After some Loudoun County parents took to social media to trash Superintendent Eric Williams in the Texas school district where he is the sole finalist in the search for a new leader, his future Board of Trustees defended their decision to hire him.
“During this selection process, your seven elected school board members remained committed to identifying a person who met the leadership profile the community helped develop,” reads a statement published on Clear Creek Independent School District social media. “You were looking for a visionary leader who promotes creativity and the joy of learning among many other qualities. We have found that person in Dr. Williams.”
Under Texas law, there is a 21-day waiting period between the time when the school district announces its final candidate and when it makes the appointment official. In that time, some Loudoun parents who have been his most vocal critics have taken to attacking Williams on the Texas school district’s local media.
“Instead of putting together a plan to get the children in Loudoun County back in school, Eric Williams and his merry band of incompetent fools are still trying to figure out how to measure six feet,” wrote Zanelle Nichols, a Loudoun parent and vocal critic of Williams and the Loudoun School Board. “Good luck CCISD. Definitely NOT sad to see him go. Counting the minutes till we can pop the champagne.”
According to the CCISD statement, during the interview and research process, “examples of his leadership, instructional and innovative vision, and unmatched integrity were evident every time in how he worked with his board and staff to systematically address issues and opportunities. We would not have moved forward with him had he not clearly demonstrated all of the qualities in the leadership profile.” The statement calls the efforts by some Loudouners “disheartening.”
The statement also points to controversies around the Loudoun school system’s work to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and allegations of systemic racial inequality.
“Both COVID-19 and race relations are two topics that have spurred division in America,” the statement reads. “Every school district in the nation faces unique challenges as issues such as these relate and impact their local communities. In Loudoun County, these two issues have been particularly divisive.”
In response to mounting examples of racially insensitive instruction, instances of racism among students or staff members, a disproportionally low number of Black and Latinx student gaining admission to the division’s STEM academies, and the opening of a Virginia Attorney General’s Office investigation into allegations of systemic racism in the division, Williams launched an overarching anti-racist plan. That effort has included a formal apology from the school district for its past operation of segregated schools and the lasting hardships resulting from the denial of equal rights, as well as a decision to do away with the Confederacy-inspired “Raiders” mascot at Loudoun County High School, later to be replaced with the “Captains.” The School Board has also agreed to overhaul admissions processes at the Academies of Loudoun.
Those followed an incident at Madison’s Trust Elementary that made national headlines when a teacher lead students in a “runaway slave” game.
The system also continues to work on addressing racial disparity in hiring, disciplinary action and academic achievement, with Black and Hispanic students earning Advanced Diplomas at a significantly lower rate and scoring lower in standardized testing compared to their white peers.
“[I]n Clear Creek ISD we believe diversity is a strength and are very proud of it,” the statement says. “Under Dr. Williams leadership, we will continue to offer each child every opportunity to achieve, contribute and lead with integrity regardless of race.”
Some parents and students have also pushed Loudoun schools to reopen more quickly as school administrators grapple with how to slow the spread of COVID-19 among students and their families. The first person in Loudoun to die of COVID-19 was a teacher.
“The Clear Creek Independent School District has safely reopened schools and has no plans to close schools unless otherwise instructed by the Governor of Texas or a local health department,” the statement reads. “What some members of the CCISD community have seen on social media is a Loudoun County community divided, no more than Clear Creek ISD was in July/August on how and when to reopen schools.”
The Clear Creek Independent School District is about half the size of Loudoun’s, with 42,000 students, and serves one of the state’s fastest growing communities, just south of Houston. Williams was selected from among a list of 80 initial candidates.
Williams has served as Loudoun’s school superintendent since 2014, following the retirement of Edgar Hatrick, who held the post for 23 years.
“I’m grateful for my tenure as superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools,” Williams said during Tuesday’s School Board meeting. “We have an amazing staff in Loudoun County, as well as students, parents and a broader community that supports and values education. It has been an honor to serve here.”