact that I made their home life stable, you know? They didn't have to go out to a daycare, you know? But that was a sacrifice, to do that, but I just felt like it was really, really important that their lives went on and I had someone that I trusted and it worked out wonderfully. She's still a part of my family.

Jones: One of the questions on my list here, and we'll get to that as you go on, is parent involvement with the children, no matter how busy they are or what kind of children and you as a teacher or, in this case, a principal, any teacher, anybody in education deals with that but I'm sure you'll get there. This was a new concept, having a vice-principal for each grade, is that it?

Miars: But it only lasted one year.

Jones: And why is that?

Miars: This is the most unusual part. At the end of the year, the board of education decided that it was expensive and because of personnel changes, to be specific, New Hanover had lost two assistant principals, Laney had lost one, Hoggard was the only one with four. So they could make a budgetary decision by transferring me to New Hanover and then they'd go back to three. So, after one year at Hoggard, I went to New Hanover for a year and I stayed there for a year. Talk about two absolutely...

Jones: Different.

Miars: ...different high school programs. And then I went back to Hoggard and I stayed at Hoggard for several years, until what was said to me by the current administration is, okay, it's time for a principalship. If you're ready for a principalship, we've got a high school principalship open.

Jones: How does that come about, Elizabeth? Are you graded, are you tracked? Or does someone just say, you've got so many years so maybe you're up for it?

Miars: Well, I'll tell you what happened to me.

Jones: Okay.

Miars: This is just my personal experience with the superintendent. It was Dale Martin at that time and what he said to me is, okay, if you don't want a high school principalship, then I'm moving you out of there. So he moved me to Noble and I was assistant principal at Noble for a year. Wonderful. Wonderful experience but I decided then, okay, my children were old enough and I would apply. And so I became principal at Snipes, which is where I started my whole career. And so when I became...

Jones: You came full circle.

Miars: ...principal at Snipes in '99, that particular year, they were building Rachel Freeman as a replacement school for Snipes. Now, they didn't close Snipes, if you remember, which is what they were hoping to do but I stayed there, my beginning principalship was at Snipes and then we moved to Rachel Freeman, which I've been ever since.

Jones: Now, how long has that been that you've been there?

Miars: Well, it's been open since 2000 so it's been eight years and the reason for our change in our progress is that, last year, the board of education decided that they would redistrict elementary schools and they decided to do it in a neighborhood concept, which pleased the constituency that they really wanted to please. What it created for the inner city schools, especially mine and Snipes, was an almost total African-American population. It would be the first time since the '70s, when I was at Chestnut Street School, I mentioned to you that we had all of Creekwood children.

Jones: Right.

Miars: Well, when the board redistricted last year, it was the first time since the '70s that Creekwood, as a federal housing area, all the children from that neighborhood would again go to the same elementary school. They had been divided into three different schools for 30 years.

Jones: Did that work? Was that good for them? Or is it good even to keep children from, let's say, inner city together as a group?

Miars: Well, the reason that they were divided was to racially balance the schools.

Jones: Right. I understand.

Miars: And racially balancing the schools was what we had been required to do back in Brown v. Board of Education and all those court ordered decisions that were made in the '70s.

Jones: Hayward Bellamy, he's got these papers on, it's unbelievable.

Miars: It had been-- what happened was, my school was a very strong school in terms of reading and in terms of technology. I knew where we needed to go. We needed to really enhance our math and science. So, when they decided to do this and said, you know, you're going to be a predominantly African-American school, I said, give us a chance to develop a focus. And they agreed and so I worked since March, over a year ago, a year and a half ago, to develop a magnet school concept that the community, would be important to the community. We surveyed community, you know, parents and everything and this-- we already had Gregory School of Math, Science and Technology. We didn't want to duplicate that but, as we looked, and that's a real process I won't even bore you with but we really did a lot of research and the engineering focus, which is science, technology and mathematics pulled into problem solving, it's a 21st century scale. So the program that we've developed-- the board also allowed me, anybody who wanted to transfer out, that didn't want to stay, could leave and it allowed me to hire teachers who really wanted to work with ________________ children. And so what we had, when we started the year, we had an entire school, almost an entire school, we had 78% African-American children and this other 22% were a mix of Asian, Hispanic, multi-racial and Caucasian. And so my staff has spent this year understanding. Coming to a level of learning about our population. Our children came from 19 different elementary schools in this county.

Jones: That's amazing.

Miars: It was amazing. It was an unbelievable, unbelievable. I mean, years from now, it'll be so historic because, you know, the board of education made this monumental decision that they were going to go against everything we'd been doing for 30 years.

Jones: So you're not on the lottery system, are you?

Miars: We do have a lottery application process but, with a magnet school, magnet schools focus is diversity and so you create a program that parents want and then your lottery application allows parents an avenue for being selected to go. We're not at that point yet because the board would not allow us to increase our lottery slot. Right now, they've held us to just 100 slots and...

Jones: Has that been successful as far as the applications are concerned?

