Mantachie's Wood takes over as county's special ed director

By ADAM ARMOUR / Itawamba County Times

Itawamba County’s new special education director, Millie Wood, is all smiles.
Really, why shouldn’t she be? After years of working Monroe County, the Mantachie native’s back home in Itawamba County, doing what she loves in the place she loves.
“You know, I love what I’m doing and it’s great to be doing it in the place I love,” Wood said.
“I loved my work in Amory, but I’m really excited about working for my hometown and community,” she said. “I grew up in Mantachie; I’m always going to live in Itawamba County, and just knowing what we can do with our programs here is extremely exciting.”
Wood began teaching in Verona in 1996, working with kids with behavioral problems. From there she went on to teach special education in both Guntown and her hometown of Mantachie before taking a position as the special education director for the Amory school district.
Seven years later, she’s back home, taking over the position held by Mitzi Moore, who moved to Pontotoc last year.
“I always wanted to get back home,” Wood said. “I have a lot invested here. I’ve lived here all my life, so it’s nice to be home and work just a few miles away. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Wood said working in special education became a goal of hers in high school after retired special education teacher Jackie Evans asked her to be a classroom assistant.
“I’d go in there and help her during my study hall,” she said. “I just fell in love with the kids and knew that was what I wanted to do. I always tell Jackie Evans that she got me into this field.
“They always say it takes a ‘special person to be a special ed teacher,’ but I think it takes a special person to be a teacher at all. It is a little bit more unique. You don’t always see the gains that you do with a regular student. But, when they do reach those goals, it’s just that much more rewarding.”
Like most of those in administrative positions, Wood wears a lot of varied hats. She works closely with principals, of course, but also has a lot of interaction with teachers and parents. She oversees the county’s gifted program as well as the teacher support teams, which help identify students having trouble learning, but might not be right for the special education program.
She called this the “other side of special education.”
“It’s important to be proactive, not reactive,” she said. “We have to make sure we’re getting all of our students the kind of help they need.”
Part of that process is getting to know the students themselves. Although her office is nice and spacious and brimming with paperwork, Wood isn’t in there often. She likes to be out and in the county’s classrooms, a “bad habit” she picked up from years of teaching.
“I miss working directly with the kids,” she said. “When you’re sitting down with a parent or teacher and discussing what a child needs, you need to know who that child is.
“That said, I want to get to know the kids. It’s hard to leave teaching and then go straight into an office. Getting back out there and knowing the kids and their parents helps keep you grounded.”
Wood hopes to make a difference for Itawamba County’s school district and the way it handles its special-needs students. She said she wants to build on many of the programs her predecessor started and expand into new areas.
“I’d really like to try to grow our gifted program,” she said. “I know those students are out there; we just have to find them.”
She added that she would also like to build on the county’s inclusion program, in which disabled students are re-incorporated in regular classrooms and are required to take the same state tests as every other student.
“It’s a lot of education for our teachers,” Wood said. “Regular teachers have to learn a lot of new things, but I think it helps them become better overall educators.”
In the end, she said, it’s important to set priorities.
“All we have to do is focus on what our kids need,” she said. “Each and every one of them is different.”
Contact Adam Armour at (662) 862-3141 or adam.armour@itawamba360.com.