Interview with Vance Mills, School-Based Manager, California GEAR UP

Fall 2006 | | December 21, 2006 at 5:10 pm

How did you originally become involved in the California GEAR UP Program?

California GEAR UP was funded by the US Department of Education in the fall of 1999 about the same time I was looking for a new challenge in my education career. I had spent almost 40 years in San Diego Unified School as a teacher, vice principal, and Director of Mathematics, Science and Educational Technology. California GEAR UP seemed to be a good match of my experience and expertise with the goals of the program. Developing a college-going culture for all students in middle schools across the state was a perfect extension of the work I had been doing in San Diego for my whole career.

What changes do you see happening in schools?

It is very exciting to see middle schools across the state adopt the vision of a college going culture on their campus. Many principals and leadership teams realize this is exactly what they need to focus their academic programs. Schools that use GEAR UP as a framework for their strategic planning are able to make excellent progress in a short period of time. Many schools have greatly increased their parent participation as a result of California GEAR UP which in turn increases student performance. Expectations have been significantly increased in many schools once schools participate in the School Self Assessment Rubric.

Has anything happened in schools over the years as a result of GEAR UP participation that you did not expect?

I think the thing that has been a pleasant surprise is the fact that California GEAR UP is well known by many middle school educators via word of mouth in a short period of time. GEAR UP has become a household name in many districts and we are receiving many requests about how their campus can become a GEAR UP school. Many programs have been in existence for a much longer period of time and not well known across the state.

What other activities keep you so energetic and motivated?

In my spare time I sing in a church choir as well as a men’s double octet made up of church choir members. Both of my children were married this past two years and I became a grandparent for the first time this summer. I am a sports fanatic with golf as a number one participating activity. Family outings are often at sporting events like football, basketball, and baseball.

How do you see your role as School-Based Manager helping to build the GEAR UP team?

My role in California GEAR UP is that of a coach to use sports vernacular. California GEAR UP has put together the greatest team ever assembled to meet the challenge of every middle school student attending a post-secondary institution. My job is made easy by the fact that all the staff truly believe in the work they are doing and want to make sure that we have a successful program. We have some very lively discussions at times, and then we all pull together to make sure that all our activities are highly successful. My personal goal is that someday GEAR UP will not be necessary as all students will be progressing naturally down the path to college without interventions from outside the school campus.

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