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The Suburbanite
  • Nadine McIlwain-Massey ends 40-year career in education

  • Longtime Timken High School teacher Nadine McIlwain-Massey, now 70, ended her 12-year career on the Canton City school board Tuesday.
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    • About Nadine McIlwain-Massey
      EDUCATION: Attended Plain Local Schools grades 1-9. Graduated from McKinley High School in 1962. Received bachelor's degree from Malone University, a master's degree in education...
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      About Nadine McIlwain-Massey
      EDUCATION: Attended Plain Local Schools grades 1-9. Graduated from McKinley High School in 1962. Received bachelor's degree from Malone University, a master's degree in education administration from Ashland University and a master's degree in sociology from the University of Akron.
      SCHOOL CAREER: Served 19 years as a teacher at Timken High School, seven years as principal at Stanton Middle School in Alliance, and two years as principal of Allen Classical Traditional Academy in Dayton, retiring in 1999. She was elected in 2001 to serve on the Canton City school board and served three terms.
      PERSONAL: Born July 29, 1943, and raised in Canton. Widow to the late Albert H. McIlwain. Married William P. Massey in 2002. Two children, Jeaneen J. McDaniels, and Floyd R. "Randy" McIlwain. Six stepchildren, Artis Cobb, Todd Kelley, Blake Massey, Linda Burris, Cynthia Cobb and Sharon Jones.
  • Nadine McIlwain-Massey knew she would be an educator since 8th grade.
    She recalls when her teacher at Edgefield Elementary School instructed the class to complete a series of new math questions.
    As she began to work through the calculations, she heard sniffles coming from the desk behind her.
    She turned to see Connie Garros, a blue-eyed girl with long blonde pigtails who was considered one of the smartest students in the class, crying because she couldn't solve the problem.
    "I told her to do this, this and this, and she caught on, just like that," she said.
    The teacher, who thought she was cheating, told her to mark an 'F' on her paper. McIlwain-Massey, then known as Nadine Williams, complied, without argument.
    "I didn't care. I knew I wasn't cheating, wasn't doing anything wrong," she said. "I was so happy to see her (Garros) smiling. ... If I could put that kind of smile on every kid's face, I would be so happy."
    McIlwain-Massey went on to teach for 19 years at Timken High School, then became a principal for seven years at Stanton Middle School in Alliance, where she was the first Stark County educator to earn the prestigious Milken Family National Educator's Award. After a two-year stint as an elementary school principal in Dayton, she retired from the classroom in 1999. In 2001, she began the second phase of her career in education — as a school board member for the Canton City School District.
    McIlwain-Massey, who did not seek re-election, ended her 12-year career on the board Tuesday. School officials have made sure that her name will live on in the district.
    IMMORTALIZED
    Last month, the Canton City school board surprised McIlwain-Massey by renaming the district's administrative office building as the "Nadine McIlwain Administrative Center" to honor her years as an educator and board member.
    At the unveiling ceremony, Canton Mayor William J. Healy II issued a proclamation to honor McIlwain-Massey. He joked that like celebrities Madonna and Cher, everyone knows her on a first-name basis.
    "In Canton, Ohio, if I say the name 'Nadine,' no doubt (they know who) you are talking about," Healy said. "When you go by your first name only, you've made it in life."
    McIlwain-Massey's son, Randy McIlwain, told the more than 80 people in the audience about his mother's dedication to the students and teachers, from providing a place to stay for striking teachers in 1978 to spending time and money for students in need of a parental figure. He also noted how his late father, Albert McIlwain, has his name on the Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority building.
    "The whole city now knows what we knew growing up, that we have great parents," he said.
    Page 2 of 4 - Among those in the audience were eight former students, including Artesia Hawkins.
    Hawkins, who had a reputation of being a fighter and bully back when she attended Stanton Middle School, recalls the day she met McIlwain-Massey.
    "First thing she said was, ... 'This school is not big enough for the both of us,' " Hawkins recalled.
    Hawkins, who will soon graduate from Stark State College with a degree in social work, credits McIlwain-Massey for believing in her and for often shuttling her to and from school.
