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Drum major for justice keeps Williams marching on

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Ricky Williams, superintendent of Hagerman Municipal Schools speaks at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in January 2020. (Daily Record File Photo)

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It might be difficult for some to equate the bespectacled, soft-spoken Ricky Williams, superintendent at Hagerman Municipal School District, to the aggressive defensive end he was at Angelo State University.

This was back in the days when the running game was en vogue. Imagine your coach calls a trap play, and you’re the guard that has to turn the corner and see Williams staring you in the face, ready to deliver a blow.

This is the same Williams that took advantage of athletics, specifically football, to get an education and do greater things in life. Williams was the first African American to be named superintendent in the state of New Mexico and was honored at the Roundhouse in 2014.

In 2019, he was nominated as Superintendent of the Year in the state of New Mexico and honored by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) at its national meeting in Los Angeles. Williams’ outstanding leadership is evidenced by the aforementioned accomplishments.

Black History Month

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As Black History Month is celebrated, Williams carries himself as a constant learner. His way is to be respectful of the people who lost their lives fighting for his right to be a superintendent of schools.

One of Williams’ heroes is Dr. Martin Luther King — Williams is struck by King’s humility and feels King was an extraordinary man.

Williams says he has influence and realizes ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Williams notes King’s influence of ending racial violence, ending poverty, and creating equal voting rights. He also said King’s message has found its way into many classrooms across the nation.

Williams notes that if one were to examine the conversations around equity, equality and social welfare, he said he believes that King’s work is unfinished, and the issues he marched for are still affecting our communities today.

“In some ways,” Williams said, “it has had an impact on how I advocate for humane treatment for all people. In other ways, it has an impact on how I tackle different topics or problems. I try to create a safe environment for voice. I listen more than I talk. What that allows him to do is pay attention to what is being said, and not the way it is being emitted.”

Educator

Knowing the issues he has to face has framed the way he presents himself. As an educator, Williams said he feels like sometimes educators are tackling various problems that don’t start in the classroom or start in the school building.

As a superintendent, Williams said he tries to create an environment that is safe, humane, and respectful of diversity while championing the little things he sees kids do.

“We try to create our educational environment by looking through the eyes of students,” Williams said.

At Hagerman, he has the opportunity to work with greater than 70% Hispanic students, and the foundation is to forge a family environment. Hagerman Municipal Schools recognizes its diversity and celebrates the milestones that students are accomplishing each and every day.

The big push Williams said he feels is to make sure that once a student graduates from Hagerman Municipal Schools, they have a well-rounded education which is more than a test.

“At the same time, we want them to be competitive,” he said. “We demand our students are competitive with whomever and wherever they choose to go, and that they will come out on top.

“These are some of the best kids I have ever been around,” Williams said. “They want to know more about each other’s backgrounds.”

Williams is in his eighth year as superintendent at Hagerman. He said he’s proud of the environment that he and his staff create for all students. Williams said he has a strong belief in God, tries to treat all people as he would like to be treated, and believes that we are all God’s children created in his image.

Williams said we can talk about the future of Hagerman and a sustained economic growth strategy when the largest contributor to that improved economic growth is walking in our doors each and every day. If we are laying down pathways for those kids to move forward, then we will increase our economic value, he said.

“Look at the number of kids graduating and then take a look at where the poverty line is — every time a student graduates, the poverty line should go down,” he said.

Williams said the cost of taking care of that young man or woman will change if the graduate has been educated in a way that they become an integral part of the community.

Friday Night Lights

Williams is from Odessa, Texas, where he played football under Friday Night Lights. Williams had a number of athletic opportunities but chose to attend Angelo State University and play football. He said his grandparents, R.L. Lee and Dorothy Lee, would not let him grow up to be mediocre.

“One of the things that were non-negotiable in our house was getting an education and serving God,” Williams said.

Path to becoming an educator

In his senior year at Ector High School, he was introduced to the Teacher Education Program. He tutored elementary students for half of the day. Williams graduated from high school as a member of the National Honor Society. After graduating from Angelo State University with a bachelor’s in business administration, the bottom fell out of the business field.

Williams chose to go into law enforcement where he worked to bring change to the communities in Odessa for eight and a half years. After receiving a promotion, he said he found in his new position that a lot of guidance and counseling was a skill set that he needed to arm himself with. As such, Williams noted that he continued to seek additional knowledge regarding human behavior and how it could impact one’s life or not. He said he took on an opportunity to review the educational system in a different way. On his off days from law enforcement, he would work as a substitute teacher.

Hagerman’s success

Married to Clorinda, a career educator at Hagerman Elementary School, Williams started out in education as a special education teacher himself, and also worked as a gifted at-risk counselor, coordinator of student services, assistant principal, principal, director of secondary education, and now superintendent. Williams earned a Master of Arts in Counseling and a Master of Science in School Administration. He’s completed post-master’s hours in administration and school psychology from New Mexico State University-Las Cruces.

A friend was on the coaching staff at Carlsbad and asked Williams to come coach there, where he was a part of the coaching staff for three years. He was in the counseling department for three years and eventually became an assistant principal at Carlsbad High School. Williams later was asked to join the administrative team at one of the middle schools before taking over the helm at the district’s alternative school. Williams said within his first year at the alternative school, state test scores improved by 40%.

He said there is a definitive commitment to excellence by Hagerman schools.

Williams and a team of teachers and administrators recently went to Arizona for a week-long training from Summit Learning. Williams stated that learning opportunities are built on the AP framework. Another key component is the strong focus on mentoring and cognitive skill development. Hagerman is the first school to use that program in New Mexico.

Moving forward

“We can’t continue to teach school the old, traditional way,” Williams said. “We have taken a lot of what we’ve done and developed multiple pathways on how we move forward post-pandemic.”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.