Miars: Well, I'll tell you what we've found out. We've found out that our families who were not at risk, which were a minimal number of families, they want their children to have a peer group. And when you have a school where the majority of the students are significantly at risk, poverty level and all that...

Jones: Absent parents.

Miars: ...that I've lost many families because they say, "My children do not have a peer group and they need to be in a school where they have more children who are academically motivated and whatever." So our staff decided, at the end of the year, we've just had several meetings where the population we have next year, we're going to make a difference with them. They showed tremendous growth but we had to build communities, first of all. I spent a lot of time, and I'm very proud of this, I spent a lot of time last year talking to community persons. I don't know whether you remember but when they first decided they were going to do this, there was so much opposition.

Jones: Yes, I do.

Miars: NAACP, all those groups...

Jones: I know several people on the school board and, quite frankly, and I will say this with the tape running, I'm very disappointed in some of the ways that they do not act.

Miars: But what happened was I had to go out to those persons in the community who were so adamantly opposed, I'll never forget, I called up Mr. Bain, who was the NAACP president, and I said, "Please meet with me" and he agreed to do it. He came out to my school and we sat down and he listened to me talk for an hour about Freeman Elementary School, what we were offering children, what were going to offer and how we were going to-- and, at the end, he said, "Ms. Miars," he said, "I don't have a problem with your school. Our problem is what the board of education, the decisions that they've made." And I said, "But, sir, every time you talk about that decision and the negative impact you say it has on the children in our community, you say Freeman in the same breath that you say this is a terrible thing that's happened. You say Freeman Elementary School so the entire community views my school as an inferior school." And do you know, after that, you didn't hear our name attached to it any more. You didn't hear our name attached to it.

Jones: How about, is your school equipped with the necessary, well, the implements they need? For example, you must have to use a lot of computers and such.

Miars: Well, that's one thing the-- through the magnet school funds...

Jones: If this is engineering and technology, you're going to have to have...

Miars: They gave us monies to implement the program. They were very generous about it and, you know, you need this, you need the staff development, bring the staff back a year early. We had all those things. We have a great program. We've done the research on it. We've got the curriculum. We're teaching children to be 21st century learners, to be problem solvers. The curriculum is exactly right where we need to be. What we're having to do is that you have to do so many things for adverse children that are beyond the classroom. You have to build communities. You have to build trust. You have to build understanding. You have to teach parents. You would not believe the number of parents who walked into my office within the first months of school and said, "This is not going to work."

Jones: Because they didn't understand...

Miars: "You put too many black children here." Many times, and I told you I had children from 19 different elementary schools. So we spent so much time mediating. You take fifth grade children who have been in all these different schools, you put them in three fifth grade classrooms, they didn't like each other. So I'd bring a group of children in to talk about an incident, something that happened. I'll never forget a couple of incidences where I had-- there was a Ogden child, two Murrayville children and a Freeman child and they were in my office because engineering is all about working in teams and problem solving. So they were together in a fifth grade classroom working on a project and they started arguing. And the teacher couldn't get it settled. That's why they were in my office. The Freeman child said, "I was trying to get them to let's work together. I was trying to get them because that's what we are taught at Freeman all those years. I was trying to get them to let's take turns and delegate responsibilities." And all of a sudden I looked and the Ogden child, he was a black child, a black fifth grade boy, and, you know, I could see he was puzzled and the two, you know, "Why is she spending all this time? Why is this child talking about this?" So I started talking about what Freeman was about. We're teaching you to be problem solvers, to work in teams, you know, this is good, you know, talking, talking and I see the little fifth grade black boy, tears in his eyes. I thought, well, I didn't-- I wasn't too angry. I didn't-- I'm not really sure what's wrong. I looked at him and I said, "Tell me what's wrong. Tell me why this is making you sad." He said, "You're not going to make this happen. You got too many black kids here." We had our first assembly because we always had positive behavior support assemblies where we recognized children for good character traits, for being on time, for doing a good deed. It was something that we had started several years before. Our first fifth grade assembly didn't go well at all. There were children who didn't want to be recognized. There were children that would take their certificate and tuck it. There were children who said unkind things in the office. So the way my style is, you have your classroom meetings. I always did that as a teacher. When things weren't going well, we'd talk about it. So I went down to each one of the fifth grade classrooms and I had a conversation. I said, "This is what we want to do, dah, dah, dah, but why didn't this work well?" And I'll never forget, there was the black male fifth grade, he was from Hollytree, and he said to me, "Ms. Miars, I won't want to be here. At Hollytree, the white kids were nice to you. The black kids aren't nice to you." And he said it about his own race. He said, "Black kids aren't nice to each other but white kids are."

Jones: Interesting.

