Bob Williams: The man and his legacy

May 3 2006

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Insight, vision, creativity, professionalism, leadership, commitment. These are words often used to describe Robert Williams, dean of Indiana State University's College of Education.

A two-time graduate of Indiana State, with a bachelor's (1965) and master's (1967) in music education, Williams epitomizes what it means to be an educator, through and through.

"He is a true Sycamore, a true scholar, and most importantly, one of the nicest and most caring colleagues that I have ever had the opportunity to work with," said Jack Maynard, provost and vice president for academic affairs at ISU and former dean of the College of Education.

After earning his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale in 1970, Williams joined the ISU faculty as an assistant professor of education. Prior to that, he served as an instructor of music at Shawnee Community College, as well as a public school teacher in the Edinburgh Community Schools.

While at ISU, Williams has held many titles. He's served as associate professor and professor of education, coordinator of graduate programs in secondary education, director of the Office of School Improvement Projects and of the renowned Professional Development Schools (PDS) Partnership, as administrative fellow, assistant dean for educational research, evaluation, and outreach, associate dean for educational research, evaluation, and outreach, and acting dean of the School of Education, upon Jack Maynard's move to the provost's office. Finally, he was officially appointed dean of ISU's College of Education for a two-year term in 2004.

Williams is probably best known as the father of the PDS Partnership -- a 12-year-old network of 20 schools in five school districts throughout the state of Indiana. An advocate of student-centered, integrated school curricula, Williams was instrumental in forming and coordinating Indiana State's nationally recognized program, which was designed to improve both the learning of the partner school's students and of ISU education students. The program also strongly supports the professional development of teachers. Through this partnership, students, teachers, and administrators of the schools and the university come together to enhance education and training at all levels. Over the years, Williams and the program have received much state and national recognition for their efforts to lead the reform of rural, suburban and urban schools and to prepare the next generation of educators.

In 2002, one of those acknowledgements brought the College and the university much attention. Indiana State was one of only three institutions in the nation to receive the Christa McAuliffe Award for exemplary programs in teacher education. Similarly, a nearly $4 million U.S. Department of Education grant to reform teacher education (Project PRE) has, for three years now, impacted student teachers, principals and new and veteran teachers through networking and mentoring opportunities and continued professional development. In fact, according to the office of academic affairs, Williams has received more than $10 million in grants during his tenure at ISU - the highest level ever for any faculty member.

"I think for many of our graduate and undergraduate programs alike, the linking that takes place between theory and practice is the key to our success," said Williams upon hearing of the McAuliffe Award. "This scholar-practitioner model supports the theory that those who go through our programs can make strong contributions in roles at the academy as well as in roles in their respective professional settings. They can be outstanding school leaders and make great contributions in the preparation of the next generation of school leaders."

Such was the model he exemplified throughout his career at ISU.

"When the PDS program was getting started, we went to an elementary school together," said Vanita Gibbs, professor emerita of elementary and early childhood education at ISU from 1959 to 1992. "Bob was so professional and eloquent and articulate in speaking to them.

"I had taken a children's book with me and sat down in a rocker to read to those teachers," Gibbs added. "I could see a glow appear on Bob's face, and I could tell he appreciated how we complemented each other in our approach to explaining the PDS program to those teachers. He was the professional and I was perhaps the practitioner, having been an elementary school teacher. That impressed me about him -- that our differences had such an impact. I appreciated his approach and he understood mine."

Former colleague Jerry Summers echoed those sentiments.

"Bob's received so many awards for the PDS program and has been a national leader as well as a university leader. He's done as much for the College of Education as anyone I can recall. He's opened so many doors for students and public school people to perform in the professional development school arena. It's outstanding!"

Williams said watching the PDS program develop and grow over the past several years has been among the most rewarding times of his career. One of the goals of the program, he said, was to involve a variety of schools from Indiana's rural, suburban and urban areas -- from Clay County to Indianapolis, and the program has done just that.

"It was a conscious effort on our part to recruit a cross-section of schools to our partnership," Williams said. "It reflects the current status of schooling not only in the state, but in the country. We have the opportunity to offer our students meaningful experiences in rural settings, suburban settings, as well as the tough challenges of urban education."

"We became such close, working partners," said Danny Tanoos, superintendent for the Vigo County School Corporation. "I was able to travel with him on many occasions to talk about the PDS Partnership and, more specifically, about how colleges and school corporations could work together to transform schools. We became not only colleagues but friends.

"I found that his leadership was such that he always seemed to be walking alongside of you during projects rather than pushing or tugging at you, making you feel a part of the process for whatever project was underway. He's truly been a change agent at the university and has been a major player in the perception the College of Education has in the city, state and nation."

It's no wonder, then, that during his tenure at Indiana State, Williams has been a past recipient of the Caleb Mills Distinguished Teaching Award (1981), the President's Medal (1998) in recognition of exemplary performance, and the University Medallion (2005).

"Having known Bob for several years, I have been most impressed with his deep and genuine commitment to school-university partnerships," said Bradley Balch, who will be assuming the role of dean of the college upon Williams' retirement on July 1, 2006. "His insight into a clinical perspective raised the PDS partnership to a level of national pre-eminence, and it exemplifies the future of teacher preparation. I've truly grown from his wisdom."

So, on this day -- after 36 years of service to Indiana State -- those who know and admire Bob Williams share thoughts and well wishes about his dedication to students, to the teaching profession and to his own ideals. But, most of all, they send words of gratitude and congratulations as he ventures into retirement and takes time for other activities near and dear to his heart.

"Bob, you can't look back," Summers advises. "You've done what you've done and that's done. But you have a whole new future in front of you, and who knows what that future will bring? I've enjoyed what I've had, and I hope you, too, will enjoy what you're about to embrace."

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WRITER: Maria Greninger, associate director, Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, (812) 237-4357 or mgreninger@indstate.edu.

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Story Highlights

Bob Williams, dean of Indiana State University's College of Education, is retiring June 30, 2006, after 36 years of distinguished service and many years as the father of ISU's Professional Development Schools Partnership.

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