The spotlight finds a reluctant star in Lenape High School Registrar Lynda Miller

By Kathryn Coulibaly

For 44 years, Lenape High School Registrar Lynda Miller has successfully avoided the spotlight, even while proving herself to be a go-to employee, friend, family member and volunteer. But the spotlight finally caught up to her when she was named the 2018 NJEA Educational Support Professional (ESP) of the Year.

A graduate of Lenape’s sister school, Shawnee High School, Miller began working at Lenape as a secretary in 1973 at just 19 years old. She went on to work in the attendance and guidance offices until 1999, when she became the school’s registrar.

While working in the guidance office, Miller worked closely with the school’s then-registrar. She found the work interesting, so when the position became available, she jumped at it.

Since then, Miller’s days have been filled with visits from students requesting transcripts for college applications, calls from employment agencies verifying that a prospective employee is a high school graduate, and helping people interested in returning to school gather the information they need.

In addition, there are calls, emails and questions from colleagues and students. It’s a vital position—that is very nearly invisible to most students.

Miller is responsible for the student activities account and is the ticket adviser for all the paying athletic events. Miller doesn’t just oversee these programs: when she is not working, you can often find her at school activities and sporting events. She enjoys watching the students perform and compete, even though they may not know her.

A career behind the scenes

“If you ask a student who the registrar is, or what he or she does, that student would have no idea,” Miller said. “Until their senior year, when they apply for college, most of them have no idea that there is someone behind the scenes, maintaining their transcripts and ensuring that all the information is accurate.”

Miller maintains transcripts for every student who ever attended Lenape High School.

“When I started, I worked in a classroom with file cabinets full of papers,” Miller recalled. “Now, everyone’s records fit on a tiny disk that sits on the top of my desk.”

It’s important for Miller to have easy access to those records. She recently had to provide transcripts for a student who graduated in the 1970s who wanted to apply to a college.

The college application process is an important part of her job, one that brings her face to face with nervous, but excited seniors.

“Every year, the college application process seems to start earlier,” Miller said. “It used to be that students would apply for early decision in late September or early October. Now, I get requests over the summer for transcripts. But the highest demand is still in November and December.”

Some colleges require midyear grades from incoming freshmen to ensure that they continue to prioritize their education. And many scholarships also require transcripts.

Miller also receives requests from college freshman who decide that their dream school wasn’t the right fit for them after all and want to transfer. 

New student registration is another important part of the job, and Miller has to create a transcript for each student once the district receives his or her records. For students who attended schools in other states, it can be challenging to convert their previous school’s transcript into one that is compatible with Lenape’s system.

For international students, it can be even more difficult, as transcripts are often in other languages.

“Sometimes, you just have to sit with students and ask them about their previous school’s requirements and what they did in order to be able to convert their transcript,” Miller said.

Overall, the job requires attention to detail, something that Miller enjoys.

“We deal with a high volume of requests,” Miller said. “We handle requests related to colleges, student registration, student withdrawals, grade changes, home instruction, etc. These are all important tasks; you have to be able to juggle each of them, and be accurate and efficient, to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.”

As a new hire, Miller and the other secretaries in the district felt the need to organize a union for secretaries, so they created the Lenape District Secretaries Association.

A labor of love

But for Miller, the work is a labor of love. Her affection for Lenape is obvious, from the two huge bulletin boards crowded with clippings of Lenape students’ achievements, to the fact that she has taken on two part-time jobs with the district that keep her at the school well after her day as the registrar ends.

Miller is responsible for the student activities account and is the ticket adviser for all the paying athletic events. Miller doesn’t just oversee these programs: when she is not working, you can often find her at school activities and sporting events. She enjoys watching the students perform and compete, even though they may not know her.

Miller describes Lenape as a family. “Lenape High School is a special place,” Miller said. “The people here make it easy to come to work every day, even when you have to get up at 5:15 a.m. five days a week!”

In fact, Miller is such a fan of the school that she enrolled her son, Shaun, now 36, in the district. He graduated in 2000 and now works for a medical equipment company.

When Miller is not at Lenape or volunteering with her church, the Protestant Community Church of Medford Lakes, you can find her and Shaun at every Philadelphia Eagles game during football season. They have been season ticket holders for 20 years and have created a community with the other ticket holders who sit near them.

Building a local association

Miller also has played an active role in her local education association. As a new hire, she and the other secretaries in the district felt the need to organize a union for secretaries, so they created the Lenape District Secretaries Association.

“We wanted to organize because, while we thought our job and benefits were secure, we really couldn’t be sure,” Miller remembered. “We wanted to make sure that we could keep what we have.”

In 1977, they organized the association, and after a few years, Miller became the president.

In 1992, the secretaries were approached by the teachers’ union, the Lenape District Education Association, about merging with them. The secretaries agreed in order to maximize their strength, and Miller became the recording secretary and served as the secretaries’ representative on the negotiations team.

An honor to be acknowledged

Through all the changes over the course of her career, Miller thinks the students today are very similar to when she went to school.

“Sometimes I see the way students dress or the music they listen to, and I think, well that’s different,” Miller said. “But then I think, when I was in school, I bet the older generations looked at what I wore and the music I liked and thought that was pretty strange, too! Kids are kids, and I’ve met a lot of good kids along the way.”

Despite all her volunteer and leadership positions, Miller has always fled from the spotlight, so it is challenging for her to receive the recognition.

“It’s overwhelming to be named the ESP of the Year,” Miller said. “It’s a lot of attention for someone used to doing behind the scenes work.”

Miller’s mother is unwilling to let her daughter’s reticence hold her back from sharing the news.

“My mother has called every living relative and friend we have,” Miller laughed. “But it really is an honor to be acknowledged, and I am very proud to represent ESPs and my colleagues here at Lenape.”

As the 2018 ESP of the Year, Miller has already been nominated by NJEA for the NEA ESP of the Year award. She will attend the NEA ESP Conference in Orlando, Fla., funded by NJEA, and will receive a weeklong Disney vacation. To commemorate the experience, NJEA will present her with an ESP of the Year ring, and she will be a special guest at the 2018 NJEA Convention. 

Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of the NJEA Review and provides content and support to njea.org. 

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