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Principal puts arts back in education

November 3, 2011
By J.T. Whitehouse
On July 1, St. Joseph Immaculate Heart of Mary School gained a new principal to replace the retiring John Rozzo. Deacon Lee Miles stepped into the position and has since been busy enhancing what the school has to offer.

His first focus was on the performing arts, namely the band. He said in the prior year, the SJIHM band contained only five students.

“We had one trumpet player and four drummers,” he said. “This year we have 35 students in band and our band teacher is on cloud nine.”

To enhance the music program, a collaborative effort was initiated with Ursuline High School and that band program. Miles said he actually has Ursuline band members come to SJIHM and work with their younger counterparts. In exchange, the SJIHM band members got the chance to go to Ursuline and sit in on one of the high school sessions.

For Miles, it was only the beginning.

“Our band created a spark,” he said. “We are now creating a performing arts program. We will soon be recruiting kids for performances that will also bring in our choral program.”

He said even if a student doesn’t want to get involved in the musical side, the school will need some kids to assist as a stage hand. Miles said the program will offer something for everyone.

He also believes the arts program can glue together a lot of the academic side of SJIHM. He said, for example, students in theater can bring together the music aspect, acting, and even a tie with English literature and other mainstream subjects.

“It develops a more interdisciplanary program connecting more subjects by bringing them together,” Miles said.

On Dec. 13, the fruit of the program will ripen when the students present “One Starry Night” at St. Joseph Church. The play will take students away from Santa Claus and snowmen and into the real meaning of Christmas.

“It will be more of a program that will teach a lesson and entertain at the same time,” Miles said. “It will be more faith-based and the kids can experience the journey of Mary and Joseph.

The play will include the band students, who now have a new space to practice. The former chapel in the church has been transformed into a band room. Miles said Monsignor Kenneth Miller gave the school the former chapel for the music program and it has worked out very well.

When it is not being used for music or band, the room will be used by children with autism. Miles said autistic children need a space that has a quiet feel without a lot of items to distract them. The new band room fits that bill.

One thing Miles said he is happy about is the increased enrollment for the 2011-12 school year. The prior year, the school had 173 students. This school year, enrollment jumped to 205.

“We now have the largest kindergarten class in the school’s history,” Miles said.

For Miles, the position of principal is one that he hopes to be valuable in. Miles has served as a business-economics teacher in Pittsburgh Public School for 14 years. He also served as principal in a Pittsburgh Catholic school and in a charter school. He holds a master of education degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a masters of secondary education in school administration from Duquesne University. He still maintains his deacon’s position in Pittsburgh.

When he took on the job of SJIHM principal, he said this school year would be a two-way street.

“Everyone has to get used to change,” he said. “The staff, parents, and students have to get used to me and I have to get used them.”

Article Photos

SJIHM Principal Deacon Lee Miles has a special door in his office he calls his refrigerator door, where he keeps letters and drawings the students give him. He said he will always keep the items that are placed on his door.



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