    "She always said, 'You are going to be something,' " Hawkins said. "... If it wasn't for her, I would've quit a long time ago."
    McIlwain-Massey said later that she took an interest in Hawkins because the child reminded her of herself at a young age.
    "I saw me in her, but without ... the support system I had, without the direction I had," McIlwain-Massey said.
    GROWING UP
    McIlwain-Massey grew up living with her paternal grandmother, Cora Lee McDonald, on Harrison Avenue NW in Plain Township, in a home that included two aunts, two uncles, cousins and her sister, Dona Hall.
    While her grandmother had only a third grade education, McIlwain-Massey said she was one of the smartest women she ever knew, teaching life lessons as well as patience, loyalty and love.
    "She would say, 'You can discipline your children, but you don't break their spirit,' " McIlwain-Massey said.
    McIlwain-Massey credits her father, who divorced her mother when she was six months old, for her stubbornness and determination.
    "He would not stand by and be treated less than a man," McIlwain-Massey said. " ... Even if it meant his job."
    For the needs that weren't met by her family, she got from her church and the then-Canton Urban League.
    "They (Urban League) had a way of telling all of us children that you can do whatever you want to do," she said.
    She recalled being about 14 years old when the Urban League's youth leader took a group of children to the county fairgrounds to ice skate. They were told they couldn't participate due to the color of their skin, but the youth leader didn't give up. He sued the fair board in court, arguing that the fairgrounds was supported by taxpayers and should be open to all children. The Urban League won, but the children got to skate only once before the fairground operator closed the rink.
    "The Urban League taught us that justice was justice," McIlwain-Massey said.
    IN THE SCHOOL
    During her teaching years at Timken High School, McIlwain-Massey, who taught primarily American history, American government and sociology, believed that education was more than simply test scores.
    Page 3 of 4 - "It was about real life, grades were not the most important thing in the course," she said. " ... I thought grades shouldn't be the barrier to learning."
    She would have her students conduct their own sociology experiments, such as whether students would notify authorities if they saw a crime committed, and test their own theories, such as whether The Repository published more stories about McKinley than Timken by counting the number of inches that appeared about the schools in the newspaper.
    She took the same out-of-the-box approach when she became principal at Stanton by introducing two annual events: A beach party held every February to keep students interested in school and an annual conference, called VISIONS, that focused on social and interpersonal topics such as religion and pregnancy support.
    "They were adult sessions, but we did it with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders," she said.
    In 1993, the Milken Family Foundation recognized McIlwain-Massey's efforts and awarded her its National Educator's Award and a $25,000 check.
    "It says all the work you put into education, all the minds you change is all worth it," she said.
    BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
    In 2001, McIlwain-Massey, who married William Massey in 2002, was elected to serve on the Canton City school board. She describes the time when she took office as a period of rebuilding for the district with nearly every school building undergoing renovation and replacement. It was followed by several years of inaction, McIlwain-Massey said, during which no new initiatives were undertaken and the school district began to hemorrhage students. But it's been the past four years that have been the toughest of her board career, she said.
    The five-member board faced public outcry in 2012 after it chose not to renew McKinley football coach Ron Johnson's contract.
    "The reaction was over the top," recalled McIlwain-Massey, who declined to elaborate on the board's discussions that were made in closed-door sessions, "simply because that was our job to do what we did."
    A month later, Superintendent Michele Evans resigned, and, in November, Superintendent Chris Smith died.
    "I don't think (any previous board's) time was as rough as our time," McIlwain-Massey said.
    McIlwain-Massey, now 70, said she would have considered staying on the board for a few more years, but didn't want to commit to another four-year term.
    "I'd be 74 (in four years), and the kind of work and stamina required, I couldn't do it," said McIlwain-Massey, who plans to golf and travel in her retirement. "I was OK if it was a two-term term, not four."
    She added that the appointment of Adrian Allison as superintendent a year ago and the introduction of the Brighter Tomorrow plan, which will reorganize how the district approaches education, has made her more comfortable about her decision to leave.
    Page 4 of 4 - "I'm leaving the district in good hands," she said.
    John M. Rinadli, who was elected in November, will succeed McIlwain-Massey on the board.
    Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or on Twitter: @kyoungREP