Miars: So all those things we've learned. My staff has spent all year long reading about the dynamics of African-American children and the needs they have. We've spent unbelievable hours talking to parents and you know the biggest thing I learned from all this? And I started saying it in my conversations with people in the community because we went right to DSS in the fall. We said, "Okay, can we work collaboratively? Because we're going to find situations here that are really a DSS call. We need to work together." So we worked monthly with DSS and with other Wilmington Housing Authority but one of the biggest things, I think, came out of this whole year for me personally is that, when I graduated from high school, it was in 1970. In Goldsboro, the year before, there had been a whole community effort to merge a black high school and a white high school and it was merged into the white high school building. The school colors were changed, the mascot was changed. Everything was changed. I walked into my senior year in high school in a community I had grown up in and I didn't recognize a teacher, I didn't recognize the building itself, I didn't recognize the curriculum and so, when this year came about for me as a school administrator, what I continued to say to community people is, I'm not going to talk in the same conversations that we talked about in 1970. If we are not smarter 30 years later and if we can't talk about working with children and helping children in impoverished communities in a different way, then what have we learned? We've learned nothing. If we can't talk about-- because I kept hearing the same arguments that I heard when I was young.

Jones: On this subject, let me ask you this. You have special children, they're at risk children, they're from the lower echelon of society, et cetera, mainly black, you need the cooperation of their parents. If there are not parents in the home that care or have the understanding of what their child is going through, how do you reach the child, almost divorcing them from a parental figure? I'm thinking of the parent who might be on drugs, the non-existent father, there may be older brothers and sisters. Does this one child feel like they're alone?

Miars: You can't divorce yourself from what happens at home because the values that are instilled in that child living in that community, in that situation, they are taught a certain set of values that are survival values...

Jones: This is why I'm asking you. How do you survive this in school?

Miars: So what you help them understand is that, at school, we have this set of values. When you're at school...

Jones: This is you here.

Miars: don't bully. When you're at school, you don't say unkind things to each other. When you're at school, you don't hit each other. But you don't try to say to them, "This is not the right thing to do." Because, where they live and where they come from, I've heard stories this year that appalls me that the Wilmington community would allow it to be that way.

Jones: I'm appalled from what I've heard.

Miars: I am so appalled that I had a grandmother sit in my office one day to tell me she cut the legs off of her children's beds so when the bullets go through the windows at Creekwood, it doesn't hit the children. It kills me. We brought uniforms in because we thought that would level the playing field.

Jones: Does it work?

Miars: Wonderful.

Jones: I'm all for uniforms.

Miars: The untold money we've spent to provide uniforms and the families that would say, "My uniforms were stolen off the line."

Jones: Are you allowed a fund of any kind, whether they're donations...

Miars: No, but I'm creating it. I got to yard sales...

Jones: ...donations...

Miars: ...especially black churches in the fall who have yard sales and they are gift you yard sales. They are not pay yard sales. They allow families-- so they graciously allowed me and my social worker to go through and pick out all the uniform clothes.

Jones: All right. Here's another question. A child comes to school, and you probably have heard this before, and they're going home to zero, nothing, maybe a dangerous situation. If they're cutting up in school, if they're acting inappropriately in school, you can't send them home. What do you do?

Miars: You have to send them home.

Jones: But if you send them home and...

Miars: You have to...

Jones: ...there's nobody there, what do you do?

Miars: But that's, you know, that's why I say we created a really close working relationship...

Jones: With the DSS.

Miars: ...with the Department of Social Services because we're bound by law. If there are situations that are...

Jones: There's no in school detention?

Miars: ...dangerous to a child's life, we have to report it. So any time we-- now, that made many families very, very upset with us. But we have to do that. We're bound by law to do that. I will tell you that children of poverty are survival children. They know how to survive. They know how to. The critical piece is that the parents and the children feel like they're in a situation that will not change for them and it won't change because they have had so many years of well-meaning people coming in with a great program and walking away.

Jones: And then leaving.

Miars: Coming in with a great program and walking away.

Jones: So that...

Miars: So they're very skeptical. They're very, very skeptical of anything working well but I will tell you that, at our end of the year assemblies this year, there were so many families that I think there minds were changed. I think they felt the discomfort they felt because especially the Creekwood families, they didn't want their children to go to school in one school because they all don't get along with each other. But they sensed a change and I believe the majority of the families at Creekwood feel good about their children coming here, knowing that we...

Jones: When you come across...

Miars: ...and that's, I think, what I would like to convey is that that's our purpose this year. Our purpose is we're going to lose our families of middle and high income. They don't have any choice because they don't feel like their children have a peer group so we're going to be-- the children that are remaining with us are going to be high poverty children. But we've got a commitment that we're going to make a difference for those children because many time in classrooms in this community, they were left behind. Think about it. The teacher, she's got middle income children all except for three. It's very easy to make concessions for those children. It's very easy to say, "I'm going to let them do what they can do." It's very easy to overlook and those children are left behind. When you have a school like mine where the majority of your children need so much, then you leave nobody behind because you can't afford to. And so our staff is committed to making sure that those needs are met and making sure we do-- you wouldn't believe-- yesterday, I just spent an unbelievable amount of money. It was parent involvement monies. It was designated for that. Buying, going to the dollar store, buying flash cards, buying those small book, working with numbers, how you write your letters, dah, dah, dah, because we know now, we've got to work with parents closer and we've got to be willing to say, "Look, I've got a couple books right here. Take these things home. That'll help you with your child."

Jones: But do they help? Do they work with the child?

