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New faces, energy at Mills Lawn

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As the first day of school approaches, students aren’t the only ones who experience that unique back-to-school feeling of anxious anticipation. Mills Lawn School Principal Christine Hatton, who is beginning her eighth year of service, gets the feeling every year at the same time — “when we start checking in all those boxes [in August] and take the supplies around to the classrooms,” said Hatton.

School secretaries Roberta Semler and Nancy Purdin, along with custodial staff Steve Wilson, Roy Johnson, and Jerry Upton, do their part to get the school ready for opening day next Wednesday, Aug. 27. Along with the new carpeting and new supplies, there will be four new teachers at MLS this year.

082108_haught“Getting hired by the Yellow Springs school district is not an easy process,” Hatton said, recalling the 350 applications that had to be reviewed. Two committees consisting of teachers, parents, and a school board member interviewed 12 candidates over a two-day period. Hatton credits the Yellow Springs school board for initiating the district-hiring procedure.

“It’s an arduous process but well worth the effort,” said Hatton. “It’s part of what keeps Mills Lawn an excellent elementary school filled with teachers who are dedicated and love teaching children.”

The new teachers agreed that the Yellow Springs hiring process was unique.

“I’ve never had parents at my interview before,” said Cheryl Haught, one of two new third grade teachers. “Just the fact that [MLS administrators] take everyone’s opinion into consideration says a lot about our school system.”

Haught has taught fifth grade at three different schools in North Carolina and most recently at the Dayton Islamic School in Beavercreek. She will be entering her ninth year of teaching.

Haught and her husband Rick, son Cameron, 9, and daughter Carson, 6, moved to Yellow Springs in August 2006. This year’s summer vacation has been filled with her kids’ various sports activities — baseball, soccer, and swim team.

“I’m looking forward to being able to see my students on the baseball field and around town and having that close relationship,” said Haught. This will be the first time she is teaching in the same community where she lives with a three-block commute.

Haught graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, N.C., in 2000 with a bachelors degree in elementary education. She’s had her eye on Mills Lawn ever since she moved to Yellow Springs.

“I was volunteering at Mills Lawn last spring during my school’s spring break,” said Haught. “I happened to be in the office and heard there would probably be some openings. I was very excited — I’m still excited!”

The other new third grade teacher is Jeff May, who is equally tickled at the prospect of teaching at MLS — his first teaching position.

082108_mayAfter graduating from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., with a bachelors in creative writing, May and his wife, Adriene Opotow Kramer, moved to Montana. Unfortunately, teaching jobs were scarce, forcing him to fall back on his carpentry skills. In 2006, they moved to Yellow Springs where Kramer was raised, so May could get his masters in early childhood education at Antioch McGregor while working with Andy and Beth Holyoke on the construction of the strawbale house on Cliff Street. He student taught last year at Mills Lawn with kindergarten teacher Becky Brunsman.

Having only one other male in his graduating class brought May a certain notoriety and perspective. “Every professor just googled over the fact there were two men in the class,” May recalled. “They all said, ‘We need more men in early education.’ I think children need more positive male role models because the role models we see on sports teams or through entertainment are not necessarily very positive.”

For his summer vacation, May played gigs with his hard rock funk band, Magic Jackson — a current contender in Canal Street Tavern’s Battle of the Bands in Dayton. Their playoff date is Aug. 21, at 10 p.m.

Another positive male role model is Brian Mays, who has been teaching for seven years at Northmont School District.

082108_mays“I started the gifted program in the middle school three years ago,” said Mays, who lives in south Dayton with his wife, Margaret. In that time, Mays has been very encouraged by the progress of the program. So he wasn’t looking seriously when he sent MLS his resume.

“It was near the end of the school year and I didn’t expect a lot to happen,” he explained. “But when [MLS] called me in for an interview, I found out they were already doing things with gifted kids that we thought were five to 10 years into the future at Northmont.”

Mays got his bachelors in education from Ohio University, a masters in gifted education from Bowling Green State University, and is licensed to teach biology, psychology, and sociology on the secondary level as well. A long-time fan of Yellow Springs (“my VW beetle had a WYSO bumper sticker back in the ’70s”), he’s been traveling in and out of the village for 30 years, which made the interview that much sweeter.

“I can’t emphasize enough how attractive Mills Lawn was to me once I began talking with the staff,” he said. “They turned me from thinking, ‘Let’s see what happens’ to ‘I really want to be here!’ in about an hour and a half!”
For his summer vacation, Mays enrolled in a two-week intensive graduate class in writing and teaching poetry.

“I don’t think I’m much of a poet,” he laughed, “but I’m a lot better now than I was three weeks ago!” The back-to-school tingle happened for Mays in that class. “We wrote and talked about kids and writing, poetic expression and communication. That started me thinking about how I can use poetry with the gifted kids in math, language arts, science, and social studies.”

MLS’s new gifted intervention specialist appreciates the cultural milieu that is distinctive to Yellow Springs. “I feel more a part of [the YS environment] than I do the one I’m living in,” he happily admitted.

082108_leeNew second grade teacher Wenni Lee spent her summer vacation teaching summer school at a dual language Chinese/English public school in New York City, where she had been teaching for two years. When classes ended, she immediately moved to Fairborn, where her fiancé lives, taking just enough time to set up her new classroom at Mills Lawn before heading back to Ithaca, N.Y., to be maid of honor in her sister’s wedding, then be back before the start of the new school year.

“My summer has been kind of nonexistent!” she laughed, as she organized supplies in her new room.

Lee got her undergraduate degree in child development from Cornell University and her masters in elementary education from University of Michigan. After landing an engineering job in Dayton, Lee’s fiancé knew exactly how to woo her to Ohio.

“He brought me to Yellow Springs and said, ‘Look, it’s like Ithaca, which you love and Ann Arbor, which you love… .’ We walked through the town and then biked on the path.”

The ploy proved to be completely unnecessary.

“I knit,” she said, “and I saw the [Knit Knot Tree] on the news and I thought, ‘Oh, that seems like an appropriate place for me!’”

Like the other new teachers, Lee appreciates Mills Lawn’s intensive interview process in that it shows how much the school cares about its teachers. “In a way,” she said, “this school is similar [to the public school in NYC] because it’s very open to different kinds of people.”

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