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Dr. Everett J. Williams Jr., first Black NOPS superintendent, dies

6th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

New Orleans is mourning the loss of one of its most dedicated public educators and public school administrators, Dr. Everett J. Williams Jr., who passed away on July 28 at Oschner Medical Center at the age of 82.

Williams, a New Orleans native, was the city’s first Black superintendent of its public school system, serving in that post from 1985 to 1992. His career in public education spanned four decades.

After earning bachelor and master’s degrees from Xavier University, Williams earned a doctorate from Michigan State University.Everett-Williams-080513

Williams’ first job as an educator was as an English teacher at Walter L. Cohen Senior High School, He later served as assistant principal at McDonogh 35 Senior High School and as principal at Carter G. Woodson Jr. High School. After several posts in the New Orleans Public Schools administration, he was tapped to lead the school system in 1985.

Williams is credited with establishing the public school system’s magnet school component, implementing in-school day-care programs for teenage mothers and creating an awards programs that allowed superintendents to recognize the academic achievements of public school scholars. He also toughened the school system’s disciplinary policy and created a system-wide multicultural curriculum.

Recognizing the power of education as a great equalizer and empowerment tool, Williams wrote in an epilogue to his groundbreaking book, Crescent City Schools: Public Education in New Orleans, 1841-1991, “I have tried to reshape this institution and redirect its resources so that the New Orleans public schools can educate the children of poverty with the same ease they educate the children of privilege. This dual and oftentimes contradictory demand is a wonder when it succeeds and a source of bottomless frustration when it fails.”

After he retired from his superintendent post in 1992, Williams worked as the Vice President of Community Relations for Freeport-McMoran. He was also tapped to serve as a board member of the Delgado Community College Foundation. He continued to serve this community by volunteering on several non-profit civic boards. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, he served on the Archbishop’s Community Appeal as the first African-American Chairman in 1996. Additionally, he served on the board for Catholic Charities, Catholic Foundation, Our Lady of Holy Cross College, Xavier University, Notre Dame Seminary, Holy Rosary Academy and St. Joseph Seminary College. In 2010 he received the Pope John Paul II Award for his lifetime of service. In the greater New Orleans community, he served on the board of UNITY for the Homeless, Bridge House, Children’s Hospital, the Medical Center of Louisiana, the Blood Center of Louisiana, Baptist Community Ministries, School Leadership Center of Greater New Orleans and the Harvard Urban Superintendent’s Program Advisory Board. Until his death, Dr. Williams chaired the Education Committee for the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation and served as a Deacon within the Archdiocese of New Orleans at both Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church.

“It is with great sadness that I learned one of my heroes in the field of education has died,” New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge Morrell said in a statement last week. “Dr. Everett Williams, the first African-American superintendent of the New Orleans Public Schools, was an outstanding educator, a wonderful family man and a dear and valued friend. Dr. Williams was my mentor throughout my career in education. As superintendent, he provided the professional development necessary to foster my growth as principal at McDonogh 15. Most recently, it was my honor to serve alongside him as a board member at the School Leadership Center of Greater New Orleans. He will also be remembered for his deep commitment to the education of all children. Dr. Williams is greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Melva and their family.”

“He was a great leader and role model for the system and our children,” NOPS Supt. Ira Thomas told nola.com last week.

One of those who benefited greatly from the leadership and vision of Dr. Williams was NOPS Deputy Supt. Matthew Proctor, who told nola.com last week that Williams often understated and underestimated his contributions to public education and the teaching profession in New Orleans. “He could spot leadership, and he gave people the latitude to move and to grow,” Proctor said. “He had the patience of Job.”

Dr. Everett Williams Jr. has been married to Melva Borris for 58 years and together they have three children: Melva Maureen, Eileen Therese, and the late David Anthony. He is also survived by two sisters, Mary (Charles) and Kathleen; and two brothers, Ronald (Marie) and Freddie (Cheryl). He is preceded in death by two sisters, Shirley (Ned) and Mary Jean; and two brothers, Alvin (Opal) and Gerald (Sedonia), as well as a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, relatives and friends.

A Funeral Mass was held at St. Rita Catholic Church, on Friday morning, August 2. Interment followed in Metairie Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to UNITY for the Homeless or Xavier University. Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home handled the arrangements.

This article originally published in the August 5, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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