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For award-winning principal, education has a high bar

Lynne Millard will tell you - she's tough. The principal of Crossan School has rules for how children should line up, where parents can stand in the schoolyard, how students ought to move in the hallways.

Lynne Millard will tell you - she's tough.

The principal of Crossan School has rules for how children should line up, where parents can stand in the schoolyard, how students ought to move in the hallways.

"People tell me, 'You even have a procedure for procedures,' " said Millard, an acknowledged rule-lover. "That minimizes chaos and maximizes learning."

To say the school, on Bingham Street in the Northeast, runs smoothly is an understatement. And in an era of diminishing resources and increasing demands, Millard employs every bit of her considerable skill to make things happen.

She is one of seven school leaders being honored Tuesday as among the best principals in the Philadelphia School District.

Millard is a winner of the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation's Distinguished Principal Award, which comes with a $20,000 stipend for Crossan.

The others are Tamera Conaway (Saul High), Mary Dean (West Philadelphia High), Kenneth Jessup (Patterson), Mary Lynskey (J.S. Jenks), Parthenia Moore (Philadelphia High School for Girls), and Hilderbrand Pelzer III (Carnell).

Though Crossan is a small school, with 360 students, it is bursting at the seams. The counselor works out of an old book closet, and there is no room to accommodate a new class for the oversize first grade, for instance

A recent day was typical for Millard. She was serving as principal, of course, but in addition to her regular duties she was also pitching in as lunchroom monitor and nurse. Two teachers out of 25 were absent, and there were no substitutes to be had, so she also had to make sure there were always adults to cover classes.

"The job has changed, but the accountability factors have not changed," she said. "I'm a financial person with no financial training, a nurse with no medical training."

Millard rarely sits down during the day, and the job eats into her nights, weekends, and holidays. But the work inspires her.

"I love to see the students grow and progress," Millard said. "As a principal, your job is to lead, to mentor, to coordinate. You help people to be their best."

A Philadelphia native, Millard, 47, is a product of city public schools (A.B. Day and Houston Elementary Schools, Masterman, and Girls High). She always knew she wanted to be an educator.

She was a fourth-grade teacher and teacher leader for many years at J.B. Kelly School in Germantown, then became an assistant principal at Bethune School in North Philadelphia before landing at Crossan.

Millard inherited a high-performing school - Crossan's students score well above the city average on standardized tests, and the school has active parents and community groups to help with fund-raising. But that does not mean her job is easy.

Budget cuts have deeply affected Crossan, as is the case in schools across the district. When Millard first arrived five years ago, Crossan had a library; that's gone now. She had about 10 more staffers and could offer students a full year of music and gym. Now students can take only a half-year of each.

Next year looks to be worse. Millard will lose three teachers and have no staff to monitor children during morning admission. She will lose the full-time staffer who teaches English to students who speak other languages.

Those losses affect students.

"I have to rely on the kids as much as possible to not create safety issues," Millard said. "I tell them, 'Use good manners, think before you act, do your best work.' "

The lack of resources is "heartbreaking," Millard said. "This is not the way it should be."

Millard sets the bar high, but heaps praise on her staff, too.

"I don't have teachers here saying, 'That's not my job.' And it's not just about the teaching staff - even the noontime aides help our children make progress," she said.

Nancy Ostroff, a retired district teacher who sits on Crossan's school advisory council, is a major Millard booster. Millard motivates her staff, Ostroff said.

"They will do whatever it takes and more, because she gives that much," Ostroff said. "She sets high standards for herself, and then others follow."

Tana Marino, a third-grade teacher and Crossan veteran of 12 years, said Millard finds creative ways to do more with less.

"And she knows the children well," Marino said. "She knows their needs. It really is all about the kids for her."

Watch Millard compliment a first-grade class on its exemplary hallway behavior or peek into a third-grade class to observe a strong literacy lesson, and it's clear where the principal finds her joy at work.

"Stay close to the kids," Millard said. "If they're in the yard, I'm in the yard. If they're in the lunchroom, I'm in the lunchroom."

215-854-5146 @newskag