Miars: Yes. They just don't know how. Many of them don't know how. And, also, adverse families work on crisis. That's how they make decisions, based on crisis. So we've got to more and more pull them in and teach them, let's do these things now so we won't get to this point and it is a win or no win situation.

Jones: When you find a child or more than one in any grade that shows academic excellence or a curiosity or the beginnings of the ability to really go someplace and learn, is there any such program to take these children who want to learn...

Miars: Oh, yeah.

Jones: ...who are inquiring and put them somehow in a...

Miars: Right now, I can think of one young man that...

Jones: So that they're not left behind.

Miars: ...that is really exceptional. From this particular-- and I've focused on this housing community because, to me, in our area, when we talk about an area that we consider to be undesirable, we focus on Creekwood.

Jones: Well, of course.

Miars: Yeah. That's always the housing area. And even the residents will tell you that they feel like they have the worst situation there.

Jones: But how do you deal with the exceptional children?

Miars: But, yes, you do but the biggest issue is helping them want something more because they have to survive where they live. They have to survive where they live. That's the biggest bridge. To be-- if what we consider to be successful is the norm, if what every child should achieve, is doing well in middle school and high school and going to college, if that's what we want every child, if that's what we think is reasonable for every child, then we've got to understand that we've got to bridge the gap because what they have to do to survive in the environment they're in is so radically different than what we want them to be when they're at school. Does that make sense?

Jones: Yes but I don't know how you do it. I cannot-- I mean, it's an extremely difficult sit-- you must, when you hire teachers for a school like this or several others, you must look for very special qualities in your teachers and they must know what kind of a school that they're going into.

Miars: And they make...

Jones: And then to find those exceptional children that you feel that they need a chance, how do you do it?

Miars: I spent all year long knowing that I had this staff and the staff was learning and growing. I spent, I took every opportunity this year to talk to any outside group or agency because the thing that bothers me so very much in this community are some of the things you said about what the demographics are and we have so many of our population here that wants to say that doesn't exist. It doesn't affect me so, therefore-- I don't drive down Princess Place Drive so I don't need to think about those children and I don't need to think about that situation. I find it very disheartening that we don't, as a community, embrace and realize that we can make a difference for all citizens in this community but we don't.

Jones: How expensive is it-- we know about, there's a college high school now here.

Miars: There's two of them for community college...

Jones: Two of them? Fine. Now, how expensive would it be to take children of various lower grades and group them into some space, a school, where they would be given the opportunity to let their minds work, advance and have like children to work with?

Miars: That's what we do.

Jones: But you also have-- do you separate them out of the classroom? Do you also have, as you said, a lot of children who are at risk who have no anything. They're just there to get through. Or do you take some of these children...

Miars: Well, you always-- what you want to do in a school is that you take a child from where they are and you move them so you have to move them academically. So you have to provide, you know, we have an academically gifted program...

Jones: Okay. See, I was...

Miars: We have a teacher that works with...

Jones: This is what I want to hear.

Miars: ...those children. You do. You meet all the needs. It's just when you're at a school like mine where, you know, 85% of your population is free or reduced lunch, you know, that you tend to say, you know, a lot of these things didn't have to be so. We're seeing children who have grown up in a situation that didn't necessarily have to be like that.

Jones: Would you say that your school is particularly unique?

Miars: I would say my school, Snipes...

Jones: Snipes has got a different agenda. I understand they're closing down.

Miars: It's a significantly at risk population so ________________ for a different reason.

Jones: Right.

Miars: They have different priorities than when you're looking at a school in the suburbs that-- this is different.

Jones: Mm hm.

Miars: But it has probably been my most stellar year, not with the recognition but the fact that my staff, we know why we're there. I know why I'm there and I know what I can do and I have the time and I have the energies to devote to it. I gave 150% to that school last year. I didn't regret one minute of it.

Jones: I'm sure you did. Where would you like to take this school? You as an educator?

Miars: Truthfully, the school itself.

Jones: Anything about it. What would you like to see...

Miars: What I would like to see, what I hope that happens...

Jones: You with all your work and your staff and your years, where would you like to see this school go and where would you like to be with it?

Miars: This is the right curriculum for the 21st century. We are teaching kids to be problem solvers and to work in teams. We work very closely with GE, you know, so we know what that kind of environment needs and the skills that a child has to possess in reading and writing and math and science.

Jones: How about history?

Miars: The right curriculum-- yes, that's-- but it's integrated. You want to integrate it. You don't want to isolate it. I think that's what I lost in my school years is that reading was-- oh, excuse me, history was isolated. That needs to be integrated. It needs to be integrated. A child needs to get a complete education.

Jones: It's been, from talking to educators, I have heard several things and let me see how you feel. Two areas. Reading, for example, reading good writings. Learning the difference of how to express yourself, not necessarily being a journalism major but understanding the written word. Second is the history because history behind has led up to where we are now and having an understanding of who you are, where you come from.

