Williams sees better days aheadPublished 6:04am Saturday, November 24, 2012
Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams ran unopposed in the November general election and was re-elected to a second term serving the students, teachers and citizens who are involved with any one of the schools in Franklin County.
Williams has faced arguably one of the most trying times in the school systems’ history with the April 27, 2011, tornado destroying Phil Campbell High School, killing two students and a teacher and leaving a mountain of problems associated with getting a new school built; proration leaving the system in significant financial debt and having to make difficult decisions on how to move forward; and all the other day-to-day issues that arise when that come with a superintendent’s territory.
With so much to deal with over the past four years, some thought Williams would be ready to throw in the towel, but Williams said the joy he receives from working with the school system far outweighs the trying and difficult times.
“The best part of my job as superintendent is seeing the success that our employees and students are having,” Williams said.
“It’s fun to watch teachers work to educate our students and to see the gleam in their eye when they know that their job has been well done.
“It is exciting to watch students when they have accomplished something that they were struggling with or to see how happy they are when they have been successful on the court or field in competition.
“It’s good to watch the teamwork in the school system as each employee carries out their specific duty from the bus mechanics that keep our buses running to the bus drivers who safely transport of students in the morning and afternoon to the secretaries and administrators in the office and the CNP workers preparing meals in the cafeterias to the custodians who keep the facilities clean to the aides and teachers who work directly with our students each day and the Central Office staff who work to make the administration of the schools run smoothly.
“These people help make the Franklin County School System great, and at the end of the day, with all the ups and downs this job can offer, I am very proud to be a small part of this school system.”
One of the big downs Williams and the rest of the school board have faced has been the financial strain placed on the school system because of state-mandated proration in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
The Franklin County School System began fiscal year 2012-2013 with a balance of negative $5 million, and Williams said in the upcoming term, he and the rest of the school board would work diligently to pull the system out of debt.
“Attaining financial stability is probably the most difficult challenge our system will face in the next few years,” Williams said. “We have made great strides in this area but we are still suffering from those three years of proration.
“Thankfully, the economy seems to have picked up slightly, which will help our state budget, but locally, the citizens of Franklin County helped our school system greatly by passing the one-cent sales tax for education. This one-cent tax has allowed us to make our debt payments and pay our employees.”
Even though outside funding has been and will continue to be a great help financially, Williams and the school board have also had to make difficult decisions about where internal changes could be made.
“We’ve tried to cut back where we can and we have had to make numerous cuts in personnel over the past four years as well as other cuts,” Williams said. “While we were informing the citizens of the need for the one-cent sales tax, we heard over and over, ‘You need to cut the fat,’ and this is exactly what we have done, and I believe this has had a positive impact on our financial condition.”
Another major battle Williams had to face during this past term was the destruction of Phil Campbell High School and the ensuing journey to get another school built back in its place.
“The tornado that hit our county on April 27, 2011, was the worst event that I have dealt with as an administrator or in my professional career period,” Williams said.
“I was just sick when I heard that Phil Campbell High School had been devastated by the storm and that a lot of people were injured and there were several fatalities.
“When I was able to get to Phil Campbell and see the destruction myself and learned for sure that we had fatalities within our school family, two students and a teacher, it was a sad time.”
Williams said the process to get the school back on its feet began shorty thereafter, but he and the school board have faced numerous obstacles in the process.
“It has been a frustrating experience trying to secure funding to build back Phil Campbell High,” Williams said.
“Insurance did not cover adequately what we needed; they wanted to salvage some of the older buildings and we wanted to condemn all the buildings and build completely new ones; FEMA delayed the process by requiring a historical study; we had to go to the state of Alabama to ask for more funding; then, when we were finally able to bid the new school, the bid was out of our budget so we had to go back to the drawing board to reduce items to fit our budget, all the while we were getting the site cleaned up and prepared for the mobile units that the faculty, staff and students are now housed in.
“I am in no way complaining in saying all this, but knowing what all we have gone through, I hope everyone can understand that myself and the rest of the board are completely invested in seeing this project though to the end, and I hope that will be one of the crowning moments of this next term. We are moving forward and I believe we will have a very nice school at Phil Campbell that everyone will be proud of.”
Williams said even though this past term has been full of challenges, he has seen how the school system’s employees have worked together and made big achievements as well.
“No matter what the problem seemed to be, our employees have pulled together and performed above and beyond the call of duty,” Williams said.
“All of our schools individually as well as the system as a whole have met AYP goals, and all of our schools have met the standards and are district-wide accredited through AdvancED.
“I am proud of the accomplishments that our employees have made and the direction that our system is headed in even through such adverse times.”
Williams said in the next four years, the top priority for the Franklin County School System will remain the same as is has been – to make sure the students are educated to the best of the system’s ability.
“We have to prepare those who want to go on to college as well as those who want to learn a trade and go into the workforce – this is our ultimate goal,” he said.
“We have five board members who want to help make this a reality and make out schools the best they we can be. These board members are dedicated to helping the schools and working together to try to reach our goals.
“I’m very thankful to be able to work with these outstanding people that serve our school system, and I’m thankful to have another term as Superintendent of Education in Franklin County.
“I look forward to working with our employees and students in this upcoming term to make the education process enjoyable and beneficial for everyone involved.”