(C. Proxmire, July 1, 2012)
Ferndale High School’s new Principal Lisa Williams knows the value of a good education. She grew up in an inner city home with four siblings and limited resources, attending Detroit Public Schools and getting pregnant at age 18.
The journey towards independence and becoming an educational leader was not an easy one, but the challenges she overcame gave her the strength and experience to handle many of the problems students today face.
“I didn’t grow up in a great environment,” Williams said. “It was a rough upbringing, so to me school was everything. I knew that when I went to school I would eat. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I knew that I could see my friends.
She graduated from Cass Technical High School and went down to Tennessee State University for only a month before homesickness drove her back to Detroit. “When I came back, I got pregnant. At 19 I had a baby. Being a young mother I didn’t know what I could do. I moved to Kalamazoo with my five month old baby and a friend let me stay on their couch while I worked at a grocery store and enrolled in community college. After a year I transferred to Western Michigan University.
“When I went to enroll at Western one of the women recognized my home address and told me that people from my neighborhood don’t go to college. She wasn’t being mean, but she knew how rare it is for people to leave Detroit from that community and go to school, especially twenty-some years ago.”
Growing up, Williams had always wanted to be a journalist, but once her son was born she felt a strong compulsion to teach and help other young people along their paths.
The sense of gratitude and hope of creating change led Williams back to Detroit to teach. After two years in the Detroit Public Schools she was offered a teaching job in Oak Park, where she went on to become the yearbook advisor, English Department Chair and Dean of Students.
In 2007 she came to Ferndale as an Assistant Principal and a newly created Vice Principal position. About a year ago, long-time Principal Herb Ivory told administration of his intentions to retire and he began to train Williams for the big take over. Williams said she still had to interview for the position along with other applicants, but thanks to Ivory’s training; she was well-prepared to assume the lead.
One thing Williams is known for is the creation of Wings, a female student mentorship program. “Wings are what make the eagle soar,” she said. “The girls are those with low self-esteem and Wings can give them that extra push to get them going. It helps to know they have myself to talk to, but it also gets them talking to each other.
“One thing that really surprised me was pulling back and letting them take control, and how they opened up to each other.”
The group meets once a week during the school year, plus they have field trips and do community service. Williams said they’ve gone to the Cass Community Center and made lunches, they delivered food in Royal Oak Township for Thanksgiving, and they went to the Susan G. Koman Walk for the Cure. For bonding and educational experience the girls saw “The Color Purple” at the Fox Theatre and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre of Harlem.
As Principal, Williams won’t have as much time to devote to one specific program, and she hopes to find a teacher mentor by the time school starts in the fall. She said she loves working with students and looks forward to more concerts and sports events. She said the thing that makes Ferndale unique is the diversity and the fact that teachers and staff take the time to get to know students.
While test scores are often a concern, Williams pointed out that growth and progress in the district has been steady and positive
“When you compare FHS to other districts with more resources of course scores aren’t the same. But every year we’ve grown in increments and as long as we continue to do that we are putting ourselves in a good position.
“One thing I really enjoy about Ferndale is that Ferndale is a community of learners. There is so much going on around town and active parents who keep Ferndale High School the pulse of the community.”
Herb Ivory, former track coach and her mentor for that last five years, has passed her the baton. As she transitions into her new position, she is very hopeful that she will carry the baton and soar to new heights and reach endless possibilities with the students, staff and Ferndale community!
To find out more about Ferndale Schools, visit www.ferndaleschools.org