By Paul W. Barada
---- — It isn’t very often that I devote a column to one person. This, however, is one of those rare occasions when there is someone who deserves whatever accolades can be offered.
Dr. John Williams, Superintendent of Rush County Schools, is about to retire this coming June 30 and it will be a happy day for all concerned, but it will also be a sad day in the sense that the community will be losing one of the most capable educators we’ve had in a long time. That comment, please understand, is not to disparage any of the other outstanding superintendents that we’ve had in the past, including Dr. Ed Lyskowinski and Dr. Suellen Reed. Both are outstanding educators and we were lucky to have them.
Another happy part of Doc’s retirement is that his place will be filled by Matt Vance. Matt is about done with the work for his doctorate, so it won’t be long before we’ll be able to call him Dr. Vance. Matt is young, enthusiastic, engaging, and is a perfect example of the old saying “hometown boy makes good.” As many readers know, Matt’s grandfather was Grayson Mahan, one of the finest teachers to ever walk into a classroom. His grandson is made out of the same mold, so the school corporation will be in good hands when Doc retires in a few months.
When Dr. Williams came here in 2006, he did one of the smartest things possible – he got to know people, lots of people. He quickly became an admired and respected fixture in the life of the community. His outgoing personality and ready wit have endeared him to not only teachers and administrators, but also to everyday citizens. He’s about as regular a guy as anyone would ever want to meet.
By the same token, his approach to his job of being the guy whose name and reputation are on the line with regard to the smooth and efficient operation of our schools has been outstanding. The job of being superintendent, by its very nature, requires some snap decisions – particularly with regard to the safety of our students. The job becomes particularly tough when foul weather hits or is about to hit. Doc has always put the safety of kids first. If there was any question about whether to cancel school or not, he has consistently opted not to take any chances, and for those of you who have children in this school system, you know it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
The nature of the job also requires making tough decisions when there’s a problem with student behavior. When there’s any kind of problem, it ultimately lands in his lap and without hesitation, Doc has always remained fair, firm, and objective. He has always gotten the facts before taking action, but once it’s clear to him what happened – regardless of the incident – he has been decisive.
One of his most outstanding achievements during his tenure here was the creation of Opportunity School to help young people complete the necessary courses to earn their high school diploma. There are all kinds of reasons why a young person might not finish high school. Doc and the Board recognized that not every student does well in the traditional classroom environment. It was also recognized that without a high school diploma, the prospects for a decent job and a rewarding life are almost nil. So, the result was the creation of Opportunity School, from which several students have already earned their diploma that otherwise probably would not have.
If the man has a fault it would have to be the extent of his dedication to his job – and all aspects of it. That means attending countless sporting events, meetings, conferences, serving in various leadership capacities in community organizations, working with individual members of the Board of School Trustees, meeting with parents, teachers, and interacting with all the other community stakeholders on an endless list of projects. Sometimes, I wonder if the man ever has any time at home!
And yet he is a devoted husband, father, and grandfather.
I think it’s safe to say that he knows more people in this community than many of the natives. He knows who’s related to whom. He knows the countryside like a native, and he understands the power relationships that move and shake the community. He also has a better-than-average grasp of who the naysayers are and how to work with them. More than anything else, Doc is a realist who understands what can be accomplished and what cannot in the arena of public education. More often than not, however, he has succeeded through tact, experience, diplomacy, good judgment, and, when necessary, pounding his shoe on the table a time or two!
I recall one incident worth mentioning. Doc and the members of the board went to every school to explain proposed changes in bus routes, which is one of those topics sure to cause controversy. One fellow came to more than one meeting to essentially badger Doc about the changes. Finally, having taking it longer than most others would, he said, “I’m a patient man, but not forever.” That single comment took care of the problem.
It is good to know that Doc and his wife, Debbie, plan to continue living here after his retirement. I have no doubt that he will remain active in community life. Through his charm and outgoing personality, he has truly made a home for himself in Rush County. That, all by itself, isn’t always an easy task!
That’s –30—for this week.