Miller bids farewell to Pelham Oaks

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2020

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer 

PELHAM — Plenty of hugs, tears and goodbyes punctuated Deberah Miller’s last day as principal of Pelham Oaks Elementary School on Friday, Jan. 31.

The school’s staff surprised Miller with a hiking-themed retirement luncheon. The staff donned outdoor-style clothing and gear as a tribute to Miller’s love of hiking. The day’s festivities culminated with an indoor parade.

“It has been so good. I have learned a lot,” Miller said Friday. “I have been fortunate to work with an amazing board, amazing administrators and an amazing central office staff. It’s been a team effort. And the most amazing school staff I’ve ever worked with. They are just beyond words.”

Miller, an educator for nearly 30 years, has been with Pelham Oaks since its inception. Having come from a family of educators, she naturally wanted to get involved when her youngest child started attending school, so she asked her child’s principal about becoming an aide. Obviously recognizing her passion, the principal suggested that Miller consider furthering her education to become a teacher.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Miller recalled.

Miller did just that and graduated from the University of Montevallo in 1991. She first taught second, third and sixth grades in the Bibb County school system, then ventured into administration at Tuscaloosa County and later as a principal in the Tuscaloosa City school system.

When Pelham City Schools was just starting out, Miller seized the opportunity to help build an organization from the ground up and became principal of what was then Valley Elementary on U.S. 31. She continued with the school when it moved to Pelham Oaks where she has remained until Friday.

“It was the draw of the community itself, the opportunity to help start a school system,” Miller said of her initial decision to move to Shelby County.

During Miller’s time at Pelham Oaks, the school has gone from having a “B” to an “A” on its report card and has become a Lighthouse School as well as one of Alabama’s Top 50 $1 Million Schools. She admits the staff and students have become her second family.

“I cannot tell you how many students have left here crying because they didn’t want school to end,” she said.

Chase Holden, the incoming principal, assumed his new title Jan. 1 to ensure a smooth transition. He was formerly assistant principal.

“She gave me a shot, and that’s something I will be forever thankful for,” Holden said. “Her work ethic is second to none. She has been making sure no matter what happens, it’s all about these students and teachers.”

Secretary Melanie Sherer has worked with Miller since the beginning. She described her as “a kind and caring person.”

Shannon White, PTO president, commended Miller on her leadership.

“She’s the most compassionate person you will ever meet in life. She wants everyone to succeed,” White said.

When asked about her retirement plans, Miller said she will have to get accustomed to the “new norm.” She plans to spend more time with her family, especially her four grandchildren (and one more on the way), traveling with her husband and, of course, hiking.

She also hopes to read a few more books and perhaps get into photography.

“Education will always be near and dear to my heart,” Miller said.

Photos available at