USF Alumni Believes Education is Everything

By Peyton Roux

After attending the University of South Florida for her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate, Dr. Denise Miller has learned everything there is to know about teaching. Now, she teaches children and teachers what it means to be the best you.

“Making sure that we really support students in being the best that they can be and giving educational opportunities and really believing in them is a passion of mine,” Miller said.

In 1991, Miller became the first doctoral candidate in the College of Education to defend her dissertation at USF St. Petersburg.

After graduating with her Ph.D. in special education, Miller was appointed as vice principal at Blanton Elementary. James B. Sanderlin PK-8 opened in 2003, where Miller has been principal since its open.

“Education is just the most important thing for equalizing the world for students, for children, said Miller. “Everybody deserves a great education.”

Even though Miller has been a principal for 22 years, she considers herself a teacher, always willing to educate people.

“I feel that as a teacher, [we] make sure all children are treated respectfully and get the best education they can,” said Miller. “But as a principal, I’m able to teach others to teach. I’m able to help guide others and coach others.”

Miller has always had a passion for children, especially those with special needs. She makes very clear that children have priority. Educating them is important.

“I’ve always said, ‘kids first, adults second,’” said Miller. “That’s the rule. It’s a simple rule.”

Miller’s favorite part of the job is the children. Being around them helps her de-stress from the craziness going on in the office.

“When days are really rough, because there’s lots of challenges these days, that’s my haven,” said Miller. “I’ll just go into a classroom, and I’ll sit with children.”

When attending USF as an undergrad, Miller had no intention of getting her Ph.D., but when her teacher Dr. Eleanor Getzler told her she was, Miller thought, ‘why not?’

“[At USF] there’s always been this ‘what else can you do’ ‘how much better can you be’ ‘what else can we help you do’ [attitude],” said Miller. “There’s a lot of support.”

Being a teacher has been tough because teachers aren’t told if they’re doing a great job or not, but Miller doesn’t have this problem. Past students contact her all the time to tell her what a wonderful job she has done.

“I have children who come back,” said Miller. “I have a young man who has just graduated by the skin of his teeth, but I’m proud of him, and he still comes back and visits me on a regular basis.”

There’s no denying Miller loves her job and what she has done for children, but her time has come to say goodbye. Miller is set to retire December 2018.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Miller. “But I also feel after 22 years, I’m ready to try to do some relaxing.”