New superintendent looks to future

Renee Shadforth
Colin FisherDennis Williams poses in his office this week in Trckee.

He has only been with the district for a little more than a week – but Dennis Williams has already made his presence known in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

The new superintendent has packed his days in Tahoe with site visits, graduations and getting a feel for the needs of the district.

“I’m in learning mode, trying to gather information about the district,” Williams said from his new office last week.

Williams and the school board members will go on a retreat July 1, where the trustees will tell Williams about their objectives for the coming years.

Out of the information Williams obtains from site visits and the school board he will establish his own goals for his tenure at Tahoe Truckee, he said.

The most overwhelming issue Williams has encountered in his school site visits has been a request for more consistency in policies and processes at the district level.

He said he hopes to ratify this issue by establishing a decision-making process that will allow people to be “confident on how decisions are made through predictability and consistency in the process.”

“Who makes the decisions? If it’s a personnel issue, people need to know to go to Jo (Wilson). If it’s a budget issue, people need to know to go to Ralph (Johnson). That has been somewhat clouded and blurred in the past,” Williams said.

“When you deviate from policies and procedures, then it creates a new set of rules,” he added.

Williams’ philosophy comes from many years as an administrator in education, but his start in the school system was as a teacher.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in business from California Baptist College in Riverside. Then he went on to get his master’s degree in education at La Verne College.

Williams was a teacher for seven years and moved around a lot from school to school.

“I wanted to learn from different principals, because I knew I wanted to be a principal,” Williams said.

As a principal at the elementary, middle and high school levels in Oxnard, Calif., Williams said the superintendent at the district moved him around “to fix problem schools.”

Then Williams left the area.

“I spent too many years in Southern California,” he said. “I really didn’t feel that I was making that much of a difference.”

Williams’ first superintendence was at Biggs Unified School District.

After leaving Biggs, he was superintendent at Plumas Unified School District and the Plumas County Office of Education in Quincy, Calif., where he dealt with declining enrollment and many of the issues facing rural districts like Tahoe Truckee Unified.

Another issue Williams has encountered – not specific to Tahoe Truckee – will be the population of students learning English – something he faced with the majority of students in the Oxnard district where he was principal.

“Many of our staff have not been trained with [English language learners] or how to deal with that,” he said. “If I don’t know Spanish, I have to know how to deal with a Spanish-speaking child.”

Williams plans on refreshing the little bit of Spanish he knows with adult education classes, he said, to serve as a model for district staff.

“The world I went to school in doesn’t exist anymore – with a majority of English-speaking students,” Williams said. “I have to accept that. I have to adapt my own skills and relate to all students, not just English-speaking students.

“To be honest, there are some people who resist that, and we have to change that as an organization.”

Williams, who was chosen by Tahoe Truckee Unified out of 52 candidates applying for the position, said he was humbled that the board chose him.

He attributes his overall success as an administrator to his wife of 20 years, Mary Williams, who still lives in Quincy, while he spends his weekdays in Truckee.

“I could not do what I do without her support. I put in a lot of hours, and she never complains,” he said.

In their free time, Williams and his wife enjoy golf and going out to eat.

He has asked his wife to help him learn to downhill ski this winter.

Until it snows, however, Williams said he is going to work exclusively on attaining his goals in his professional life, one of which is to prove he is worthy of the Tahoe Truckee’s top position.

“I feel challenged to earn the confidence and trust they have put in me,” he said. “I feel challenged to keep that trust.”

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