MacMillin works late, goes beyond to win Teacher of the Year

MacMillin works late, goes beyond to win Teacher of the Year

Paula MacMillin, a 4th-grade teacher at Cumberland Hill Elementary School, has been named the Cumberland School Department’s District Teacher of the Year for 2020.

CUMBERLAND – Lifelong town resident and local school graduate Paula MacMillin was named the Cumberland School Department’s District Teacher of the Year for 2020 as perhaps the single most influential teacher voice behind transitioning the district to distance learning.

MacMillin won the award this month in recognition of her inspirational actions and excellence in educational leadership. Her colleagues recognized the long hours she put into helping them with their questions on technology and remote teaching.

“I’m just doing what I do,” MacMillin, a 4th-grade teacher at Cumberland Hill Elementary School, told The Breeze.

She said she “was completely blindsided” when teachers showed up to her house, never expecting anything like this to happen to her.

“It was really emotional for me, it was a really nice surprise,” she said.

Her husband, Craig, also did a great job keeping it a secret from her, she said, particularly since she’s so good at finding such things out. Her dad was at the house at the time, and she initially thought the honking out front was because his car alarm had gone off again. Even after walking outside, she said, she initially thought it was a group of parents coming to surprise her for Teacher Appreciation Week.

Debra Malcolm, principal at Cumberland Hill Elementary, said it was her honor and privilege to nominate MacMillin, who transitioned back to the school two years ago after serving as a district technology coach for four years. Prior to those four years, she’d spent 12 years as a special education teacher and grade 5 teacher at Cumberland Hill, for a total of 18 years with the district.

According to Malcolm, MacMillin has spent long hours helping others with their technology questions, often late at night.

MacMillin said that like many people, she had a lot of nervous energy toward the beginning of the pandemic and wasn’t sleeping very well, so she would often get emails at 10 or 11 p.m. and “the next thing I knew it was 2 a.m.” She laughed as she remembered wondering if people were getting notifications on their phone early in the morning, deciding the safest route was to use a scheduling feature to have emails arrive at 8 a.m.

MacMillin said she’s certainly not the “end-all, be-all” on technology, but she came into distance learning with a lot of knowledge on Google apps and other technology based on her previous training of teachers, mostly at the middle and high school level. The elementary level was a bit more challenging because students don’t take Chromebooks home, she said, and some teachers weren’t as up to speed on some aspects.

According to Malcolm, MacMillin volunteered on her return to the school to be a member of the grade 4 ELA district mapping team, serving as ELA liaison for her colleagues and taking on the responsibility “with great ease and fidelity.”

“In addition to her role on the ELA mapping team, Paula is a very talented teacher,” wrote Malcolm. “She has a calm, positive demeanor and always supports the social-emotional needs of the students in her classroom. She has participated in the school’s target team and worked closely with mental health staff to address unique individual emotional needs of the students in her classroom.”

Last year, MacMillin served as a technology resource to the entire school staff, she said, and was always willing to support everyone, including at school assemblies and for professional development days.

As the district transitioned to distance learning during the pandemic, MacMillin, without being asked, offered to record “how to” videos and shared them with district staff, said Malcolm. On April 26, she posted an email providing guidance for using a white board for Google Meets along with a tutorial on Kami extension with Google Classroom.

“Paula has served as a resource for me as I continue to learn and navigate the virtual world in order to support the students and staff of Cumberland Hill,” said Malcolm. “Paula has used much of her personal time answering staff emails, texts and chats as she became the go-to staff member for many individuals. She is always responsive whether it be nights or weekends, or as she is juggling motherhood with a toddler.”

Malcolm said when she shared that she was nominating MacMillin for the award, there was a unanimous yes among other staff members, who told her how supportive she’d been to them during the distance learning experience.