Heather Williams, a Baylor doctoral student, was named National Outstanding Assistant Principal (one of only 24) by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). She had already received the award for 2021 Arkansas Elementary School Assistant Principal of the Year from the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Williams will be recognized in July at the National Principal Conference of NAESP in Chicago.
Williams has been assistant principal for two years at Warren Dupree Elementary in Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, northeast of Little Rock. She is an EdD student in the K12 Educational Leadership program in Baylor School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership. A member of Cohort Four, Williams began the program in 2020.
Dr. John Wilson, clinical professor and founding director of the K12 EdD program, said that these recognitions at the state and national level illustrate how highly respected Williams is throughout the state of Arkansas. “Heather is a very conscientious, hard-working school administrator,” Wilson said. “Her leadership skills are evident in her doctoral cohort as well as on her school campus.”
After her first two years as an assistant principal, Williams believes “relationships and trust” are key contributors to successful campus management. She came to the job with experience as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist. She holds an EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Central Arkansas, an MEd in Reading from the University of Arkansas Little Rock, and a BA in Early Childhood from Harding University.
Williams said she found the Baylor EdD program after her mentor and superintendent, Dr. Bryan Duffie, challenged her to take her administrative skills and career to the next level.
“We began to seek out information on high-quality EdD programs from top-rated universities, and from that research I found Baylor’s EdD program,” she said.
Baylor’s program stood out to Williams because it is “based on a practitioner approach for active school leaders,” and also because of the cohort model. “My cohort is composed of some of the top talents in the field of education from whom I learn daily,” she said.
“The support is invaluable to my development as a leader. I cannot say how appreciative I am of my cohort, as well as the professors who support and guide us,” she said. “The professors provide incredibly individualized feedback focused on what is best for us as students.”
Williams was interested in the administrative side of education because of the ability to impact the culture of organizations. “I have always believed in the importance of building a culture focused on shared responsibility, vision, and trust,” she said. It is relationships — with parents, teachers, and families — that can build a shared vision leading to the achievement and empowerment of the students, she said.
As an assistant principal, Williams focused on campus disciplinary issues. Before her arrival, the school’s disciplinary suspension numbers were demographically out of alignment with the student population. In the year preceding her arrival, 82 percent of the school’s school suspensions were African American males, while only 57.5 percent of the student population was African American.
During her first year as assistant principal, the school lowered disciplinary referrals by 30 percent, with more severe offenses lowered by 38 percent. She said the decrease is because of three factors — relationships, common (and clear) expectations, and systematic and equitable processes.
“It is not about the right set of rules,” she said. “It is about the right set of relationships.”
The school team worked on building relationships first with staff to create a shared vision and then with students to create common expectations. That process led to “consistent and equitable” practices, Williams said.
“Due to the hard work of our staff and students, we have seen a complete turnaround in the overall climate and culture,” she said.
Beginning this fall, Williams will embark on a new career challenge, becoming principal of Perritt Primary School in Arkadelphia Public Schools in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
“I have been welcomed in wonderfully by the superintendent and other leaders in the district and community,” she said. “I have already observed how supportive and involved the community is within the schools, and I am truly looking forward to joining the team at Perritt.”
For more than 100 years, Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, leaders in K12 and higher education, psychologists, academics/scholars and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice. Visit www.baylor.edu/SOE to learn more.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.