Chad Miller, leader of Homer Davis Elementary School, has been named the 2016 Rodel Exemplary Principal for Pima County. -- Credit: Courtesy of Rodel Foundation of Arizona

Courtesy of Rodel Foundation of Arizona

On paper, Chad Miller is the leader of Flowing Wells’ Homer Davis Elementary School.

But the longtime educator considers himself to be nothing more than a teammate — a teammate to the school’s head teacher and to the night custodian alike.

It’s that mentality that has built a culture of collaboration, support and high academic achievement in a school where nearly all of the 500 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of their family’s income.

As much as Miller prefers to credit his team for that success, the Rodel Foundation of Arizona is recognizing him as a 2016 Exemplary Principal.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” he said of the honor. “I’m not too comfortable with it, because it’s a reflection of the great people I work with every day. I learn more from them than they learn from me.”

The Rodel honor comes with a $1,500 award and the opportunity to mentor aspiring principals.

“Rodel Exemplary Principals represent some of the best school leaders that Arizona has to offer,” said Howard Paley, Rodel chief operating officer. “Our Principal Initiative is an opportunity to recognize these leaders.

“But more importantly, we want these leaders to mentor aspiring leaders and provide an exemplary network of school leaders to connect across our great state.”

Serving in the role of a mentor comes naturally to Miller, who got into education after serving as a coach in high school for youth basketball camps.

“It really came down to wanting to help kids reach their goals, whether it was fitness or sports or academics,” he said. He decided to study physical education and health education in college.

Looking to escape freezing winters in the Midwest, Miller made his way to Tucson, and was hired to work in the Flowing Wells School District two decades ago.

He taught PE to students in grades kindergarten through sixth for 11 years before making the move to administration.

“Year after year, I would think about how I could make a bigger impact in education,” he said of his decision to go from the classroom to an assistant principal position, and then to leading a school of his own at 4250 N. Romero Road.

“One of the greatest sources of pride I have in Homer Davis is every day working with dedicated educators that care so much about helping students improve and reaching their full potential,” he said. “I’m very proud to see the difference they continue to make regarding student achievement as a result of teamwork, their patience and collaborative efforts.”

That may not be the case, however, if not for his high expectations not only for himself, but also for his staff.

He is regularly out and about on campus, observing classrooms and providing feedback to teachers to ensure students get what they need.

Working in a high-poverty school makes that more challenging, with children who often come with a lot of baggage. But that makes it all the more rewarding.

“Some people in sports might want to be assigned to work for the returning champs,” Miller said. “I like working for the underdog; I like trying to make a difference for kids who don’t have a whole lot outside of school.

“Connecting with them and hiring and retaining teachers that can help them compete and be successful in life is really what it’s all about for me.”

Though Miller does a good job of connecting with his staff, it’s his ability to build relationships with students that is most striking to Flowing Wells Superintendent David Baker, who nominated Miller for the honor.

“When I walk around campus with him, he’s calling out to parents, talking about a kid’s basketball game over the weekend; he’s talking to kids about their book reports, and he actually knows what their reports are about,” Baker said. “Every principal influences their schools differently and how you interact with people influences the culture of the school.

“Chad has an incredible focus on making the next day better, constantly improving and helping kids and faculty pursue their next goal. His positivity is infectious.”

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@tucson.com or 573-4175. On Twitter: @AlexisHuicochea

Education writer for #ThisIsTucson. Mom of one.