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A Mothers Love, Geraldine 'Tincy' Millers Story

One woman’s quest to give every child a chance to learn. 

Geraldine “Tincy” Miller defines tenacity.  As chair of the State Board of Education, a leader in Highland Park and an active supporter of the arts, she never quits, always giving her best.  Before all else, however, Tincy Miller is a mother.  A mother whose quest to find answers for her son, has driven her to provide every child in Texas with a chance to learn.

Tincy’s journey began when her son, Vance Jr., started having problems in the classroom, and at home.  Leaving no stone unturned, she spent years searching for solutions.  What Tincy didn’t know, however, was that her son’s rebellion masked an inner struggle to learn.

After enrolling in a dyslexia program at Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Tincy began working alongside doctors, teaching children to read, write and spell phonetically.  When Tincy shared her son’s experiences, her colleagues identified the invisible disability plaguing her son as dysgraphia, a form of dyslexia.

“Here I was working with dyslexic kids, and my own son was suffering with it without my knowledge,” she said.  “I just couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”

The diagnosis brought freedom that stirred both mother and son to pursue higher education.  Vance Jr., went on to Southern Methodist University, eventually working with his father at Miller Companies, Inc. Tincy, however, followed her newly found passion for dyslexia to Texas A&M University-Commerce.

“I saw the lack of sympathy for students with dyslexia, and I wanted to learn ways to keep these students from falling thought the cracks,” she said.

As the working mother of four children,
Tincy’s fear of failure almost kept her from pursuing her degree.  Thanks to the support of her sister and Dr. Bob Wyndham, an A&M-Commerce professor she knew from SMU, Tincy succeeded in her studies.  She graduated in 1982 with a master’s degree in reading, a degree Dr. Wyndham created uniquely for her.

“Now I know you’re never too old to get your degree.” she said.  “It’s important to be a lifelong learner, and live without regrets.”

With her degree in hand, Tincy set her sights on a new challenge, joining the newly reformed State Board of Education.  “I saw that administrators were raising the bar of expectations, but they were not providing a safety net for those with dyslexia who otherwise would fall through the cracks,” she said.

Tincy knew that as a part of the Board of Education she could make a difference in the lives of children like her son, providing them opportunities to succeed.

In 1984, Tincy achieved her goal.  Under the major public education reform, a newly formed board was created, and Tincy was appointed by Governor Mark White to serve four years.  A Republican in a Democrat’s arena, she defied party lines, and spoke from a mother’s heart.

Tincy has served as an elected member and chaired several sub-committees since 1989, when the State Board of Education transitioned to an elected board.  In 2003, Governor Rick Perry appointed Tincy to serve as Chair of the board, and reappointed her for the 2005-2007 term.  Tincy’s passion met with opportunity in January 1985 when three dyslexia bills crossed her desk.

“I knew then that God put me here for a purpose,” she said.  “He opened doors and windows for me to go through so I could continue my pursuit for dyslexia funding and education.”

Five months later, two of the bills passed making it mandatory for schools to identify and work with dyslexic students.  Unbeknownst to Tincy, however, the real fight for dyslexia education was just beginning.

As calls poured in from parents across Texas, Tincy learned that while the dyslexia laws had been passed, rules were not in place to enforce them.  Not one to shy away from conflict, Tincy took her mission to the community.

“Never underestimate the power of a grassroots movement.” She said.  “We got word out about the situation without today’s technology, without email, cell phones and the Internet.”

The effort resulted in a standing-room only public forum where more than 800 people came to show their support in what would be an emotional but victorious evening.  Through tears, a principal admitted for the first time that she had dyslexia.  A mother told the story of her son who committed suicide because of issues associated with his dyslexia.  A superintendent admitted that while he didn’t know much about dyslexia, he had seen a marked change in students’ demeanor and attitude about learning after their dyslexia was identified.

Overwhelmingly, the rules governing dyslexia education passed.  Recognizing her work was far from over, Tincy set out to ensure that information on the symptoms, laws and rules surrounding dyslexia was readily available to parents, teachers and administrators.

“Before dyslexia is identified, it appears as laziness.  Teachers and administrators blame a problem at home, or say it’s the parents’ fault,” she said.  It’s important for parents, teachers and administrators to understand that dyslexia is not just a classroom struggle; it is a daily struggle that permeates every aspect of a person’s life.”

Tincy’s next challenge was education teachers about the importance of phonics-based learning when teaching students to read, write and spell.  After a year of putting their new lessons to use in the classroom, teachers were amazed by the results.  The phonics-based learning program worked, and it worked for every student.

“All children can learn.  The key is teaching them in the way they learn,” she said.

Dyslexia education reached new levels in 1997.  With the help of Governor George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, every child was tested for potential reading difficulties.  By 2003, Texas achieved a 98 percent pass rate for third graders in reading.  Tincy’s dream was coming true.

Tragically, after overcoming so much, her son passed away in an automobile accident at age 37.  With God’s strength, and the support of her family, Tincy has rededicated her life to her cause, pouring herself into her work.

“My father taught me that everything can be taken from you in an instant, but no one can take away your education, and with an education you can accomplish anything.”

If Tincy’s tenacious track record in education is any indication, her dream of reaching students like her son won’t fade with time.

“Every child deserves a chance to learn,” she said.  “I will never ever, ever give up fighting to give them one.”

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