Following shakeup, Mills opens up about Caldwell’s future

Jodie Mills — Caldwell’s new acting superintendent — describes her sudden promotion last week as an opportunity she never saw coming.

Jodi Mills
Acting Superintendent Jodie Mills poses outside of the Caldwell district office on Wednesday. Photo by Andrew Reed / Idaho Education News.

Mills has racked up almost 30 years in education, and obtained an education specialist degree with a superintendent’s certification from the University of Idaho so she could become a superintendent someday.

But Mills, Caldwell’s current director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, didn’t expect that day to come June 15.

“I have two children, and I raised my children to always have opportunities for themselves,” Mills told Idaho Education News Wednesday. “As part of my opportunities, I always made sure (through) my credentials that if it did come up, I could say ‘yes’ or have an open door.”

During a June 15 meeting, trustees unexpectedly ousted Superintendent Tim Rosandick and Assistant Superintendent Luci Asumendi, although both will remain under contract through June 2016 and work in what the district calls a consulting role. Trustees called a closed-door executive session to discuss the issue, invited Mills inside, and named her acting superintendent when the open meeting resumed.

Mills said she had no idea the promotion was even an option.

“Did I ever think I would be considered for superintendent? No,” Mills said. “Part of that is the work I do with the academic side of things is more where my passion is. But going forward, I love the opportunity to help transition the district into the new superintendent.”

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Mills said she was given an opportunity to think about the promotion, but accepted immediately. A vacancy could have left a void in authority, and carrying out district business.

There is no timetable attached to Mills’ promotion, and she will lead the district until a full-time replacement is made. She continues to work under her old contract.

After growing up in Dillon, Mont., Mills continued her education at Western Montana College, earning a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. Her first job was as an emergency medical technician, working with Life Flight and 911 emergency responders.

After the birth of her daughter, Molly, Mills gave up EMT work because the schedule didn’t lend itself to raising a toddler. She began her education career, working as a Title I director in tiny Lavina, Mont., population 187.

Mills then moved to Rupert, where she taught high school biology, anatomy and physiology. Mills remained in the area for years, working as a teacher, assistant elementary principal, high school principal, federal programs director, assessment director and tech director between the Cassia County and Minidoka County districts.

From there, Mills moved to the Idaho State Department of Education as a school improvement coordinator and to Schoolnet, serving as a professional development coordinator and project manager.

In September 2012, Mills joined the Caldwell district as director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, which she said is the best job she has ever held.

“I’ve had about every job you can possibly think of in education — my resume reads like the Dr. Seuss book, ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go,'” Mills said. “But in Caldwell it feels like everything has come together — teachers who are dedicated to kids and administrators who are dedicated to teachers.

“Folks are incredibly vested in Caldwell’s kids, and I just haven’t seen it come together to this magnitude.”

For 2015-16, Mills hopes to strengthen Caldwell’s focus in English and the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math. She’s also committed to ensuring elementary education prepares students for challenges at the secondary level and opening up communication with parents. She also wants to focus on recruiting and retaining quality teachers in what is sometimes perceived as a high-turnover “training” district.

Mills also said all district office employees are stepping up to help shoulder the added workload, and school board members are looking in-house to appoint a new assistant superintendent.

Mills hasn’t been able to enjoy a summer break yet, but when she does, she looks forward to spending time exploring forest fire lookout towers — an activity ranked No. 1 on Boise State Public Radio’s “Idaho Bucket List.”

“That’s my recharge, that’s where I get unplugged,” Mills said. “If it is on your bucket list, great, do it.”

In the immediate future, Mills will work with school board member Amy Rojas and board chairman Charles Stout to help outline the district’s first steps in the transition. Reached Wednesday afternoon, Rojas said she hopes to meet with Mills as early as Thursday and get right to work.

“We are moving forward in a positive way, and everybody, as far as I know, is on board,” Rojas said. “I just believe change is good for things, and I believe (Mills) is going to do great.

“Jodie’s been with us three years now, and she has been excellent in her job at her current position,” Rojas said. “I just believe she will do well.”

Mills said she wants the transition to play out fairly and smoothly, but she might consider throwing her own name in the mix as a candidate for full-time superintendent.

“I’ve never gone for a job I wasn’t fully vested in,” Mills said. “If I go for a job I want it, I just don’t throw a hook out there to see if I can get it.”

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