In a 1999 Dayton Daily News article, then-state Sen. Rhine McLin said of Williams: “You either love him or you hate him.”
“He put a lot of heart into this community,” Mims said, adding that Williams could be both “a big teddy bear” as well as “a bull in a china shop.”
Colleen Wells, who was executive administrative assistant to DPS superintendents, including Williams, spoke highly of him.
“Dr. Williams was a visionary and ahead of the times, especially when it came to charter schools,” Wells said. “He ruffled feathers with adults because he always put the students first. Under that stern exterior was one of the most caring people I know.”
Williams started his career as a teacher, guidance counselor and principal in Washington D.C. schools.
During his 13 years in Dayton, he championed magnet schools, full-day kindergarten, a mobile health clinic, and free breakfast and lunch for all elementary students.
Some residents cheered Williams, as DPS’ state test scores rose dramatically during his tenure. Others pointed out that even after rising, those scores were among the worst in the state, and that the schools struggled to solve discipline and violence problems.
A 1999 state audit said DPS had misstated financial projections and was in “treacherous” financial condition. Williams said the data came from the treasurer’s office, adding, “I’m not taking this beating.” But less than two months later, the school board voted to buy out his contract.
Williams later worked with schools in Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville; and was superintendent in Buffalo, New York. He also helped found a college decision-making firm serving families.
Mims said Williams had been in declining health for the past year. He said a memorial service for Williams is being planned for the Washington D.C. area the weekend after Thanksgiving.