As I contemplated penning my final message as the school superintendent for Williamson County Schools, I found inspiration in Walt Whitman’s words, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.”
I had the great honor of interviewing for the Williamson County Schools superintendent position in the fall of 2009. At that time, the Williamson County School Board was chaired by the ever-graceful Ms. Pat Anderson. If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Pat, she is a must meet. She has an uncanny knack for being Southern-style, gentle and strong at the same time. She and 11 other smart, passionate and engaged school board members took a risk and hired me as WCS’s next superintendent. Wow, that was nearly 10 years ago! The Board had a common vision – advance student outcomes in an already high performing school district.
We were relentless in our pursuit. We focused on increasing rigor in all classrooms, worked on building more effective relationships with our students and refined our curriculum to ensure student learning expectations were relevant. It worked. Our students and teachers leaned in, worked hard and our community began reaping the benefit. We struck academic gold.
For the past decade, our students, with the support of their parents and teachers, have shattered every conceivable district academic record. We have expanded arts education, won countless athletic titles and changed the trajectory of lives one student at a time. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch it unfold and to have been a small part of it all.
This line of work isn’t for the faint of heart, as not everyone welcomed the district’s new direction. One might say that we had our moments. During the last decade, there have been thousands of vocal supporters lending a hand and at times seemingly as many fierce critics all who have taken the time to engage. Frankly, I wouldn’t have wished for it to be any other way. Our schools are better for everyone’s involvement and for that I am deeply thankful.
Most of all, I am grateful for the students even in the times when they harassed me about snow days, didn’t study properly for exams or did something mischievous. I have loved being a small part of their lives. They’ve made me smile with joy, grit my teeth out of frustration, but most of all, inspired me in indefinable ways.
I will end as any Marine would by fighting like hell to the end for this community’s children. Far too many neglected, abused and fragile children still need help in our community. Everyone knows it, but lack of funding and divisive politics continues to hold us back from making progress on these battle fronts. Schools should be accountable for results but also must receive adequate funding at all levels. Williamson County needs state leaders who value public education and make decisions based on research and reputable sources, rather than being influenced by campaign donations from PACs or lobbyists. This community needs its elected officials to move beyond the vitriol and divisive politics of our day. Disagreement is good but not at the expense of decency.
For those who think they know better than the teacher, no you don’t. They are professionally trained. Let them teach, support them and give a little grace when all doesn’t go as planned.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV)
Heading East to the Rising Sun,
Mike Looney, Ed.D. Superintendent