Miars: Yeah, that's exactly right. That's exactly right. But you have to give children tools. You have to help them learn how to think. You know, problem solving, taking a situation and being able to look at what are my alternatives? And being able to come to a solution, being able-- that's a skill that we need, adults need. We need thinkers. Children in kindergarten and first grade learn to read and that's a very powerful thing. If they can learn to read then, second grade on, they read to learn.

Jones: Let's stop here. Change the tape and I have a few more questions I really want to get your opinion on. I mean, you come from a very unique source.

(tape change)

Jones: Okay. This is fascinating. You know, I don't think most people know about these things, I really don't. I consider myself fairly up on what's going on. I get around town and read and know a lot of people. There are certain subjects that-- and certain areas that seem to be constantly warring, the board of education being one. The other thing is these schools, what they should teach and what they should not teach and how teachers, I guess, adapt to certain children or I have heard teachers say, "There are those you can't teach so I just let them slide." You teach to the test and not for the best. I've heard teachers say, "We take the challenging students because they make us look good, make ________________ school, make us look good." I've heard teachers, both retired and current teachers, say that teaching is such a demanding, demanding occupation, and I'm sure it is, I would be exhausted at the end of every day, that they can't go out on their own. They have a curriculum to follow and that's it. And yet I've heard people at _________, I've heard-- well, there's several of them, I won't name them all, who say, "It's the most fascinating thing you can do. You're working with different minds. You're working with different backgrounds. It's a challenge and I'm going to win. You can take a student who doesn't feel about themselves and bring them up to a point where at least they're passing." And I think, you know, this is very true. I've seen one of my own who was considered-- our oldest son was considered extremely intelligent and so forth, which, for years, they used as an excuse he would cut up in the classroom. He's bored. So why don't you do so and so? We'd run out and get books and games and puzzles and we'd talk to him and so forth. What he really needed was a couple of big swats on the butt, frankly, because, when they finally advanced him as far as they could, and he had the attitude that he was smarter than anybody, he found out he wasn't and we found out we had missed a whole period of time by not saying, "Look, you're supposed to do this because there's a reason for it. You're going to do it whether you like it or not and you're not that smart." As it turned out, he did enter Indiana University and made Who's Who in America's University Students but, if we had said, "Stop advancing him," if we had said, "No, make him turn in the work, we'll work with you," I look back and I think, this one teacher said, "I just want him out of my class." (laughs) So I'm sure that things like that happen, too, you know? But I think...

Miars: I think the hardest thing for education is the fact that we're the only profession that everybody has participated in so everybody has an opinion based upon either their school experiences or their children's school experiences or a friend's experiences. We are, you know, we are the profession that all sorts of people feel that they're an expert in and it's hard to fight that, you know? I wouldn't go into a doctor's office and tell a doctor what he should do.

Jones: No, of course not.

Miars: But, on the other hand of that, you know, that's what we fight all the time is that. Whether you're dealing with a parent or a school board member or any community person, they all have their personal experiences and they're drawing upon that when they interact with you. So, when you-- the first thing that you mentioned, about teaching to the test. The thing that I'm so thankful for is that North Carolina has said, in kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, in geometry, in algebra, in biology, the teacher is responsible for teaching this because that's standardized things. Because the creativity part in a teacher that we all remember from our favorite teachers, the wonderful things she did because she could do anything she wanted to, that was great but I want to be able to say to a parent, "It doesn't matter whether you're in this teacher's class in first grade or this teacher's class or this teacher's class, your child will get the same body of knowledge." Now, how that teacher presents it, she'll have her own style, she'll have her own creativity but I don't want-- because a teacher's real love is this versus something else, I don't want any child to miss what they need to know in a certain grade because we've allowed teachers the freedom to do whatever they want to because it's building blocks. If the teacher missed something in first grade that really needed to be taught in mathematics, that creates a hardship for the second grade teacher.

Jones: That's true.

Miars: So the fact that the state of North Carolina says, in every grade and in every subject, you're going to teach this body of knowledge, there's nothing wrong with that. What a teacher needs to do is take their love and their specialty...

Jones: To find a way to do it.

Miars: ...and find a way to put into that body of knowledge. I like the fact that I can count on a child in each one of my classes getting the same. Now, the accountability is in everything now. Accountability has been in business in the industry forever. The accountability had to come to education. The public was demanding it. Do we have the best way of assessing children? No. Because all children can't take a test, a written test, and do well in it. So I won't tell you that the way we assess is a good one but I will tell you that the accountability had to be there because, in my 35 years, the public was clamoring for it. We were spending so much on education with no accountability. We were having this...

Jones: I will tell you this. When my first three were coming along, they all learn real fast. I used to be a volunteer in the schools, one of these super moms, you know? And one of my kids said one time, right in front of the classroom, for whatever infraction, I don't remember which one, "...and I'm going to talk to your mother." It was our daughter. She said, "I'm dead. My mother believes everything the teachers tell them," which was true because that was the way I was raised and I told the kids, "You're going to school to learn, not to harass the teachers and, if I get a bad report, you better believe I'm not going to say, 'Not my child.' I know darn well it was my kid. I live with you. I know you people." That was it. That was it. Period. Let's get some of this on tape. Before you turn it on, let's talk about-- there's two things I really want you to cover and you were just doing one and that is the teacher teaching the child as per what was laid down by the state-- is laid down by the state of California. You've already covered some special programs but I want you to tell us, from your perspective as an expert in the field, and you are, you would not have received that award and all these years, what you would-- if you had control, what you have seen that needs to be taken care of, what you would implement and what you could do, what you would like to do as far as advancing education with these children. I am talking about all children but particularly from the inner city schools, the Creekwood schools and so forth, to reach them, to make a difference. You were talking about some of this.

