Lillie B. Haynes principal retires after nearly four decades as educator, administrator in East Lyme

East Lyme — Lillie B. Haynes Elementary School Principal David Miko's roots in the community run deep.

He grew up in town and was a member of East Lyme High School's first graduating class in 1969 and its first three-letter athlete. He served 17 years as a lifeguard in town and 38 years as an educator and administrator for East Lyme Public Schools.

Now after 15 years as the principal of Lillie B. Haynes, Miko will retire at the end of the school year.

Miko said his own positive experience with his teachers in East Lyme influenced his decision to become an educator and administrator in his hometown.

"I turned to education, because of the inspiration I had through the years," he said in a recent interview.

Within the school district, Miko has served as a physical education teacher, a science teacher, the district’s health and PE coordinator for grades K-12, wellness specialist for grades K-12, assistant principal of East Lyme High School, and most recently elementary school principal. 

Looking back, he said his greatest achievement is creating a culture of leaders.

"I'm most proud of the culture of facilitating a community of leaders where everybody's reaching their potential and running with their passions and strengths, and sharing it with the children and each other, and supporting one another," he said.

Miko said he believes in educating "the whole child" and ensuring every child wants to be at school and finds it meaningful.

While he said bringing students to their highest levels in reading, writing and math is important, so is enrichment through the arts, broadcasting, acting in plays, dancing, or playing music.

"Kids have to want to be here, welcomed, celebrated, cared about and challenged," he said.

During the summer, Miko said he used to study the yearbook to match up students' faces to their names, so he could call the students by their names. He said he tells teachers that the most important thing they can do is convince every child that they care about them.  

He said this was particularly important at the high school, when students may be fretting over SAT scores, college, prom, and relationships. He said as soon as he would go over to students, speak to them by name, and try to connect with them and convince them that they are cared for, he would see a difference.

When starting out in his career, Miko was planning to be a professional baseball player, but it didn't work out, he said. He instead turned to his other plan: to make a difference in as many lives as he could.

He spent his first year teaching as a physical education teacher in Plainfield, before spending the rest of his career in East Lyme.

In addition to his bachelor's degree, he said he earned master's degrees in health education and hospital administration, a sixth year in educational leadership, certification as school superintendent in Connecticut, and a doctorate in exercise physiology.

Miko, who has two children, credits his wife, Lisa, for her support.

He also praised the school district's staff, who always "rise to the occasion."

Miko said he feels that it's now time to retire and that he is leaving the school in a good place. In his retirement, he plans to write books, go fishing, and try new business ventures. He said he would like to have the opportunity to fill in as a superintendent, if an administrator is out of office.

Julie Kuja, a third-grade teacher at Lillie B. Haynes, said Miko's love for children is evident in the way he greets them with a smile and says goodbye to them as they leave for the day.

He has a committee of teachers representing each grade level to help make major decisions.

"He considers everyone on staff to be part of the community of leaders," said Kuja.

As Miko retires, Melissa DeLoreto, the Niantic Center School principal who joined the school in 2010, will assume the position of Lillie B. Haynes principal on July 1.

Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton said the move will allow DeLoreto to understand the culture of both Lillie B. Haynes and Niantic Center and work collaboratively as school officials look at combining grade sections in the future under a school consolidation proposal.

The proposal is to renovate Lillie B. Haynes and close Niantic Center School, while postponing the rebuilding of Flanders Elementary School for five to seven years and providing some upgrades in the interim. Funding for the renovations to Lillie B. Haynes and refurbishments to Flanders could go to referendum this fall, if approved by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance.

Jeffrey Provost, an assistant principal at East Lyme High School and a Niantic Center School parent who once attended Niantic Center School himself, will become interim principal of Niantic Center School.

The staff at Lillie B. Haynes are sponsoring a send-off to Miko from 5 to 8 p.m. June 2 at McCook Point Park. All are welcome.

Chris Mountain, a school psychologist at the high school, said Miko's background as a coach enables him to make connections with people and be very team-oriented.

"He's an educator who grew up in the East Lyme community and he has always taken tremendous pride in his connection to the town," said Mountain.

Newton, the schools' superintendent and an East Lyme graduate whom Miko once taught science and coached in basketball, said Miko is very supportive, feels a passion and love for his work, and will be missed.

"He's had such a presence in East Lyme Public Schools for so many years and has brought joy and smiles to so many kids' faces — mine as well," said Newton.

k.drelich@theday.com

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