Leesburg, Va. (June 4, 2014) – Dr. Eric Williams, who will become Loudoun County’s school superintendent on July 1, 2014, met with members of the school community on May 28 and 29, in an effort to acclimate himself to the community.
The finale of Williams’ visit was a joint meeting of the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP), the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) and the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC) on May 29, at the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) administrative offices in Ashburn.
For a video of William’s presentation go to, http://lcps.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=23&clip_id=1952.
Williams told his audience what he would, and would not, being doing during his first year as the school division’s leader. “The first thing is, you really don’t want to mess with a really high-performing school division. The stupidest thing you could do would be to come in with a wrecking-ball mentality.”
Rather, Williams said he wants to build on the excellent base Loudoun’s schools provide.
“I do say ‘build on,’ because just keeping things running is certainly not a sufficient goal. I’m incredibly attracted by the fact that in Loudoun there are high expectations for students and high expectations for schools. I know there’s interest in sustaining and building on the excellence of the schools here.”
Finding out where the community wants to see improvements means Williams will be very visible in his new role. “I see my task in the next year…as getting to know the community and establishing relationships.”
Something he brings with him to his new job, Williams said, is an appreciation for the, “joy of learning.”
“That’s a positive way to say what I want to avoid is a ‘content coverage mentality’.”
“Too often, across this nation, educators have an attitude of, ‘Let’s just expose the kids to the content and have more of a superficial understanding…racing through the curriculum without necessarily a focus on deeper or longer-lasting learning. One thing that has led to this throughout the country is, obviously, high-stakes testing. What’s dangerous about this…is it leads teachers to set aside what they know are effective lessons…”
“There can be a loss of joy of learning but, just as importantly, it can be no fun for teachers. There can be no joy of teaching.”
“When teachers feel no joy in their instruction,” Williams said, “they lose a valuable connection with their students.”
“Don’t get me wrong, the curriculum is incredibly important. When I talk about the joy of teaching and learning, I’m not saying to ‘junk the curriculum.’ We need to teach the content and competencies of the curriculum, but we need to do it in a way where the joy of teaching and learning (is preserved)… That learning, therefore, is much longer-lasting.”
The long-lasting lessons that inspired him to become a teacher, Williams said, were imparted by his fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Green, in St. Louis, Mo. Mrs. Green brought historical lessons to life through a simulation of the Boston Tea Party and a recreation of the Continental Congress. Williams said these lessons engaged him in a subject – history – in which he previously had little interest.
It also planted an enduring thought in the young Williams’ mind: “I want to inspire kids to have a love of learning.”
During a PowerPoint presentation, Williams shared the story of his life as a means of introduction.
- He is one of seven children of an Air Force colonel.
- When his father was stationed in the Washington area, he became a lifelong Redskins fan.
- He met his wife, Michelle, when they were students at William & Mary.
- Michelle Williams is a middle school Spanish teacher. The couple taught together in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
- President George H.W. Bush spoke to Williams’ government class at James Madison High School in Vienna, Va. The father of one Williams’ students worked in the White House. “We had no advance warning that he was going to come speak to our students. The Secret Service showed up and told the principal. The principal said, ‘Williams, you could have given me a heads up that you invited the president to come speak to your class.’ ”
- Williams’ daughter, Lexi, just completed her sophomore year of college and is a Division III soccer player.
- His son, Bryce, is entering his senior year of high school and is part of a state championship relay team in track. (Williams also is an avid runner.)
- Williams has coached his children’s soccer teams since they were three years old and even coached a travel team while superintendent.
- He opened a high school as an assistant principal with 1,400 students with that number growing to more than 3,000 by the time Williams became principal. “I’m empathetic or understanding of the growth that we face here in Loudoun.”
- Williams is used to following long-term, successful superintendents. When he became York County’s superintendent in 2008, Williams followed Dr. Steve Staples, who is now Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction. “It’s really an honor coming to such a high-performing school division. It’s an honor to follow such an exemplary superintendent.”
In his final comments to the three parent groups, LCPS Superintendent Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick III asked those present to remember their organizations’ founding principal. “All three of these organizations have this in common; at their foundation is finding the truth, getting the facts…”
“Whether or not you advocate, the first thing you need to do is get the facts and so often they are not immediately apparent. You have to ask – sometimes more than once – and sometimes you have to ask in different ways to find out what you really need to know to make that initial decision about what you’re going to advocate for and whether you’re going to advocate.”
One “fact” Hatrick asked his audience not to believe is that they can do more with less where education is concerned. “I’ve heard that expression almost the whole 50 years I’ve been in education. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work. When you try to do more with less, you wind up with less. It’s that simple. There’s no equation that makes less equal more.”
Hatrick added that Loudoun County is in a position where having to do with less is not a necessity. “There’s just no doubt about the fact that Loudoun County can afford to be everything we want to be. We can afford to do everything we want to do. We have to have the will to do it and we have to empower elected officials to do what it is we want them to do.
“The kids who don’t get a chance now do not get a second chance.”
Six members of the school board – Vice Chairman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District), Tom Reed (At-Large), Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run District), Jeff Morse (Dulles District), Bill Fox (Leesburg District) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District)—attended the meeting and took questions from the audience.