Aaron Milner has been superintendent of Enterprise City (Ala.) Schools since 2010, prior to which he was principal of the district's junior high school since 2005. The district serves 6,500 students.
Tell us about the challenging situation you inherited when you entered office.
In 2007, we had an F4 tornado destroy two of our schools, and eight of our high school students were killed. It was a terrible tragedy for this community. I was the junior high school principal at the time. Years later, we’ve persevered through that, in part because of the work of my predecessor Jim Reese, who was superintendent for nearly 10 years, and we feel we’ve been able to close that chapter and move on. Today, our stakeholders in the community believe that we have healed, and this school system is set to reach new heights of success. When I became superintendent in 2010, we were just completing construction of our new $90 million high school. Today it is complete and is one of the best high school facilities in the state, if not the entire Southeast region.
What other changes are you going through?
The average age of our administrators has dropped significantly as the Baby Boom generation retires and new younger people have been hired. We’ve lost a wealth of experience there, but we have gained a lot of new ideas with this new generation. Combine that with the new facility construction and our considerable enrollment growth of some 1,500 students in the last ten years, and we are in the middle of a sea change in our district.
What is the Enterprise City community like?
A large part of our identity is shaped by nearby Fort Rucker, known as the home of Army aviation. About 60 percent of our students are affiliated in some way with the military. We defy stereotypes about what a southeast Alabama town should be like, because we have children that come here not only from all over the country but from around the world, and from some of the best schools anywhere. So we have to strive to provide a 21st century learning environment for them. I’m proud to say we have many families who come here for the military, but decide to stay here because of the strength of the school system. That has a very positive impact around the community.
What challenges are you dealing with?
One of the biggest challenges is to make sure we provide education equitably. We’ve made it our goal that all students, regardless of background or socioeconomic status, have the same opportunities to learn and succeed, and go on to success after graduating. With all the changes we’re going through, and given the transience of our community with so many students moving in and out, ensuring equity is a consistent goal of ours. In general, it’s also a challenge for our administrators to have patience about the rate of change, and to keep the energy positive. Too often we want to see reforms made quickly, but we have to remind one another that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
How was your experience at the Orlando Summit?
The hospitality and resort were phenomenal. The presentations were fascinating. What I enjoyed the most was talking with other superintendents, from a wide variety of types of districts, about their challenges. I gained a lot from their perspectives.