Smyrna School District promotes top chief, assistant

DOVER — In terms of school district leadership, more of the same isn’t always a bad thing.

Smyrna School District’s newly selected superintendent, Patrik Williams, seems more than happy to pick up the reins from outgoing superintendent, Deborah Wicks, and maintain the status quo.

“She is the best superintendent I’ve ever known. I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone,” said Mr. Williams. “She has a perfect blend of compassion and firmness of purpose. She’s been a great leader with a great vision.

“I’m ready to help carry on her legacy. I want to keep continuing doing what we’re doing as a district and I have the enthusiasm to keep doing it for a good while.”

A Delaware native, Mr. Williams, 53, grew up just outside Felton on a farm near Killens Pond. He has 32 years of experience in public education behind him, 13 of those with the Smyrna School District.

“I came to Smyrna in 2004 from the Capital School District,” he said.

He first put in a short stint at Smyrna High School as the assistant principal and then moved over to the middle school as its principal. Ms. Wicks, who was on the hiring committee when Mr. Williams was brought on, said that he was just what the struggling Smyrna Middle School needed at the time.

“Pat took over as the principal and turned the culture of the Smyrna Middle School around to a caring and supportive environment,” she said. “He remained there for five years building an excellent team.”

Afterward, he was brought on as assistant superintendent — a position in which he’s been serving for the past seven years.

Summerside Elementary School Principal Debbie Judy was selected earlier in May to succeed Mr. Williams in his role as assistant superintendent. Ms. Judy has been with the district for about 15 years.

What’s next?

While Mr. Williams said he hopes to build on the “great work” already being done in the district, he thinks his two main challenges will be adapting to growth in the student population while adjusting to state spending constraints.

He’s optimistic on both counts.

“We are always mindful of growth, both at the state level and more specifically in Smyrna,” he said. “We want to offer the same quality education even as our student body increases. We’re keeping an eye on the developments in town.

“If you go down to Rabbit Chase and look at all those houses for instance — we have about 2,000 new housing permits in the district. It’s exciting to envision what that’ll mean for the district.”

Because of the district’s “conservative” finances, Mr. Williams said that upcoming state budget concerns will be a challenge, but not a devastating one.

“When you look at the governor’s proposed budget, there’s $15 million in cuts required and a potential $22 million cut from the Education Sustainment Fund,” said Mr. Williams. “The whole state is struggling with the financial picture and how that may affect our programming.

“It’s going to be a challenge but I will say that we are one of the few districts that are preserving all of our permanent staff. We’re conservative financially and that has put us in a really good spot. We are well prepared to make adjustments.”

Mr. Williams also hopes to continue making student safety a priority in the district.

“Making sure that all of our over 5,300 students are safe every day is our top priority,” he said. “A lot of our efforts to that end have been making sure we have cameras and detailed procedures in place in case of emergency.”

Believing that Mr. Williams in a natural successor to her position, Ms. Wicks said he’s as prepared to be a superintendent as one can be.

“Working with Pat for the past 13 years has been a joy,” she said. “He has an innate ability to promote harmony and teamwork yet he has the confidence to face tough leadership challenges with staff, students and parents. He is as prepared as anyone could be for this challenging role.”

Mr. Williams will officially assume his duties as superintendent when Ms. Wicks steps down on June 1.

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