Gates hires new school leader

Published 9:41 am Friday, December 23, 2011


GATESVILLE, N.C.–While it’s been years since a train rumbled through the rural farmland of Gates County, people still find a “track” leading them here.

Such is the case of Dr. Barry Williams, a former railroad man who later found a calling to help shape the young minds and hone the athletic skills of students. He was hired last week by the Gates County Board of Education as the county’s new superintendent of schools.

“I’m humbled and honored to have this job,” Williams said during a Monday morning interview while he was on the road back to his native Wise County, Va., to begin loading up his belongings to head east. “I’m a hard worker and I promise to work with the good people in Gates County to help educate their children in an effort for them to be the best North Carolina has to offer.”

Born and raised in Appalachia, Va. — located in the southwestern mountains, north of Kingsport, Tenn. — Williams comes to Gates County after serving a two-year stint as superintendent of schools in Rangely, Col.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to have Dr. Williams lead our school district,” said Doug Lilley, chairman of the Gates County Board of Education. “We as a board feel we have a diamond in the rough, an educator that has come through the ranks from a teacher and coach to a school administrator to a superintendent.”

Lilley said the school board was unanimous in its vote to hire Williams.

“The board was very tedious in the process to hire a new superintendent,” Lilley said. “We conducted several rounds of interviews with prospective candidates before settling on Dr. Williams.”

Unlike most that choose to go into the field of education, Williams did not start out in that line of work.

“I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and work with the railroad, so I took a job with Norfolk Southern Railway and worked with them for 10 years,” Williams said. “While working in that job, one of the conductors had a son who was experiencing trouble in math. He asked me to tutor his son and that gave me the itch to go back to college and become a teacher.”

Williams, 48, graduated in 1995 from Clinch Valley Community College (now the University of Virginia at Wise) with a bachelor of arts in biology with a minor in chemistry.

Armed with that education, Williams launched his new career as a math and chemistry teacher at his high school alma mater in Appalachia. There, he also served as an assistant football coach and coached volleyball and girl’s basketball.

A few years later, Williams obtained his master’s degree in administration and supervision from Virginia Tech, a degree that led to his first role as an administrator: assistant principal at J.J. Kelly High School in Wise, Va., in 2002. Five years later he was promoted to principal at Coeburn Elementary School in Wise County.

He received his doctorate in education in 2007 from Nova Southeastern University in Florida, a degree that led him to seek a job as superintendent of the Rangely (Col.) School District.

“It was nice out west, but the town was deep in the mountains and they were in the 9,000- to 12,000-foot range,” Williams noted. “My wife had a job as an assistant principal at a school that took an hour-and-a-half to drive because of the mountains, and that got pretty old and was dangerous with all the snow.”

Williams and his wife, Alice, moved back to Appalachia in July, partly to be with his aging father.

“I started putting out some feelers about superintendent openings and learned about the one in Gates County,” Williams said. “When I visited there for my interview, my wife and I fell in love with the place. While it doesn’t have any mountains like we do back home, it’s rural and quiet…it’s almost a mirror image of being at my home.”

Williams said he was impressed with the current state of education in Gates County.

“There are strong teachers, administrators and school board already in place,” he noted. “The schools in Gates County are the heart of the community. With the people already in place, it lessens the daily challenges we face as educators to help children grow and prosper.”

Williams said his core objectives as an educational administrator are the same wherever he goes.

“Honesty, integrity and accountability — if you have a handle on those three things, then success isn’t too far behind,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, his wife — a native North Carolinian from Youngsville, north of Raleigh — has already secured a job as an assistant principal with Norfolk City Schools.

“Right now we’re in the process of finding a house in Gates County,” Williams said.

His first day on the job as Gates County Schools superintendent is Jan. 3.