Retiring Director of Guidance Jim Mills shares what made him fall in love with Burlington Township
After 30 years of working with Burlington Township schools, Director of Guidance Jim Mills is passing the torch to incoming director Katina George. Now in his final month at the high school, Mills shared the story of how he came to Burlington Township and fell in love with the community and his work with the students.
Mills felt drawn to counseling from a young age. His earliest recollections of a school counselor come from his high school days at Camden Catholic.
“While I was there I had a guidance counselor that was a very strong counselor. I thought that would be a neat area to go into,” said Mills.
In college, he considered pursuing law and began working toward a political science degree. By the time he was a senior, however, his interests shifted and he felt like he wasn’t quite ready for law school.
“I was very inspired by President Kennedy and the Peace Corps and the idea of volunteering and service so after college I applied to the Peace Corps,” said Mills.
This new direction took him to Southern Colorado where he spent the next three years as a volunteer teacher in an economically depressed area. The private school where he taught didn’t require teachers to be certified in a specific subject so he ended up wearing a lot of hats, teaching history, English, phys ed and coaching a few of the school’s sports teams.
“I just fell in love with education, I loved connecting with students and families and I found it tremendously rewarding,” said Mills. “The amount you got back was always more than you gave.”
While teaching, he met his wife, also a volunteer at the time, and the two moved back to Mills’ home state of New Jersey where job opportunities were more plentiful. Upon his return, he wasted no time earning certifications first at Rutgers University for teaching, and then at Rowan University for counseling.
His first job as a guidance counselor lasted six years at Paul VI High School. During this time, Mills and his wife had three children.
“The reality became we couldn’t raise three kids on this salary unless I had three or four other jobs,” said Mills.
When the opportunity for a better paying job as a counselor at Burlington Township Middle School presented itself, Mills jumped at the chance and was hired. As he settled into the new position, he found a lot to love about Burlington Township’s students and the wider community.
“One of the things I loved about the district was the diversity. It was a very diverse student population, and the students just got along and interacted so wonderfully with each other. When I first came here, I found that to be the case and it’s still the case today,” said Mills.
He eventually moved to the high school and was promoted to director of guidance for the district shortly after. His duties in this new position were more administrative rather than working one-on-one with students, which is something he misses about his time as a guidance counselor.
“When I first took the position, they wanted to house me in the central office where all the other central administrators were, and I really didn’t want that because I wanted the opportunity to be in the mix with the day-to-day operations of the building and with the students,” said Mills.
Since his first years as a counselor, Mills has seen the role change with the times. Before the rise of social media, there were more physical altercations, where today counselors find themselves dealing more often with instances of cyber bullying that can occur outside of school hours. Despite the changing landscape, he maintains that at their core, young people haven’t changed as much as people may think.
“The reality is kids are still kids, if you develop personal relationships with students you’re going to be able to connect with them and they are going to respond to you and respect you,” said Mills.
With his retirement on Jan. 1 rapidly approaching, Mills is looking forward to spending more time with his family. He has a young grandson and another on the way. He also plans on traveling with his wife and seeking warmer climates in the winter.