New superintendent brings love of collaboration, learning to schools
Dr. Susan Miller loves education and the joy that comes with learning. She especially loves to see those “aha” moments when her students grasp a key concept or make new connections.
Starting this summer, she will have an opportunity to discover that on nearly 9,400 faces as the new superintendent of the Diocese of Peoria’s 42 Catholic schools. She succeeds Dr. Sharon Weiss, who retired in December.
Dr. Jerry Sanderson, longtime associate superintendent in the Office of Catholic Schools, has been serving as interim superintendent.
“We want students to become lifelong learners,” Miller told The Catholic Post. “I want learning to be an extraordinary experience.”
She is looking forward to working with Sanderson and Bishop Louis Tylka to make that happen for many years to come.
“Bishop Lou is so supportive of Catholic education and is putting together a strategy that’s going to enable the diocese to maximize the number of opportunities for students who want a Catholic education to receive that Catholic education,” Miller said. “I think it all starts with leadership. It starts with someone who really sees the value of Catholic education and is willing to invest in the possibility.”
Miller comes to central Illinois from Waterbury, Connecticut, where she has been working to improve math outcomes for the students of Waterbury Public Schools. While math has always been part of her life, teaching was something she fell in love with after college.
NEW CAREER PATH
Raised in Connecticut, Miller received a strong foundation in her Catholic faith from the Sisters of Mercy who taught her in grade school and high school — and something more.
“I want to understand what it is they’re hoping for, what they want their kids to experience. And how do we provide that in a way that is really enriching to their students?”
Society doesn’t seem to value that, but service reminds us that the world is about more than us and that we have a responsibility to others in our world, Miller explained. “To me, it’s one of the key parts of our Catholic heritage.”
Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and went to work at Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons facility near Denver, Colorado. She was responsible for three nuclear buildings and deactivated the first building when nuclear weapons were no longer being made.
Not wanting to “chase nuclear weapons facilities around the country,” she went back to school to get an MBA from the University of Denver. She worked in data storage for just short of three years and then took a sabbatical to spend more time with the four children she shares with husband Eric Polednik, a software test engineer.
Catholic schools needed teachers and she could teach math. Pretty soon, the sabbatical turned into a new career path.
“I really, truly thought it would be easy,” Miller said. “I will tell you in all honesty it is much easier to close a nuclear building than it is to teach a classroom of students. I mean that sincerely. It is probably one of the hardest jobs out there — and it is the job I absolutely fell in love with.”
SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES
Miller went back to school again, this time for a doctorate in curriculum and instruction at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
She would use it as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and professional development for the 140 elementary schools of the Archdiocese of New York for three years, and then as the principal of Westbrook Middle School in Westbrook, Connecticut, for a year during the pandemic.
Miller is looking forward to coming to the Midwest and said Peoria “feels more like home to me.”
“It’s just a beautiful area,” she said. “I think there are so many opportunities. I was struck by the richness of the different types of communities that were relatively close by, from an area that was certainly city to areas that were more rural. . . . I think that gives a richness then to your school systems and to your community in that you have that diversity of experiences that you don’t find in a lot of places.”
Miller wants to get to know those communities and understand the schools, especially what families are looking for in Catholic education.
“I want to understand what it is they’re hoping for, what they want their kids to experience. And how do we provide that in a way that is really enriching to their students?” she said.