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Adjusting to a new school district, Bill Adams finds inspiration in kids, staff of 'great educational system'

Willmar Assistant Superintendent Bill Adams is working on spreading the word about Willmar Public Schools.

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Willmar Public Schools assistant superintendent Bill Adams reads "Different — A Great Thing to Be!" by Heather Avis to Ryan Cihak's fourth-grade classroom at Lakeland Elementary School on Thursday, December 1, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — One of Bill Adams’ favorite things is reading to elementary students. The assistant superintendent has made it a point to visit schools, especially elementary schools in his first six months at Willmar Public Schools .

“I’m an elementary guy,” he said in a recent interview. He began his career teaching elementary students and he served two districts as an elementary principal before becoming a superintendent.

Adams said he enjoys taking questions from kids, though he doesn’t always know what to expect.

One of his favorite stories this fall is about a fifth-grader who said his teacher told him he couldn’t ask Adams how old he was. His substitute question: “How long have you been alive?” The creative boy got his answer — 45.

“I do everything because of these fine young students,” he said. “I show up each and every day to see them.”

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Willmar Public Schools assistant superintendent Bill Adams poses for a portrait at Lakeland Elementary School on Thursday, December 1, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Adams, the former superintendent at New London-Spicer Public Schools , was hired as the assistant to Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm last summer.

Earlier this year, Holm announced his plan to retire in summer 2024. He proposed hiring an assistant superintendent. If things work out well and he and the board agree, Adams could step into the lead job in 2024.

A smooth transition could help continue the district’s work to implement an improved method of instruction and a more productive way of evaluating employees. In standards-based learning , teachers tell students what they are expected to learn. Students demonstrate their knowledge through four-step proficiency scales.

Last summer, Adams said he wasn’t looking for another job when the Willmar opportunity came up. Holm said he didn’t expect to find his potential successor at the school district next door.

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Willmar Public Schools assistant superintendent Bill Adams conencts with students while reading "Different — A Great Thing to Be!" by Heather Avis to Ryan Cihak's fourth-grade classroom at Lakeland Elementary School on Thursday, December 1, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“I wasn’t looking to leave New London-Spicer,” Adams said. “It’s a wonderful place.” He’s proud of the initiatives he spearheaded in the district, including a strategic plan for instruction called Portrait of a Graduate. He had also earned his doctorate while at NLS.

The opportunity to work in a school system with greater diversity interested him, though. Being an assistant has been an adjustment after a decade as a superintendent, he said, but he’s enjoying his work.

In his visits to schools, he said, “I can tell we have a staff that genuinely enjoys their work. ... I see enthusiastic people every day.”

Adams said he’s learning a lot and soaking in as much as he can about the district’s operation, something he’d have needed to do had he arrived as superintendent, too.

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He’s currently working on a survey of open enrollment families to find out why they’ve chosen to send their children to Willmar schools or to send them to other districts.

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While the survey isn’t finished yet, early results indicate people have misconceptions about the district, with people concerned about class sizes, subjects taught and other issues. People who have opted to enroll in Willmar have cited diversity and the broad array of class offerings as attributes.

The survey dovetails with another project he’s been working on to develop videos about Willmar Public Schools.

The first has been released, featuring two students who talk about their schools and their feeling that they belong in Willmar’s schools.

Called “Willmar Public Schools Student Experience,” it’s available on the district’s website at willmar.k12.mn.us. Other videos will highlight staff, teaching and family experiences with the district.

It’s important to tell the story of Willmar Public Schools, he said, “This is a great, great educational system.”

Holm has never had an assistant, but he worked as an assistant superintendent before coming to Willmar. He hopes that gives him some sensitivity to Adams’ new position.

Holm said he has appreciated Adams’ expertise since he joined the district.

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“He and I work very much as a team,” Holm said.

Before he joined the district, Adams was part of a network of superintendents that Holm would often talk with about school issues. Now, they work in the same building.

“It's nice having somebody right here when something unusual comes up,” Holm said.

Another advantage for Willmar is that Adams has more experience than many other superintendents in the state, Holm said. It should serve the district well after his retirement if Adams stays with the district, he added.

“I don’t really care if anybody remembers me, per se, but if I can look from a distance and see that some of the systems that were put in place, like standards-based learning, are still alive and well and moving forward, then I’ll feel good about the impact,” Holm said.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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