Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Superintendent Chris Williams announced his sudden resignation Thursday, along with two other top administrators.
The school board held an emergency meeting Thursday morning in which they accepted Williams’ resignation. According to the posted agenda for the meeting, the board was set to discuss Williams’ mid-year evaluation during closed session.
According to a district news release, Williams submitted his resignation after “his ninth consecutive positive evaluation that met and exceeded standards.”
“It is with the deepest gratitude that we thank Chris Williams for the passion, purpose, conviction, and leadership he has provided in the transformation of our district into one of excellence,” the release said. “This transition will take place over the next 60 days.”
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Williams’ resignation is effective Feb. 6.
The board also accepted the resignations of director of student Services Kristin Shouse and the director of athletics Rich Clayton.
Williams speaks out
In a letter to staff on Thursday that was at times both thankful and combative, Williams called on the district “to be unselfish, be selfless,” extolling it to champion “people who share a higher purpose, are not afraid to think differently while challenging the norms, can lead with deep conviction, are truth tellers and do not hide, yet have the willingness to work with, work through, and work above the needless noise created by doubters and those who don’t believe, those who are not willing to put the purpose and belief above themselves.”
He added, “You see, for me this is not a job, it is not a profession, it is a calling. My passion and purpose have always driven me. What an amazing opportunity I have had to cultivate the seed of greatness in every child and person. It is who I am and what I will always do.”
Williams also included some pointed messages to particular audiences.
He urged the board to trust its staff and be wary of “people who continue to tear down what has been accomplished, including personal attacks, lies, and inflammatory comments.”
And he challenged the media to “raise your game and make a difference.”
“Our community and students deserve more than mediocre, unfounded, unproven myths that continue to be low-level, irresponsible reporting,” Williams said.
‘A very sad day’
Board member Joel Peterson described Thursday as “a very sad day for Paso Robles, definitely.”
“There were certain of us who thought it might be coming, but it certainly took us by surprise,” he said in a phone interview with The Tribune. “As you know there was a recent election in Paso Robles and a fair number of incumbents were voted out. There’s a portion of this community that would like to see a new direction and some change. And I think Chris didn’t see some alignment and agreement in this new board.”
He added that though unsure about the reasons behind Shouse’s resignation, he could “say with pretty good clarity that Rich Clayton fully supports Chris in everything he does.”
“Rich, of course, did some great things in Paso Robles,” he said. “I don’t think he wanted to be here without Chris.”
The Paso Robles school district serves about 6,900 students in 11 school sites across the North County.
Williams came to the district in 2014, after serving as assistant superintendent of human resources at Central Unified School District in Fresno County.
Williams has recently been under fire as the district struggled with an ongoing budget crisis that left the district’s reserves at less than 1 percent last year.
As a “gesture that would set an example moving forward,” Williams announced in October that he would donate his scheduled 1.5 percent raise to the Paso Robles 4A Foundation, which raises money to support the school district.
Incoming board member Christopher Arend — who was the top vote-getter in one of Paso Robles’ two November school board elections — believes many incumbents weren’t re-elected due to the district’s budget issues.
“The spending had gotten out of hand in the district,” Arend said. “They’d lost track of it.”
He said new and incumbent board members recently attended the annual California School Boards Association Conference in San Francisco, where they socialized with Williams.
“We were expecting that we would be working with Chris Williams to pull the cart back out of the ditch again,” Arend said.
The new board members were prepared to cooperate with the superintendent on the budget, but Williams is still to blame for the district’s financial problems, Arend said.
“I think probably Chris Williams decided he should take responsibility for his mistake,” he said.
Peterson said Williams would be missed at the district by many members of “his hardworking staff.”
“He has brought so much leadership to this district,” he said. “Not to say there haven’t been issues — there certainly have been, with the budget of course. But Chris has been a champion for this district.”
Going forward, Peterson said the incoming board — which is expected to be sworn in next week at the district’s regularly scheduled meeting — will have to consider its next steps and begin the search for Williams’ replacement.
“Without Chris, we will search far and wide to find a new superintendent to really fill Chris’ place,” he said. “He’s set us up great.”