Vincent Miller traveled the world as a renowned vocalist, was named Teacher of the Year for Polk County Public Schools, achieved his doctorate in Education, and currently serves as Assistant Head of Schools for Academy Prep Center of Lakeland.
Through all his success, he stays true to his humble beginnings and exudes genuine pride for being “homegrown” in Polk County, by public schools, and through Polk State College’s Educator Preparation Institute (EPI).
“Polk State College was home,” Miller explained about his decision to become an educator and enroll in the EPI Program following an international career in music. “They knew the community. They knew the demographics of our schools. They knew what we needed as educators to enrich our students from our county in our schools.”
“Where else would I go?” he added. Polk State is the only public post-secondary institution in Polk County that provides state-approved teacher education preparation programs, including associate and baccalaureate degrees in Education. “If I was going to be in Polk County and needed to know about our demographic of kids and the students we are teaching… it was most important to get that knowledge of what is going on in our school system locally so that I could be a change agent as I moved forward in my career.”
Miller attended Brigham Elementary (now Brigham Academy), Jewett School of the Arts, and Lake Region High School.
After high school, he enrolled in classes at what was then Polk Community College, where he shared that he was prepared to become a successful college student as he sought to attend a four-year university and beyond. He was Vice President of the Student Government Association and an Outstanding Academics Leadership Award recipient. He also established his nonprofit, Filling the Lane, a mentoring program for youth that, 11 years later, is serving 120 students through grant funding as well as two scholarships awarded annually by Polk State.
Upon receiving his Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 2003, Miller attended the University of South Florida on a vocal scholarship. He studied both vocal performance and biology, achieving his undergraduate degree.
He was performing and living in South Africa when his father passed away.
“Polk State College was home. They knew the community. They knew the demographics of our schools. They knew what we needed as educators to enrich our students from our county in our schools.”
“That brought me back to the United States and my mom asked me if I was going back to South Africa. That was a tough situation, so I got my first job at Denison Middle School,” Miller said. “I was immersed in the classroom, and I was learning. I was told I would be a great educator, I just had to build some skills.”
Polk State’s EPI Program enrolls teachers or aspiring teachers who hold bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines and are seeking the Florida Professional Teaching Certificate. The program provides them with the skills to become highly qualified teachers in a fraction of the time and cost required for a traditional education degree.
Coincidentally, when Miller enrolled in the program, his professor was a teacher he remembered from his childhood at Brigham Elementary.
“It goes back to coming from the community, knowing the people from the community, and working with the people in the community,” he reflected. “There’s something about wanting to grow with those people and with your community.”
That drive was instilled in Miller at a young age in Polk County Public Schools where teachers invested in him like he now invests in his students.
“It’s those one-on-one connections. It is very important to me when moving through my career to remember all the investments teachers made in my life while also realizing the things that we did not have,” he added. “We did not have the one-on-one, small classroom setting. We did not have the caveats of retaking a test or a recovery packet. I never saw a Black administrator.”
“I want to give back and be better,” he said. “I want to be an example for my students like my teachers were an example for me.”
The Polk State EPI Program gave Miller the foundation to be the excellent educator and administration he is today, inspiring both his students and his colleagues.
“Polk State’s Educator Preparation Institute prepared me at its utmost. If it was not for that beginning at Polk State, I would not be in my current position. EPI taught me to be a researcher in practice; how to be a change agent; to go into a situation, review a situation, and help change the environment.”
“Polk State’s Educator Preparation Institute prepared me at its utmost. If it was not for that beginning at Polk State, I would not be in my current position. EPI taught me to be a researcher in practice; how to be a change agent; to go into a situation, review a situation, and help change the environment,” Miller explained. “Much like my doctoral degree, Polk State taught me to practice what you are learning. It allowed me to go in and build my classroom based on what I was learning in real-time.”
Miller completed the EPI Program in 2009 and went on to earn his Master of Business Administration from Webster University and his Doctor of Education from Lynn University.
In 2020, he was named Teacher of the Year by Polk County Public Schools while serving Winter Haven High School. He has also been ranked a top educator by the Florida Department of Education and recognized by the Governor as a top male leader in Polk County.
Today, he serves as Assistant Head of School for Academy Prep Center of Lakeland, a private middle school for students who qualify for need-based scholarships. The school is tuition-free and dedicated to educating economically disadvantaged students through an academically rigorous and enriching environment.
Much like Polk State, Academy Prep Center is “home” for Miller.
“My philosophy and my nonprofit work are so close to what we do here at Academy Prep,” he said. “I was sold on the academics, the investment in the students, and the investment from the staff and head of school.”
It brings his story full circle.
“Our mission here is to grow community leaders so that they can immerse themselves back into our community and give the same effort we all do in our daily walks of life,” Miller said. “With all the knowledge I gained from Polk State on what school should look like and how we should be catering to our students, this is home.”