A School of One’s Own

Gainesville Today‘s 2011 WOMEN IN BUSINESS profiles.

She always knew she would.

So, at 25, Christina Miller opened her own school. First called The Montessori School of Gainesville, it became Millhopper Montessori after switching locations. “It’s my whole life,” she said, describing her undertaking of the last 34 years. It wasn’t flashy; it wasn’t fancy. Miller initially set up shop in a single classroom inside Parkview Baptist Church. After two years, the school moved to a cottage on Northwest 23rd Avenue. By 1989, Millhopper Montessori moved into its freshly built complex on Northwest 39th Avenue, their present site.

Christina Miller
Christina Miller

Since its launching in 1977, the school has blossomed, presently boasting 35 staff members and more than 200 students, ages two through eighth grade.

Despite being founder and president, Miller still loves teaching. After their final move, she took on a purely administrative role for a few years. However, it was unfulfilling.

“I was not really happy in that role,” Miller said. But, in the early ‘90s, when an elementary teacher unexpectedly quit, she was forced to jump in and fill the gap—which, she guessed, would only be temporary. But nearly a decade later, she’s still at it … and having the time of her life.

“As soon as I got into the classroom, I just fell in love with it, and thought, ‘Well, this is why I haven’t been happy—I’ve been out of the classroom,’” she said, laughing.

That revelation prompted her to hire Amilda Clark, the school’s current administrator—whom, Miller said, is one of God’s greatest gifts to her—which left her free to teach. Now she works with the fourth-and fifth-graders, instructing them in math, grammar and Florida history—no sweat for an educator of 36 years. Plus, she holds Montessori teaching certifications for ages early childhood through sixth grade, as well as a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in curriculum design.

She also takes pride in the caliber of student Millhopper Montessori produces. “Most of our students, when they graduate our eighth grade, qualify for the prestigious area high school programs, like the IB program at Eastside, the Cambridge program at GHS and advanced placement and things like that,” she said.

That success, Miller attributes, partly, to her staff of professional educators and the power of the Montessori philosophy. “It’s based on the principles of liberty in a prepared environment, so it allows for children to unfold naturally and with excitement and discovery,” she said.

“There’s really nothing like it.”

story / Matthew Beaton
photo / Johnston Photography