Williams comes to CCISD from Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, roughly an hour west of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. He will start Jan. 18, 2021; Greg Smith’s last day is Dec. 31.
“I look forward to working with the CCISD community to sustain and build on the excellence that is present here,” Williams said at the meeting, which he and his wife, Michelle, both attended in person. “This is a special place, and I feel deep gratitude for this opportunity.”
Per Texas law, the board was required to wait a minimum of 21 days before voting to appoint Williams, its lone finalist. Between the Nov. 9 announcement and the Dec. 1 selection, some in the community expressed various concerns about Williams and whether he was the right fit for the district.
Parents from LCPS and CCISD took to social media in the days following his appointment to express dissatisfaction with Williams, citing his use of critical race theory in schools along with his back-to-school plans amid COVID-19. Local politicians and activists organized protests before the Nov. 16 and Dec. 1 board meetings.
CCISD held 45-minute meet-and-greet sessions in person with Williams on Nov. 18 and 19 for parents and community members. Board members said Dec. 1 that Williams did this “on his own dime.”
At the Dec. 1 meeting, six board members voted to approve Williams’ nomination. Michelle Davis, who was sworn in the same day to fill a seat previously held by Win Weber, abstained from the vote.
After his approval, board members spoke about why they are confident in Williams as the right choice for the district. Trustee Scott Bowen said he was impressed with the level of knowledge and passion Williams has for the work of educating students. Trustee Jay Cunningham, the board's vice president, said Williams’ coworkers had reassuring things to say about how Williams handled various issues at his prior districts.
“All the way through the process, he stood out to me as the person who could walk in on Day One and say, ‘I’ve done these things. ... I’m prepared to face this,’” trustee Jennifer Broddle said, echoing Cunningham’s and Bowen’s comments.
Another reason Williams is the best choice, Bowen added, is that he is the only candidate interviewed who was a sitting superintendent during the 2008 economic crisis. The district may be facing similar conditions in the coming months and years as a result of the pandemic, and Williams should be well prepared to handle any challenges that arise, Bowen said.
“His No. 1 focus was protecting instruction, and that's what we're going to have to do again,” Bowen said.
Trustee Page Rander emphasized at the meeting how much effort, energy and time went into the selection.
“In my years of being on the board, [this has been] the single most intense and deliberative process that I've ever been involved in,” Rander said. “This was a very, very thorough opportunity for us all to look at where we've been, where we are and where we want to go.”
Once each trustee had given their insights, Board President Laura DuPont spoke at length about how a misunderstanding of what school boards do played into much of the friction between trustees and community members. The misunderstanding, she said, seems to be present both in CCISD and in Loudoun County, based on recent social media activity, and it is the responsibility of CCISD’s trustees to be more open about their leadership structure to avoid further erosion of trust.
Trustees lost control of telling their own story about the selection process, DuPont said. However, the waiting period between nomination and appointment functioned as it should have in providing trustees with learning opportunities, she added, and community members will have various opportunities to contribute to the system and provide input in the new year.
“Ultimately, [Williams’] job is to execute a vision, and our job is to develop it as board members,” Bowen said during the meeting. “Policy and politics are our job, and execution is his job.”