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Pine Island Elementary welcomes Millins

By Staff | Jun 17, 2020

Principal Thomas Millins at his desk at Pine Island Elementary School. PAULETTE LeBLANC

As the North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts waves goodbye to Principal Thomas Millins, the staff and students at Pine Island Elementary open their arms. Indeed a genuine island welcome is just what Millins has received, although his official first day as principal doesn’t begin until July 1.

He makes it clear that he wasn’t at all placed at the school, but sought after Pine Island Elementary as a post to be coveted.

“When I found out Mr. Hook was retiring,” said Millins, “I called the school superintendent personally and said I know that school is going to be available. I’m not going to apply at any other school, but I want Pine Island Elementary.”

It was five months before Millins heard from the school’s superintendent that he would indeed be pointed to Pine Island. He said he was very excited to get the call, as a school like this doesn’t often have an opening, explaining why Pine Island Elementary is sought-after by so many like him.

“A school like Pine Island does not open up a lot,” said Millins. “It’s community based. If you love getting involved in the community, this is the perfect school.”

Millins makes no bones about the fact that Pine Island has always had a special place in his heart, even though he began in Cape Coral as a social studies teacher back in 1997.

Millins has been a school principal at the North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts for the past four years and says he would have happily stayed but for the opening here on the island. Being an avid boater has added to Millins’ experience on the island, as he says he often finds himself on the island.

“I’m trying to figure out a way to get from my house by boat to the school,” said Millins laughing. “Maybe I’ll dock my boat in Matlacha, stick out my thumb and say I need a ride to Pine Island Elementary.”

Millins turns serious as he talks about his concern for both the students at his new school and the community, saying that he has every intention of becoming involved with the families as well as the many island-based organizations. He revealed his willingness to spend the rest of his career at the school, after receiving his desired appointment in a place he grew to love far before coming here.

Being in the midst of a pandemic hasn’t made it easy to get to know the school staff, who Millins says he was introduced to by former beloved Principal Steven Hook via Zoom. Millins admits he immediately reached out to the staff to let them know if they wanted to have a one-on-one online meeting with him, he would be more than happy to oblige.

“I want them to get to know me — to know that I’m invested in the island, and that I want to be here. It’s not like they’re getting a principal that was appointed to be here and now I have to drive out here every day. This was something that I wanted — that I sought after, and I’m leaving one of the top schools in the country.”

Millins confessed that although leaving North Fort Myers Academy of the Arts was a bittersweet decision for him as it’s a great school, he’s getting a great school in return, adding that if it wasn’t, he never would have done it. He says he plans to blend his skills at community outreach with the traditions already set forth at the school, having no intention to overwhelm the students or staff with his own experiences.

As it turns out Millins and Hook have known one another for years, as Millins said they often sat together at elementary school principal meetings. He said Hook was very happy that he would be passing the torch to Millins as the two have always had a good relationship.

“He knows, number one, that I love this school,” said Millins. “His goal and my goal is to make this passing of the torch a seamless transition. I’m not coming out here to change the great things that are already happening. I’m going to be observing and providing my own leadership to continue the great traditions at Pine Island Elementary — continuing the culture, continuing the community-based outreach programs that we have.

“I think one of the reasons Dr. Adkins, the superintendent, sent me out here is because he knows my ability to reach out to the community and get them involved … and not just getting the community involved but doing what’s right for the kids. That’s my number one goal.”