POUGHKEEPSIE - When Dr. Nicole Williams got her first taste of teaching, she swore she would never do it again.
Flash forward 28 years, and the new Superintendent of the Poughkeepsie City School District is still teaching. In fact, she could be found a few weeks ago leading a group of administrators, school board members and school personnel, in a workshop designed to introduce herself as well as her vision for the District.
After showing a clip of a successful 10th grade English class in action, Dr. Williams split her charges into groups; her creative methods quickly surfaced.
"The one with the fanciest shoes can be the recorder," said an energized Williams. "The person with a birthday closest to July 16 can be the speaker."
As participants were sharing thoughts on what they noticed and wandered during the clip, Williams again showed her teaching and leadership prowess. Continually questioning and pressing for more, Williams was in continual motion, as she challenged all present to help her take the District to new heights of success.
Wilson, a graduate of Harvard University, beat out 25 candidates for the position, replacing Dr. Laval Wilson after his ten year tenure.
She most recently completed a stint as Senior Deputy Superintendent for Academic Services and Chief Academic Officer for the St. Louis School District, where she was responsible for the administration of academic services for 27,000 students in 79 schools. She has also held the Superintendent role in New York City. Moreover, she has taught at all levels, from pre-kindergaten to college.
Despite her passion for education, her introduction to the world of teaching was anything but ideal. While attaining community service credit as a law clerk back in 1985, Willams spent the day substitute teaching in a kindergarten-fifth grade school. At the day’s end, disheveled and covered in chalk, she affirmed to the principal she would, "never do this again." That principal then challenged her to be part of solving the problem, hiring her on the spot.
Her love for her unexpected career choice has grown ever since. So too has her belief in and commitment to all children. At the workshop she was heading, Williams was surrounded by signs that read; "Every child, Every day, Every classroom," "Data Driven instruction," "Core Value," and "Family Community and Engagement." As she spoke, her philosophy surfaced.
"Children come to us every day and are a precious gift," said Williams, pacing around the room. "It’s important we understand fundamentally that we need to challenge some of the assumptions out there."
Williams also spoke about teachers needing to set clear expectations, sure of what they are asking students to do and how those students interpret tasks. Using "focused instruction" and its multiple meanings as an example, she further relayed the importance of developing a common vocabulary among faculty members.
School Board President Ralph Coates was among the people at the workshop.
"I’m most excited about Dr. Williams’ level of experience and her deep knowledge and understanding of curriculum and instruction," said Coates, entering his second year at the position. "Her biggest challenge will be raising overall performance, test scores and the graduation rate of our students, but I’m confident she can do that; she has a very focused mindset toward moving one of the lowest achieving districts in the state to be one of the top ones."
Williams fully realizes that end can not be achieved without a collective means. Intent on directly involving the community, parents, teachers, administrators and others, Williams sees her District’s journey to excellence as a "collective responsibility," one that will empower each person for the good of the all.
"We need to ensure excellence is the norm in every classroom; there can be no excuses when it comes to quality instruction, as we cannot afford to leave any child behind," affirmed Williams, who along with her other numerous credentials happens to speak Spanish fluently. "We have to focus on what really matters, the students."
It’s those children who Williams believes must be empowered as well in order to move closer to that goal of excellence.
"We need to really look at who is doing the heavy lifting in the classroom; is it the teachers or the students," challenged Williams. "We are facing unprecedented challenges as urban school superintendents today, and we have the opportunity to really look at how we unite teachers and parents and educate all children." The new City of Poughkeepsie Superintendent added, "I’m really honored to be able to lead a community committed to improving education."