By Erika Webb
For Hometown News
Dr. Al Williams wants what most people these days want - jobs. He wants teachers and other Volusia County School Board staff to keep their jobs, and he wants future job opportunities for all students.
The Volusia County School Board chairman will face political newcomer, Ida "Lucy Duncan" Wright in the Aug. 14 primary. The outcome of their non-partisan race will determine whether or not he will retain the District 2 seat he held from 1984-1992, and regained in 2004.
Dr. Williams, 70, said he is taking a three-pronged approach to the race.
"There are three things I'm pushing for this time: I do not want teachers and staff to lose their jobs. I want to keep a strong curriculum going and I want strong programs," he said in a telephone interview.
Programs like AVID-Advancement Via Individual Determination-a college-preparatory program, which offers guidance to promising middle-school students with limited environmental advantages.
And the dual-enrollment program which allows students to take college courses while still in high school - tuition- free.
"The dual-enrollment program is one of the best things we've got going," Dr. Williams said. "Students have a two-year degree by the time they get their high-school diploma. It saves parents two years of paying for college."
What about students who aren't bound for college?
"Everybody's not going to go to college but they've got to get a trade," Dr. Williams said. "Career Academy programs in the high schools like culinary arts, science and medicine, agriculture, communications and information technology systems. If we can keep these going, if we can get them into technology, our kids can go to state college, community college or simply have marketable skills."
As a result of well over $100 million lost in state, local and federal funds since 2007, Volusia County voters will be asked on Nov. 6 to approve an additional three quarter-mill tax, for school operational purposes, for a four-year period from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2017 - up from the 2009 quarter-mill referendum set to expire in 2013. If passed, taxpayers will contribute $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value per year for these operational expenses.
Operational expenses including the programs about which Dr. Williams is passionate. He feels the referendum will pass.
"We kept our word on the .25 and used it exactly for what we said we were going to use it for," he said. "That's the trust the people have in us. We do not veer off and use the money for other things."
The bridge from "the rough streets of Chicago" to Columbia University, where he earned a doctorate degree, was not erected with gold doubloons plucked from the silk purses of the mother and grandmother who raised Dr. Williams. Rather, it was built on bequeathed hope, belief and determination.
"My hero is my grandmother. She was born in 1895 and graduated high school in 1913," Dr. Williams said. "Every one of the kids in my family has a college degree, and many have doctorates. We emphasize education heavily."
Dr. Williams also holds master's degrees from both Northeastern Illinois University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A former teacher and professor, he has also worked as a computer programmer, corporate executive and school district administrator.
He serves many community organizations including United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, Halifax Habitat for Humanity and Bethune-Cookman University.
Dr. Williams is married and raised two sons.
"I see what education can do for you. It can improve your lot in life," Dr. Williams said. "My passion for education spreads to the kids in the community. If they work at it they can be positive in their lifestyles."