Janice Mills, Steward Of Mashpee's Modern School System, Will Not Run Again
By: Elsa H. Partan
Janice M. Mills, the longest-serving member of the Mashpee School Committee in town history, will retire at the end of her term in May at age 73. Her fondest memory in her 38-years of service is advocating for the construction of a high school in Mashpee and helping to guide that project to completion.
When Ms. Mills began serving on the committee in 1974, Mashpee’s elementary schoolchildren attended classes in the Samuel G. Davis School, the building that is now Mashpee Town Hall. Students attended 7th and 8th grade at Otis Air Force Base and went to high school in Falmouth. All grades totaled 518 students. The name Kenneth C. Coombs referred not to a school building, but to a school principal.
Ms. Mills saw the construction of what is now known as the Quashnet School in 1978, the construction of the Kenneth C. Coombs School in 1987, and the Mashpee High School in 1995. She served as chairman of the school committee off and on over the years. Serving on the high school building committee was one of the most challenging and rewarding periods of her tenure, she said.
“I think everyone in town was very proud of building our own high school,” she said.
She does not remember anyone voting against the idea at a Special Town Meeting in the 1990s, she said.
“It was as true then as it is today: it is amazing how supportive the seniors are of education in this town,” she said. “I guess I have to put myself in that category now.”
The seat held by Ms. Mills is one of two, three-year terms on the school committee up for re-election in May. The other is now held by Chairman Kathy G. Stanley.
Theresa M. Cook, who served on the school committee from 1995 to 2002 and from 2003 to 2005, said Ms. Mills would review the design plans for the new high school and suggest changes.
“She would say, ‘This feature isn’t conducive to good learning. Maybe it’s good for an office park, but not for children,’” Ms. Cook said.
Ms. Mills was a “big picture” thinker with a keen sense that schools should be accessible as community buildings, she said.
“That has been very successful,” Ms. Cook said. “People feel free to come to a football game, go to an event, or to an evening class.”
Patricia L. Parolski began working in the Mashpee Public Schools in 1977 as a teacher and went on to become curriculum coordinator. From 2002 to 2005, Ms. Parolski served as superintendent.
“Janice is synonymous with service,” Ms. Parolski said. “That is what she did for her 38 years. She did her due diligence, through so many trends, so many superintendents, so many changes. She’s been there through everything.”
When members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe sued the Town of Mashpee to reclaim ancestral land in the 1970s, racial tensions spiked in the schools, Ms. Parolski remembered. Children of laid-off construction workers taunted the children of tribe members after the suit put a temporary halt to construction in town.
Ms. Mills was a calming and uniting presence, Ms. Parolski said. She was positioned between the two groups, a nontribe member married, at the time, to tribe member Earl Mills Sr.
“She could speak to both communities and had the ability to communicate very well,” Ms. Parolski said.
Her communication skills also served the schools well in negotiating teacher contracts, she said.
“Janice was an excellent member of the negotiating team. She understood how to stand up for the town and still show fairness to the teachers.”
Ms. Mills had a talent for guiding curriculum, according to the former superintendent. Her insights were aided by the fact that she taught school many years before, she said. The longtime school committee member also helped to shape the model by which curriculum would be chosen and monitored after the educational reforms of the 1990s, Ms. Parolski said.
“Janice and I did not always agree, but I think that is a sign of a positive relationship,” Ms. Parolski said. “It shouldn’t always be ‘yes’ and it shouldn’t always be ‘no.’ ”
Ms. Mills’s style was to speak her mind, but not to raise her voice, Ms. Parolski said.
“There were people who loved to raise their voices,” she said. “She never did. She might have gone out and kicked the tires on her car after the meeting for all I know.”
Ms. Mills could be very persuasive, according to Ms. Cook. “We would be buried with her logic and reasoning and all would come around to her way of thinking,” she said.
One divisive issue during Ms. Cook’s time was how the grades should be divided among the school buildings. Originally, Ms. Cook advocated for two schools with kindergarten through grade 6, but later saw the wisdom in splitting up the youngest elementary grades and the upper elementary grades, as the system is now arranged. Ms. Mills had a hand in bringing the board together on the issue, she said.
Remarkably, there are 12 people in Massachusetts who have served longer on school committees than Ms. Mills, according to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. MASC records show that the late Vincent Igo served on the Foxborough School Committee for 48 years, starting in 1959.
MASC director of operations Carol A. Grazio knew Ms. Mills because the two served together in the organization in the 1990s. Ms. Mills was president of MASC in 1995.
“I can’t possibly say enough good things about her,” Ms. Grazio said. “She was very knowledgeable and quite an advocate for children.”
Ms. Mills used to call her “the kid” because Ms. Grazio only had 27 years of experience on the board of her school district, now the Pawtucket Regional Schools.
Ms. Cook said Ms. Mills should be remembered for standing up for all children, whether they were the highest achievers or the ones who struggle in school.
“She just means so much to me,” Ms. Cook said. “I am very thankful for the time that she served and I treasure her friendship.”
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