Since opening its doors at 4851 E. Lake Mead Blvd., Sandy Searles Miller Elementary School Academy for International Studies has received national recognition after being honored with the Dr. Ronald P. Simpson Distinguished Merit Award in 2008. Recently, the magnet school celebrated its 10th-year anniversary.
The school was named for a Las Vegas teacher who became a Nevada first lady.
“(Miller) is a fantastic namesake for the school,” principal Anne Grisham said. “We’re a sought-out magnet school, and Sandy has been very involved with the children since we opened. She continues to be an advocate in education.”
Sandy Ann Searles Miller was born in Denver, Colo., in 1949 to Jim and Renee Searles. The family moved to Las Vegas when she was 2.
Miller graduated from UNLV, where she received her bachelor’s degree in special education and teaching.
She worked as a teacher for four years at Thomas Elementary School before meeting Robert Miller, whom she married in 1973.
From 1989 to 1999, Miller was first lady of Nevada and continued to make education her first priority.
“My background is in education, so that made it a logical choice to pursue when I was first lady,” Miller said. “There are huge disparities in our valley between access and quality in education.”
For 10 years, Miller worked to create a better education for students in preschool, grades K-12 and in the university system. She focused on creating family programs, such as the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research & Policy, Family to Family Connection and the Time To Teach program.
Among other accomplishments that Miller and her husband achieved were campaigning for children to get vaccinated at an early age and class size reduction.
“I wanted children to receive more effective and individualized attention,” Miller said. “Children should receive quality education, regardless of where they go to school.”
Miller also focused her time on creating Family Resource Centers, which provide case management, information and referrals for individuals and families in need of assistance in accessing services and programs that will strengthen and support the family.
A few centers are still in existence throughout Nevada, according to Miller.
Miller’s national contributions included serving as co-chairwoman of Nevada’s GOALS 2000, her 1993 appointment to the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars and her membership in the National Advisory Council for school-to-work opportunities.
On Oct. 12, 2000, the School Name Committee considered monikers to be recommended for approval.
“As a teacher, her contributions in the classroom have had a profound impact on the lives of her many students,” records documenting the school’s name change state. “As first lady of Nevada, she fought for important and substantive improvements in the state’s education system.
Sandy Searles Miller Elementary School Academy for International Studies opened in 2003.
“When I found out that they wanted to name the school after me, it was really heartwarming,” Miller said. “I wanted them to add my maiden name in honor of my father.”
After the school opened, Miller brought her parents there and said her father had tears rolling down his cheeks because “he was so proud.”
Joan Turner, former assistant to Miller, said Miller’s passion for education continues to grow strong.
“She is tireless in her efforts,” Turner said. “When Sandy became first lady, she was shy, but she soon gained confidence and took off. She got the passion for education when she was a teacher and from her own children. Her children taught her to recognize the potential that each child has.”
Miller has three children who went on to become the secretary of state for Nevada, a producer of animation and a law school student at the University of Southern California.
She continues to be involved with education by visiting schools and attending school board meetings.
She also added that she is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) advocate and advisory counselor, involved with the Nevada Partnership for Inclusive Education and vice president at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center and Sunrise Children’s Hospital.
She said she visits her namesake school at least once a week and reads to children or works on special projects.
“I hope that the school leaves a legacy of highly educated and critical-thinking children,” Miller said. “I want the school to open a magnitude of possibilities for children in Nevada.”
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter Sandy Lopez at email@example.com or 702-383-4686.