From Dr. Preston L. Williams,
Past USD 116 Superintendent, former administrator, teacher, and coach
John and his wife of 38 years, Angie, reside in Urbana. They are the proud parents of two sons who attended Thomas Paine Elementary School, UMS, and gradated from UHS. He is an avid outdoors-man, enjoys downhill skiing, canoeing, camping, mountaineering, swimming, traveling to new places and meeting new people. John has been a local volunteer youth leader for more than 50 years.
John attended Yankee Ridge Elementary School and completed one year at Urbana Middle School before his family moved from the community.
John was first elected to the Urbana School District 116 Board of Education in 1987. In the ensuing 33 years, he has been an agent for positive change, forward-thinking, and continuous improvement for the District. He has over 25 years experience working together towards mutual goals with the UEA in contract negotiations.
John’s knowledge and experience is recognized state-wide. For the past 10 years (until COVID) John traveled throughout the State as one of two school board leaders, who were officially approved as SchoolWorks trainer for the Regional Office of Education, providing ISBE-mandated School Board Leadership Training to school boards across the state of Illinois.
John returned to Urbana to attend the University of Illinois, where he earned a Bachelor Degree in Urban Planning. He chose to stay in Urbana where he embarked upon a nearly 50-year career with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, serving as CEO of both of those organizations for a total of over 15 years.
His 40+ years with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission are highlighted by returning Head Start to national prominence; re-establishing Community Action with a host of greatly needed social services, extensive housing rehabilitation throughout the County; plus numerous other initiatives requiring close collaboration with neighborhoods and community leaders from all sectors of the County. After retirement, for 4 years he served as CEO of the Economic Development Corporation, a public/private partnership charged with retaining and creating jobs in the county.
John has been an active member of the Urbana First Presbyterian Church for 50 years. Most recently, he has been on the Mission Committee for more than ten years and is an integral leader of the sister church partnership with the Jeannes Church in Malawi, traveling to Malawi for mission work five times. He has also served as a leader for numerous "go and serve" trips with the church youth group.
John is dedicated to community service. As a member of the Urbana Sister City Committee he has represented the City of Urbana traveling with the Urbana delegation several times to Zomba, Malawi and Thionville, France and was integrally involved in hosting the Zomba and Thionville delegations when they visited Urbana.
Why run again?
As a resident of Urbana for 55 years, and a proud parent of two USD 116 graduates, I serve with a deep-seated sense of public service, and a desire to see our student body thrive and succeed in an inclusive, equitable environment. The overwhelming support from community members, Urbana families, students, staff, and administrators inspires me to continue this important work alongside you. I would like to share with you what I want to champion as we move forward.
Above all else, the first priority of the school board is to get our schools safely re-opened as soon as possible and support our students and staff through the transition. Remote learning is not working for many of our students. Yet we know that some aspects of remote learning have resulted in outstanding innovative instructional strategies created by our teachers and well-liked by students, especially at the middle and high school levels. Re-opening is an opportunity to re-imagine school, using the strengths of both in-person and remote teaching.
Beyond this, I have 3 priorities that I hope to accomplish:
1) After many delays, it is time to complete the process of establishing formal student representation at Board meetings. The student voice is often missing from our deliberations, much to our detriment. This needs to be partnered with enhanced student leadership training, mirroring best practices at high schools in other parts of the country. I also want to establish a student advisory committee for our Student Resource Officer Program.
2) Wiley and Thomas Paine have been waiting patiently to be updated while other buildings had more urgent physical needs. With architectural work nearing completion and financing available, it’s time to get the Thomas Paine project done. Wiley’s low enrollment and central location dictates a transformation – maybe a District-wide Academy of excellence. I’d like to begin with engaging the Wiley community to explore all possibilities.
While these 2 projects will complete the round of upgrades for our elementary buildings, we have significant capital improvement needs that require our immediate attention, including the UHS-UMS safety-driven campus master plan, expanded music space at UHS, and the undersized Burkholder Center. I will champion a public-private partnership to update our UHS band space. I will also champion creative financing to replace the Burkholder Center – deferred maintenance has rendered the building nearly unusable. Further, I will prioritize the phasing of the UHS-UMS campus land-use master plan as financing allows.
3) I am the only board member, or candidate, with knowledge of ESRI mapping software used in this County to guide and support redistricting for elections. I will champion redistricting with an eye towards keeping neighborhoods intact while ensuring that each elementary attendance area has 2 board members, and where possible, each board member represents at least 2 elementary schools. This allows each school to have choice in contacting “their” board member and inspires each board member to look beyond their immediate neighborhood school. Continuity and stability are vital during this time.
These priorities represent specific time-sensitive actions, but over the years, I have championed transparent and effective budgeting, fine arts, rigorous academics, highest quality curricular and co-curricular facilities, union/management collaboration culminating in productive contracts, student leadership, and comprehensive programming often only found in larger Districts.
While we all have areas of priority, school board members must always be ready for the unexpected. I remain committed to careful and respectful listening, understanding the context of each issue, and to exercising the best judgement possible to resolve those issues. That discernment is the single most important skill needed at the Board level so that we can develop actionable steps that move us forward together. I will continue to seek common ground to difficult topics with unwavering student-focused decision making with an equity lens. I advocate for equity across race, physical ability, gender identity, socioeconomic status, special education students, and English Language Learners.
We need to rebuild our collective sense of "Urbana, Better Together." This includes the restoration of our long-standing corporate culture and sense of safety: safety to innovate, safety to express opinions, safety to simply come to work/school. The entire District must be actively involved in healing and restoring safety for staff and students.
A visionary school board’s work is never done. Urbana’s core belief is that each student is an individual and each and every student can learn and achieve their “personal greatness”. Our diversity has always been our strength. It is our responsibility to ensure that our school communities prepare our students for a global society.
I ask for your vote for two more years on the Urbana School Board.