New Brookings High School Principal Heather Miller-Cink learns you can come home again

New Brookings High School Principal Heather Miller-Cink is happy to be back home in South Dakota after working most of her career in Minnesota. (John Kubal/Brookings Register)

BROOKINGS — South Dakota natives Heather Miller-Cink and Kevin Cink both grew up in Sioux Falls and graduated from high schools there: she from Lincoln, he from O’Gorman. After marriage and careers that took them out of state, they’re now coming back to their home state: to Brookings, where she is the new principal at Brookings High School.

“My husband and I have always said that South Dakota would be where we would want to come back home to,” the principal said. “We just didn’t know when that would be. He lost both of his parents this last year. It really made us start thinking about, when should we come back to South Dakota.”

Miller-Cink started looking at what opportunities “… might be out there. And Brookings was there.”

Her father, Jerry Miller, spent a career in education in Sioux Falls, where he coached at Lincoln High School and later served as athletic director at Roosevelt High School. He now has a cabin at Oakwood and lives in Sioux Falls, which she called “a hop, skip and a jump away; and my daughter being in Mitchell. What comes next is to get Kevin to Brookings.”

“I moved here in July,” Miller-Cink explained. “He’s still back in the Twin Cities working on our house, getting it ready to sell, trying to figure out what that looks like.

“But we just knew that this was just the right thing. We just said we’re going to do whatever we need to do to get the ball rolling.” The couple is confident that finding employment for Cink, a chemical engineer, will not be an issue.

“It’s just trying to figure out what that would look like,” she added. “This is going to be a forever thing so we don’t have to hurry.”

Three decades in the Twin Cities

Following high school graduation, Heather-Cink attended Gustavus Adolphus College, a private liberal arts school in Saint Peter, Minnesota, as a choral education major. She graduated in 1989 and then taught choir for 14 years. “My first job was in Suring, Wisconsin. It was a chance to get a job, so I went there for a year.”

Meanwhile, Cink, after graduating from O’Gorman, had gone on to South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (Rapid City) and earned a degree in chemical engineering, graduating in 1991. He had met Heather in Sioux Falls the summer after she graduated from college.

“He was at the School of Mines and I was in Suring, so that didn’t work so well,” she explained. “I moved out to Kadoka and taught for a year while he was finishing school.”

Then she and Gwen Whipple, a friend from college, taught in Alliance, Nebraska, for two years. Heather and Kevin married in November 1991. They lived in another Nebraska town until 1994, when they moved to Brooklyn Park, in the northwest corner of the Twin Cities. She would serve in the same school district for 29 years: teaching for nine years and following that with more than 20 years in administrative posts as a dean of students, assistant principal, and principal.

While in the Twin Cities, the couple would raise their two children: Chloe Cink, 20, now attends Dakota Wesleyan University (Mitchell) and Caleb Cink, 26, is now working as an emergency medicine technician with a sports medicine physician in the Twin Cities.

During their time in the Twin Cities, Miller-Cink enhanced her credentials: in 2005 with a master’s degree in educational leadership/administration from Minnesota State University (Mankato) and in 2006 with a specialist’s degree in educational leadership/administration, also from MSU (Mankato).

She now brings those leadership and administrative skills and advanced educational credentials to another post as a principal — of Brookings High School.

Everything felt right

“It was a little bit crazy. Everything happened really, really fast,” Miller-Cink said, of the chain of events that brought her to Brookings. “The job closed on May 5. They called to set up the interview the very next week. So I did not have a lot of time to worry about whether I should or shouldn’t.

“It truly was one of those I came, I interviewed, everything just felt right. My gut instincts are usually pretty spot on.” Her first day on the job was July 5.

The new principal comes to Brookings from eight years as principal of a high school that was one of three in the fifth largest school district in Minnesota. The total number of students in her high school there was about 2,000. Brookings High School has about 1,000 students.

“I had a lot of different experiences,” she said. “I had an opportunity to take what I learned in the Twin Cities and what works with kids and bring it here. … Kids are kids; but kids are individuals.

“Kids might look different here at Brookings High School. But kids still need guidance; they still need expectations; they still need to be loved. That doesn’t change — wherever you are.

“I think that’s part of having kids feel like this is the place they want to be, that they belong here, that people care about them and are really honing in on helping them become the best version of themselves that they can.

“That’s always been who I was, no matter where I was — whether it was in the classroom, as an assistant principal or a principal. We want the kids, when they walk out the door, to be the best version of themselves.

“I’m a fourth-generation educator. It’s ingrained and now my daughter is majoring in education; it truly is at the core of my upbringing. I grew up at school with my dad. I was at the school all the time with my dad at activities. My mom was a teacher. I didn’t even think about getting into education as a whole.

“But it’s always about kids. And that’s kind of how we started workshops in August: talking about kids first. Everything is about kids.”

Contact John Kubal at [email protected].