The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

June 27, 2009

Mellen recalls changes in schools

BY ANNA HERKAMP

DANVILLE — Looking back on all she’s seen in her career, retiring Danville District 118 Superintendent Nanette Mellen notes that a lot has changed in the community and its residents.

In her lifetime, Danville’s population has dropped from 50,000 to 30,000 and DHS graduating classes have dropped from more than 600 to just over 300.

“There are more poor children — far more needy families,” she said.

Teaching itself has more challenges because government regulation leaves less time for teachers to be creative in their classrooms, she said.

Expectations from teachers have also changed.

“Today, you can’t sit a child down in front of a teacher with a textbook,” she said.

Kids today have to learn in a variety of ways, with the aid of different kinds of technology. Entertainment tools like iPods these days can also serve as educational ones, she said.

Kids today have to learn critical thinking skills so they have a skill set that will prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow — which haven’t been invented yet, she said.

She does have a few words of advice for future teachers and administrators.

To administrators: “The challenges are great, but so are the rewards.”

For teachers, “Think on your feet. Teaching is not a black and white business. Be aware of new ideas and philosophies,” she said.

“Every student is unique and special in their own way.”

What she’ll miss most are her “phenomenal friends” she’s gotten to see every day.

Plans for retirement

Friends have been asking Mellen for months what she’d like to do as a retiree, but she still doesn’t have solid plans.

“I have no concept of what it will be like to get up and not come to school,” she said.

She’ll spend more time pursuing hobbies like golf, which she hasn’t played regularly in a long time.

Family will be her top priority. She and her husband, Tom, will spend more time with their children.

Her son Alexander White is engaged. He and his brother, Christopher White, both live and work in Texas. Her daughter, Elizabeth Mellen is a student at the University of Kentucky, now studying abroad in South America. Dawn Mellen Dobbs, a teacher, lives in Clearwater, Fla. and Thomas B. Mellen is self-employed in Cincinnati, Ohio.

She’ll also spend time with her mother, Nancy Cartee and brother, James Rice, and plenty of extra time for the family’s English bulldog, Bentley.

She may teach again one day, perhaps for older students. She hopes the next set of little kids she gets to teach are her grandchildren.

A legacy

Sheila Fraley, a retired DHS guidance counselor, knew Mellen as a boss and as her children’s teacher.

“She was the best boss anyone could work for,” she said.

Besides a supervisor, everyone who worked for her also knew Mellen as a personal friend. She knew everyone by name, she added.

When Mellen was DHS principal, she worked hard to create programs that would benefit all the students — both underprivileged kids and overachievers, Fraley said.

Years before Mellen’s tenure at DHS, Fraley knew her as a teacher at her children’s school. At that time, Fraley was Parent-Teacher Association president at Liberty.

She remembers Mellen’s special talent of reaching out to all of her students.

When Fraley’s son, Michael, was having a bad day or feeling low, Mellen had a way of cheering him up.

“She made a point to point out his strengths, and the other kids could see them too,” she said.

He always looked forward to her PE classes, she said.

“They were the highlight of his day,” she said.

Today, Michael is a minister living in Cambridge, Mass. who still remembers Mellen’s encouragement and thoughtful motivation methods.

He works with kids, and applies the same tools he saw in her class to his own students.

Mellen’s dedication at all levels is her legacy — and she was always true to her school, Fraley said.

“When she left DHS, she never really left DHS,” she said.