Barbara Deane-Williams ’77 was recently featured in the Democrat and Chronicle for the role she is about to assume as the superintendent of the Greece Central School District.
The article notes her many innovations and successes in the Lyndonville district, where she is currently superintendent: “Under her leadership, the district increased its graduation rates and student achievement, and improved its standing in the Buffalo-based Business First journal’s annual rankings of western New York schools.”
It notes, “She credits her parents and the civil rights activism of the Episcopal Church for her sense of social justice, the key to her philosophy on education.”
Deane-Williams is quoted, “Education is the great equalizer and every child, every child, deserves to achieve a high school diploma. And the role of public educators is to keep that as a central and defining focus.”
Deane-Williams earned her B.A. in Individual Studies from William Smith College. The full article about her follows.
Democrat and Chronicle
New school superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams relishes challenge in Greece
Meaghan M. McDermott • July 10, 2011
LYNDONVILLE – Instead of facing the Johnson Creek waterfall behind the Lyndonville Central School District, Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams’ new first-floor office overlooked the main parking lot.
She insisted on it.
“You wouldn’t believe how much traffic I get through here,” said Deane-Williams in June in the newly remodeled superintendent’s office at Lyndonville High School, off Route 63 in Orleans County’s farm country. During a recent $10 million capital improvement project, she could have relocated the office, but didn’t.
She pointed to a small sliding screen on the front window. “People come by at night, or on Saturdays and Sundays, and see my light on, so they knock. It’s parents with questions or who just want to talk, students who’ve forgotten their books, homework. … I walk around front and let them in.”
Deane-Williams, 54, made that kind of accessibility a hallmark of her time in Lyndonville.
And it’s something she is bringing to the Greece Central School District as its new superintendent.
Following two nationwide searches that spanned a year-and-a-half, Deane-Williams was picked for the job by Greece’s school board in May. She started work last week.
Including interim superintendents, she will be Greece’s seventh leader in six years. This leadership instability reflects a larger trend: a national exodus of experienced superintendents.
“In the most recent study we did, the report indicates that over the next five years about 50 percent of all superintendents across the nation will be retiring,” said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. He said the ongoing economic downturn is largely to blame.
“This is a tough environment for superintendents because they’re the ones making the decisions to cut staff and programs. That makes people angry, and they become the lightning rods. There’s tremendous pressure and stress, and many are now at retirement age and decide it’s time to cash in their chips and move on.”
With so many superintendents leaving, districts are increasingly hiring candidates who may not have prior experience as a superintendent – as the Gates Chili schools did in 2009 when signing on Mark C. Davey – or they’re scooping superintendents away from smaller districts, as the Brighton schools did in 2009 when Kevin McGowan was hired away from the 1,000-student Warsaw Central School District.
In coming to Greece, Deane-Williams is leaving behind one of the state’s smallest school systems, with annual spending of about $13 million, for the ninth-largest district, with an annual budget approaching $200 million. Lyndonville has two schools; Greece has 20.
But Frank Oberg, president of the Greece school board when Deane-Williams was hired, said her skills will transfer readily, regardless of the difference in the districts’ sizes. He’s hoping she’ll bring stability to Greece, which has been rocked in recent years by allegations of discrimination against teachers, a botched $119 million capital improvement project and a scathing review of district finances by the state Comptroller’s Office.
Oberg said Deane-Williams’ passion for education and her record of innovation made her the standout candidate. “She has a lot of good ideas and all in all, I think she’s an excellent fit. She’s done a good job turning the Lyndonville district around, so I expect that she can, over time, make a real improvement in the Greece school system.”
In 2005, the Lyndonville Board of Education wanted a leader who would put their small, rural school system on a solid financial footing, bolster academics and bring the district’s aging facilities into the 21st century. “We felt she was very confident, that she knew what she wanted to do in regard to improving our district and had no uncertainty about how to proceed,” said Tom Klotzbach, a member of the school board that hired Deane-Williams, who had been deputy superintendent for Student Learning and Accountability in the Churchville-Chili schools.
Under her leadership, the district increased its graduation rates and student achievement, and improved its standing in the Buffalo-based Business First journal’s annual rankings of western New York schools.
“She’s helped keep our tax rate low, and our students get the education they really need,” said board member Rick Mufford. “She’s done a good job here and I was really hoping she was going to stay.”
Deane-Williams also oversaw improved teacher training in Lyndonville and spearheaded a $10 million capital improvement project that brought state-of-the-art technology to the school buildings.
She set high expectations for everyone.
It’s no less than what she demands from herself, said Klotzbach. “She’s always saying that people need to dial in to station W-O-R-K because this is your job and you need to live it.”
That means every student is evaluated every three weeks to make sure they’re on track to pass their classes. If they aren’t, they get immediate academic intervention.
Paper charts documenting each child’s standing line the walls of school conference rooms – a constant reminder to staff of the district’s mission: ensuring that every student graduates from high school on time and college- or career-ready.
