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Clare Mills named Winnisquam District's Teacher of the Year

Clare Mills was recognized last week as the 2018-19 Teacher of the Year for the Winnisquam Regional School District. Taking part in the surprise presentation was school board member Julie Lonergan, family friend Rocco DiPietro, daughter Laura Mills, SAU 59 Superintendent Rob Seaward, Mills, her husband Rich, and school board members Tarra LaChapelle and Julie Petty. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
April 25, 2019
NORTHFIELD – When Clare Mills, Behavioral Specialist for the Student Support Center at Union-Sanborn School, began her weekly assembly for students in pre-school through second grade last Thursday morning, she was suddenly interrupted by members of the Winnisquam Regional School Board who had a presentation of their own to make- her award as the district's 2019 Teacher of the Year.

Board member Tarra LaChapelle told the students, "We are here to deliver a very special message. Each year a special teacher is selected by the school community. What I mean by that is a lot of other people, such as teachers, parents, students from all of our schools, select a special someone to be teacher of the year. Well that special person is right here in this room."

Seeing her family beside Superintendent Rob Seaward and representatives of the school board, the secret was quickly out and Mills rushed forward in tears, hugging them all. She had to be patient, though, as LaChapelle, Julie Petty and Julie Lonergan then described why Mills was selected.

They said she was someone who was calm and composed, a strong collaborator with excellent communication skills. She had compassion for children and families, positively included parents in education, and made students feel worthy. Mills, they added, was a team player who built strong connections that benefitted students. In her role at USS, Mills, who has been with the district for 25 years, has also served as chair for Special Education in SAU 59, been part of the Leadership and Universal Teams, analyzes student behavior and runs student support groups.

Recognized as a great asset to classroom teachers Petty said, "You just may find this person often in the Student Support Center, very focused on Be Kind, Be Safe and Be a Learner."

Mills was then presented with flowers from the district as well as a plaque honoring all past recipients of the Teacher of the Year Award. That plaque will now hang in her honor at Union-Sanborn School for the next year but Mills will also have a requirement to fulfill as the 2019 award recipient.

"You'll now be asked to select someone from this year's graduating class at Winnisquam High School to receive a $500 scholarship," she was told by the board.

Union-Sanborn Principal Jessica Makris Welch was excited to learn one of her teachers was selected among the many dedicated faculty members who are a part of the district.

"She's the first faculty member to be selected from Union-Sanborn School and she certainly deserves it," said Welch.

Mills was nearly speechless at the assembly last Thursday morning. Adding to her emotions was a special video presentation from several students and coworkers, all of whom had something special to say about her.

"Her natural instinct is to see the world through a child's eyes," one teacher observed.

Others praised her for presenting students with lessons they will use all their lives, while another added, "You do it every day with a smile on your face. Congratulations. You deserve it."

The staff members even held up a chalkboard sign from their office wall with the motto, "It's a good day to have a good day," as they congratulated her on camera. A saying they felt fits Mills' daily outlook.

Students chimed in as well. Through notes written anonymously, they praised Mills for not only being there when they need her, but for taking time out to provide a break for them on a stressful day.

"She is pretty much the best teacher I ever had," one second grade student confessed.

Through more tears after the presentation Mills told the assembly, "Thank you all so much for your kind words. I just want to say I'm overwhelmed."

As she and her family was then invited to enjoy cake and refreshments, Mills took a moment to compose her thoughts. She said her own children went to school in the Winnisquam School District, including elementary school at Union Sanborn. Having been with the district for over two decades as not just a parent but a faculty member, too, she said felt blessed, humbled and very grateful for this special recognition from her peers and the community.

Mills finished by saying with sincerity, "This school is my heart."

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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