Equity, Excellence, and Joy: Connecting With Superintendent Avis Williams
Dr. Williams gathers feedback and builds relationships across our community while pursuing clear goals
This summer, New Orleans Public Schools welcomed Dr. Avis Williams as our new superintendent. She is a former classroom teacher, principal, U.S. Army veteran, and the first woman to be appointed as superintendent of NOLA-PS as a permanent position.
When Dr. Williams entered the role, she set a series of goals for her first one hundred days in office. She has also set a strong vision: that all students receive a high-quality education that fosters their individual capabilities, while ensuring that they thrive and are prepared for civic, social, and economic success. 

Dr. Williams recently discussed her goals and vision with NSNO’s chief of external engagement, Jené Liggins. Liggins is the host of NSNO’s radio show, “Talking NOLA Schools,” on WBOK 1230 AM. Today, we share some of what they discussed, and review the superintendent’s goals for the first one hundred days. 

Connections, Community and Relationships

Dr. Williams’ goals begin with connection–she will visit all NOLA-PS schools within the first hundred days of her job, and develop “trusting, productive, and collaborative” relationships across the NOLA-PS staff, schools, and community. She will also engage our families and community with twenty ABC (Dr. Avis’ Beignets and Conversations) sessions, followed by ten “Solutions Circles.” She told Liggins about what the ABC sessions have been like so far. 

“It’s been amazing. I’m just really grateful that the community is coming out,” she said. “The community has really stepped up and given me some insights and, really made sure that my team and I truly have a good understanding of some of our challenges that we need to face, but also the celebrations.”

Dr. Williams says some of the most frequent feedback she has been receiving is around ensuring that schools feel safe for students and staff.

  “So the next step will be solution circles,” she explains. She’ll bring students, families, educators, and other experts together to brainstorm responses to the district’s pressing concerns. 

Dr. Williams expects that one solution for many of the problems our schools face lies in supporting students around trauma and mental health. One of her goals is to create NOLA CAREs – NOLA Community Access to Resources and Equity. 

“This is going to be our framework for how we look at mental health and wellness and even trauma-informed practices,” Williams explained. “We know our community has dealt with a lot of trauma, and a lot of unaddressed trauma and mental health [concerns]. And so I look forward to being a part of the solution for how we can ensure that we are well.”

Gathering and Responding to Data: Inequities, Accountability, and Attendance

 Williams has also set a number of goals that involve gathering, understanding, and responding to important data. She plans to conduct a “data deep dive” to better understand and address the gaps in achievement and opportunity that disproportionately affect students of color. She also plans to address the process by which schools are evaluated and held accountable to the district and our families–our accountability formula and the charter renewal and extension process. Williams says she plans to adjust for the academic impact of COVID-19 while expanding the definition of school quality. She will develop a NOLA-PS accountability formula that includes not just academic growth, but social and emotional learning, culture, climate, and learning environment. 

Williams will focus on attendance and truancy in our district, too. In partnership with schools, the district, and our community, she’ll create a plan with measurable goals around improving attendance across all our schools.

 “We’re committed to addressing the issue collaboratively, and in partnership with all of the stakeholders within our community,” she explains. “Of course, that has to include our scholars and families.”

 She plans to use data carefully to understand trends in attendance, and look for patterns across different groups of students. If the district notices that certain students are more likely to be absent than others, they can target a response to those students’ particular needs. 

She also plans to understand the qualitative data–she seeks stories and reflections from students themselves. She says she is committed to finding “some time and some spaces for our scholars to actually share information that tells us why they come to school.” 

Facilities and Funding

Williams set goals around facilities and funding as well, including key tasks like presenting an annual budget for NOLA-PS and planning for a millage to maintain or raise more funding for school facilities.  

Image credit: NOLA-PS

Equity, Excellence, and Joy

Alongside her goals, Dr. Williams made a series of commitments, centered around three values she’s carried with her throughout her career: equity, excellence, and joy.  

Equity: “We are intentional about eliminating opportunity gaps and removing barriers to ensure every scholar succeeds. ”To achieve equity, Dr. Williams will take steps like establishing an equity policy that focuses on antiracist practices and implementing NOLA CAREs.    

Excellence: “We have high expectations of ourselves and expect to be held accountable to produce exemplary outcomes for scholars.” To reach excellence, Dr. Williams and her team will take steps like convening school leader, student, teacher, and family advisories and integrating feedback from the ABC tours into the strategic planning process. 

Joy: “We believe in our work and will enthusiastically celebrate the success of NOLA-PS.” 

To ensure joy, Dr. Williams and her team will conduct culture and climate surveys (or use existing data) to make students’ learning experiences and educators’ work experiences better. She’ll also get to know scholars personally during “lunch and learn” sessions. 

Going Forward

We are now about a third of the way through Dr. William’s first one hundred days. Dr. Williams is committed to working together to create a great education system for our children, and in addition to her ongoing ABC Meetings, she continues to welcome feedback on her goals and vision here.

“Dr. Williams is a wonderful educator and leader. Her investment in our community and love for our students is clear,” says NSNO CEO, Dana Peterson. “At NSNO, we look forward to working with her to make sure New Orleans’ children have the best education possible.” 

At NSNO, we are grateful to be a partner to Dr. Williams and NOLA-PS and hopeful about what we can accomplish as an educational community with her leadership. 

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