Miars: I think a lot of what you said when you talk about your involvement with your children's education...

Jones: Are we on? Okay. Let's hear about children...

Miars: When you were talking about your involvement with your children's education, you and I both know that's the key. That is what makes a difference. If you have a-- when I look at my background and my parents were wonderful and loving and caring, but when it came to advocating, they had no skills in that area. That wasn't a shortcoming on their part. They just didn't have it. But you and I both know the advocating and the sharing and the commitment you had to your children's education is what made a difference for them. That is what's lacking for so many children because the parents are not there mentally, emotionally, physically, economically. But it doesn't mean that they don't want what's best for their child. And I think, too many times, that is misinterpreted. That just because a parent doesn't do the things that we traditionally feel like need to be done to support their child, that they don't care. I think that's one of the biggest defining moments for a lot of my teachers. When they saw this year what parents did, how they did it. It was not what they traditionally had seen if they had a lot of years of experience in education. They did see that the parents cared and that the parents did want. So the biggest thing that needs to happen is that we have some real understanding. I think, as a community, we have to understand. One of the things that I always try very hard to do is I try, if I'm having a conference with a parent, I try to get into their mind. I try to listen so I can understand their priorities and make no judgment on it. Because, once I make judgment on it, I've placed my values on it. And that's what I think is the injustice. I think we place our value system on people that we don't understand. I think, once the public schools do a better job of understanding where the children come from and the parents, then we'll do a better job of educating the children.

Jones: Let me ask you something. How do you feel about this? I have heard about two particular schools in town that are always at the top, et cetera, et cetera. That they have tremendous parent involvement. At the same time, they have tremendous parent interference with the child, my child doesn't do this, my child needs so and so, et cetera. Which is more difficult to deal with?

Miars: Oh, it's definitely going to be the parent who thinks they have the expertise in education, what I went back to a few minutes ago. You know, everybody has educational experience so they believe that they're an expert in teaching children.

Jones: Does it also ruin the child's point of view as far as school is concerned of the teachers?

Miars: I don't think so. I just think it's something worrisome that, you know, I've heard a teacher say before, one of the more affluent schools, "Well, I can't start class at 8:00 because I can't get the parents out of the door." And I keep thinking, oh, gosh...

Jones: This is what I'm talking about.

Miars: But, I'll tell you, let's turn it around to a more, I think, relevant is I think the concept from all of my information and reading that I've done and investigation, having schools of choice, which are magnet schools, increases the parent buy in because the parents want to have some controls. The parents do, good parents is a relative term but, you know, having schools with certain focuses on whatever and parents having the opportunity to choose is a good thing because, when parents can choose and have some controls, then you find there's more parental involvement. That's the draw that I see in magnet programs, you know? A parent, if you have, in this county, we have Gregory School of Math, Science and Technology. We have Snipes Academy of Arts and Design, which is going to evolve because of its tremendously strong principal there that's going to really turn that around. And then you have my school, a school of engineering. Parents look at their children and they see what they feel like are their child's strengths and weaknesses and, to be able to choose a program that you think matches your child's strengths, you automatically have a much stronger parental involvement piece there. You automatically have that because they had some choice. That's why parents are frustrated so many times with a school or a program, you know? Because, "This is my district, I have to attend this school, there's certain things I feel like I want for my child to have his needs met." That's where your parent frustration comes from. Now, where this county will go with magnet programs, I don't know. The...

Jones: I was going to ask you that.

Miars: ...magnet programs are expensive, you know? You have to be willing but we have enough of a base here now of parents in higher incomes that we can afford to what Charlotte, Raleigh, other areas have done because you will have stronger parental participation when parents feel like they have some say so in what they feel like is their child's best...

Jones: We found that New Hanover County, among other things, has the second highest per capita income in the state. Whereas the second smallest, Charlotte, ________________ area is first and this is...

Miars: We're still relative to the top in out of home placements for children as far as the Department of Social Services.

Jones: This is what I'm bringing up. This is an amazing feature. Is it-- you mentioned GE a moment ago. Can you, as an individual, as a principal, as an administrator or does the board or whoever have-- are you allowed to let's say approach a corporation or a business...

Miars: Sure.

Jones: ...on your own?

Miars: Because they allowed-- I worked cooperatively with two corporations. First of all, I worked very close with North Carolina State University because they had an engineering on the road program, K-12. That was where I got my staff development from because I have worked closely with a engineering professor who teaches in Raleigh elementary schools weekly. So she knew children teaching elementary. The other entity was GE and GE values their employee's involvement.

Jones: They are very good.