“We have shifted our resources to prevent failure,” said Deane-Williams. “We will do whatever it takes: Success is the only option.”
To that end, Deane-Williams implemented a program that steers students who might never have considered higher education to a college track.
She also expanded Lyndonville’s Advanced Placement courses and added dual-credit courses with Genesee Community College.
Curriculum has been revamped, textbooks have been updated.
Teachers work shifts that start earlier or end later in order to provide classes at times better suited for high-schoolers.
Every senior takes college-level English. Every senior is expected to apply to at least one college. Every senior must create a career plan that extends out at least one year beyond graduation.
Deane-Williams didn’t shy away from making unpopular decisions. She “closed” a school by eliminating middle-school administration at the shared middle/high school building. She advocated for a feasibility study and a community “straw vote” on merging her school system with the nearby Barker Central School District, even though a merger could have meant her job would be eliminated. Barker, however, nixed consolidation.
She also suggested a study to see if the district’s historic elementary school building should be closed too, as enrollment continued to wane.
“She challenges the status quo and encourages everyone to think outside of the box. Especially with the financial condition we’re all in, we just can’t continue to do things the way we always have,” said Klotzbach.
Deane-Williams also sought grant funds to add physical education equipment and teacher training, and to provide students with software, technology and course variety that rival offerings in larger, wealthier school systems.
Each year she worked in Lyndonville, she brought in grant money that far exceeded her $149,000 salary.
Theresa Annecharico said the high school’s new digital media classes made her son, Nick, more interested in education.
“He wasn’t real interested in school until he took digital media, and now he’s talking about going to college for that,” she said.
The defining focus
Deane-Williams grew up 25 miles south of Greece, in Honeoye Falls, the oldest of Jean and the Rev. Warren Deane’s six children.
She credits her parents and the civil rights activism of the Episcopal Church for her sense of social justice, the key to her philosophy on education.
“Education is the great equalizer and every child, every child, deserves to achieve a high school diploma,” she said, tapping her desk for emphasis. “And the role of public educators is to keep that as a central and defining focus.”
After Honeoye Falls-Lima High School, Deane-Williams attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges, then went to the University of New Hampshire for her master’s in education. She contemplated taking a job as a flight attendant before joining the Amesbury Public Schools in Massachusetts as a special education counselor in 1979.
She returned to the Rochester area, bought a home in Irondequoit and started working in the Hilton schools in 1981. From there, she embarked on her career as a school administrator, working in the Wayne, Gates Chili and Churchville-Chili central schools.
She and her husband Robert live in a lakeshore home they built largely with reclaimed building materials from New York and New England and decorated with antiques. Her contract in Greece – which provides for a $198,000 annual salary – stipulates that she must purchase a home there, and the couple is actively looking.
Domenech said Deane-Williams will face additional challenges in taking over Greece’s larger school system, with its larger staff, more schools and bigger budget.
But, he said, the most critical skill she can bring to the job is that of communication.
“She will have to communicate with a much larger community – there’s media there that’s interested in what’s happening in the schools, and the parent community is much larger and may have different expectations,” he said.
“Being a successful superintendent is a matter of being able to motivate people and present your ideas, and present them convincingly so the school board and community are willing to support you and follow your direction,” he said.
Deane-Williams already is planning to make herself as visible and accessible in Greece as she was in Lyndonville.
“One of the first things I’m going to be doing is searching out the Greece community,” she said. “I’m going looking for the clubs, organizations, neighborhood groups and fellowship groups, where Greece residents come together around common goals. I’m looking for ways to become familiar with what’s important to them, being accessible to them and opening up a dialogue that’s ongoing and communitywide.”
Klotzbach said he’s really sorry to see her go. “I told her I think she’s crazy for going to Greece.”
But Deane-Williams said she relishes a challenge.
“I believe I possess the leadership skills, people skills and organization skills that will benefit Greece schools,” she said.
“I really look forward to this wonderful opportunity to have a positive impact on a large number of students.”
Get to know Barbara Deane-Williams
Residence: Yates, Orleans County, and Irondequoit.
Family: Husband, Robert Williams. The couple has five grown children.
Education: Graduate of Honeoye Falls-Lima Senior High School; bachelor’s degree, Hobart and William Smith Colleges ; master’s degrees, University of New Hampshire and The College at Brockport; doctoral work, Syracuse University.
Career: Special education counselor, Amesbury Public Schools, Amesbury, Mass.; middle school counselor, Hilton Central School District; assistant junior high school principal, Wayne Central School District; assistant high school and assistant middle school principal, Gates Chili Central School District; director of student learning and special education, assistant superintendent for instruction, deputy superintendent for student learning and accountability, Churchville-Chili Central School District; superintendent, Lyndonville Central School District.
Memberships: State Council of School Superintendents, Special Education Committee chair and Executive Committee member; state Commissioner of Education’s Advisory Council; Orleans County Local Development Corp. Board of Directors; Genesee Community College Advisory Council; Lyndonville Lions Club.