Miars: ...public schools. And oh, my goodness, what they've done for us in terms of really being hands on with our curriculum and with our children, from individual tutoring to bringing in, in our fifth grade, we always do a Legos mind storms project where our fifth grade students are in teams of four. They build a Lego car that they can program with a computer to run, you know, turn, go backwards, whatever.

Jones: This is fifth grade?

Miars: GE works with my students. They buy advice from GE engineers with play money.

Jones: That's...

Miars: So they have to understand, you know, that...

Jones: Who instigated this or implemented this?

Miars: My teachers.

Jones: Your teachers did.

Miars: But what happened is GE always builds the track. They make a different track every year. And each time has one person who's designated to take a look at the track. They write notes, okay, we're going to have to go over this bridge, we're going to have to go around this barrier, dah, dah, dah, then they program the car. And, on Friday, after that two-week project, they run their competitions. I bet you I had 30 GE engineers that day. They were timing, they were judging, they were...

Jones: Wonderful.

Miars: Oh, it's fantastic.

Jones: Why don't we hear about these things?

Miars: Because the avenues that people-- we see the news from are not widespread. Not everybody reads the paper and not everybody watches TV. You know, you try to do everything you can to put those informations[sic] out there but the majority of community is really not interested in public education.

Jones: You have a tough road there. Are you ever thinking about retirement any time soon? You don't sound like it.

Miars: Well, you know, I guess there's always, you know, there's always the economic piece of it when you look at it but, in my-- right now, I'm committed to this.

Jones: I was going to...

Miars: ...really [inaudible]...

Jones: Actually, what I should have said was you have this as your goal and as-- you're fully involved in it.

Miars: What I'm going to do after this, I want to take this to a certain place and then I want to see where I can make a contribution because I hope, if, you know, if the studies are that you're going to live at least until you're 78, if that's the average, my mother is 86, my father died when he was in his 60s with cancer but if I have an opportunity for 30 more years, then I want to have 30 more years of contribution, you know? I'm not one that I want to, okay, I dedicated 30-some years to my career and now I'm going to sit back. So what I'm looking for, for myself in the future, is to find out where I can make a contribution because I...

Jones: Any ideas?

Miars: ...have the energy and I have the commitment.

Jones: You obviously have the commitment.

Miars: And the...

Jones: And the enthusiasm.

Miars: ...I'm just looking for the right place.

Jones: That would be in education?

Miars: Not necessarily.

Jones: Really?

Miars: I first want to see what the right fit is. My children are-- my daughter graduated from college and I'm happy she's starting out a career. My son finished his first year at State and so, you know, I've got to nurture him along until he becomes independent but I can do those things. I'm a human being that has some value somewhere.

Jones: Obviously, you do. What have you not done in education that you would like to do? Is there anything?

Miars: Because I don't really want to...

Jones: You don't at all?

Miars: in a realm where I'm-- I want to be close to the children so I would not want a central office role because I think they get too far removed in policy and procedure. The children are where you get your reward. I walk in the school every single day and, at my school, it's not that way in every elementary school in Hanover County, in my school, they hug you, they want you to know what they did last night, they want you to know that it's their birthday, you walk down the halls and the children, they want from you.

Jones: They're affectionate?

Miars: Yeah. They want from you that. They want the contact. They want the communication. They want the acceptance. And that's the most valuable thing I think you could ever give as long as-- you know, we have people in our school that are good role models for children. We teach children that you can be anything you want to be but you have to be willing to work for it. I think that opens doors.

Jones: What would you like to see happen as far as New Hanover County schools are concerned? As either a help, an aid, advancement...

Miars: I think we have a good system. I think we have a good school system, you know? Everybody can always improve. I think they've started on a journey with magnet schools that is a good one. You see, I'm personally and professionally an advocate of them because of the parental involvement piece and because it allows parents some choice and that's what parents want. They wouldn't go to private school if they didn't, you know? And the public education system, it's an important concept, the fact that we provide a good, free education for children in the United States. I think that's important. You know, people talk about vouchers and pro and con and all that. I think the private sector is important for parents in making choices but the fact that we offer every single child an opportunity for a education through high school is so phenomenal. I went on-- university offered the Japanese trip, you know, to go to Japan for two weeks, study Japanese culture for a week and visit schools. In that particular trip, Dr. Walker, you know, really enabled us to see pre-K all the way to high school so that we could take a look at what we do in the United States versus what another country does and be able to make some good comparisons. It is radically different.

Jones: I was going to say, there's not much comparison there, is there? I mean, the Japanese are...

Miars: Well, it was radically different.

Jones: Yes.

Miars: But-- and this is digressing off the point I wanted to make but one of the things that I thought was really, really an important thing is that they took so much pride in their schools and the children were involved in that. Those public schools had no custodians because the children cleaned the schools every day. Now, the downside of that is they took academic learning time to have children clean toilets, sweep classrooms, serve lunches, that kind of thing but, in the entire, every area that I saw in Japan, they did not have a trash problem. Why do you think that was? Because they learned early on, "I'm not going to leave it on the ground because I will have to clean it up."

Jones: There you go.

Miars: You go to a baseball game and people walk in with their food and their plastic bags and their plastic cartons and they eat, they put it back in the plastic bags and they take it with them.

Jones: Yeah.

Miars: They don't throw it on the ground so what a way to teach the value, you know, but to allow the children to do it. So, every day, at every school we went to, bell would ring, kids knew that was time to clean. From the bathrooms to the sink to the library to the...

Jones: It was ingrained in them.

Miars: Yes.

Jones: This is way you do it. Period.

Miars: Yes.

Jones: Yeah.

Miars: Just something simple like that to understand the difference in the value structure we have in another culture.

Jones: We kind of have a throwaway value system anyway.

Miars: And we've got to change. Our school next year is going to figure out how we can be greener. We have got to-- we've got the technology now...

Jones: Do you have those speakers come in...

Miars: ...we've got to stop being so wasteful and that's one of the things we're really, really looking closely at. Paper, the cost of paper, and those things and I'm on a committee that's looking at the technology plan for New Hanover County Schools for the next five years. As we see the transition from less buying of textbooks and more accessibility to internet, web-based, one of my teachers, in her 50s, came back to UNCW this year after many years to get her master's degree. She came to the school after her first few weeks, she said, "I'm doing a research paper and I'm not going to even have to go to Randall Library. I'm doing it all online." What a revelation for her.

Jones: Right. Yes, it would be.

Miars: And she said, "I can't believe all the sources I'm able to access and I'm at my computer." I mean, it just says how far we've come...

Jones: You know, they all communicate...

Miars: ...and ability.

Jones: by computer.

Miars: Yeah, we're a global community.

Jones: We don't use our phones. We communicate constantly by computer. Every morning, everybody goes on their computer, picks up notes for the day and instructions.

Miars: And there's always a downside to it but...

Jones: Yeah, there is.

Miars: ...the upside is look at what we can accomplish and look at what we can learn. Look at the way technology has just enhanced our lives. I keep up with my children every single day and multiple times a day. That's wonderful.

Jones: I noticed, when I visited one of your third grade classes, a computer in there on the desk and my question was, where are the others? There were a few others. She said, "This is the way we communicate. I can put everything in here and it's a necessity and you learn all these programs with the children. Children are learning." And, of course, somebody of my antiquity is thinking, these little tiny people, but...

Miars: See, if you deny that aspect of it, then you're denying what children already-- they come to school at five years old already able to handle...

Jones: That's true.

Miars: ...all kinds of technology devices. So if we don't keep up with it and run with it, then you're losing the children's interest.

Jones: Now, you just mentioned something a moment ago that's interesting. The green program. Green. A way to make things more green.

Miars: You know, to be...

Jones: I understand what you were saying but I want you to spell it out.

Miars: I think we've just really got to work, we've really got to think about what we're doing. We've got to help children learn about what they do in relationship to their environment. I just-- and our staff feels that way. The wastefulness in paper, you know, in copying and whatever. If we can cut our copying, there are schools in this state that have no copiers. They are learning, I believe it's a school in Raleigh, starting next year, they are going to have no copiers. They are going to learn how to communicate, provide that instruction, whatever they have to do because pieces of paper are too valuable now, you know, because of losing the trees and, you know? Now, do we want to keep it? Historically, yes, an important moment but I don't think we can ignore the fact that what we do digitally is unbelievable. What we can store, what we can maintain in archives now that we could never do before.

Jones: That's true.

Miars: Going from that one computer in Durham in 1970 to where we are now, oh, my gosh, it's just amazing.

Jones: Elizabeth, you've been absolutely a joy and we've learned so much from you and I think, today, June, 2008, in a couple of years, if you're still here, I'd like to have you come back and see what's transpired because things are moving so quickly.

Miars: Exactly.

Jones: And I wish that all the parents who have children in school could listen to people like you. They might have a new outlook. And I've learned a great deal so that's important, too.

Miars: Well, I've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed talking about it because you see it's my love.

Jones: Well, I told you that it's a conversation and we don't really have a set program. You are the centerpiece and you definitely have been. Is there anything that we've left out? Is there anything that you'd like to leave us with that you're really passionate about, that you would like to see happen, that is happening, that we don't know about? Anything at all?

Miars: No, I think we talked about a lot of things.

Jones: I think we did.

Miars: Probably in two hours, I'll say, oh, gosh...

Jones: I know. I know.

Miars: But that's the way it is.

Jones: I'll tell you one thing that I am mesmerized by. You have a passion for teaching, obviously, and it was instilled in you as a child. You have a passion for teaching and obviously you care about your teachers, your program and so forth. That makes such a difference.

Miars: And the kids.

Jones: It's not just a job.

Miars: It's all about the kids.

Jones: That's it.

Miars: It's all about the kids and when you go through my school...

Jones: I want to revisit sometime.

Miars: Yeah. But it's all about the kids and I will always tell a teacher, "I'll back you up 100% as long as you've made a decision that's in the best interests of that child."

Jones: Well, those are good words to leave it by. Thank you.

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