OCCUPATION: Principal of Northside High School
EDUCATION: Master of education degrees in gifted education and educational leadership from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; bachelor’s degree in secondary education from LSU.
FAMILY: She and her husband have two children.
When Julia Williams took on the role of new principal of Northside High School, she also took on the mission of boosting student achievement at the school, which holds an F letter grade from the state. She’s not a stranger to the school. She spent the past two years as Northside’s assistant principal and her family has strong ties to the school — her mother, Janet Hiatt, was an assistant principal and principal at Northside.
How do you plan to make gains in student achievement?
We’re focusing on our response to intervention and a focus on literacy so we can bridge those gaps. We want to do what we can to get students on target to graduate. We’re setting specific goals schoolwide. We’re going to try to move students to their appropriate reading level because if you’re struggling with reading, you’re not going to be successful in math, sciences, English. Reading is something that we have a big gap in. We’re also focusing on building professional learning communities among our teachers. We have to start working as a team and start diving into our data.
How do you overcome that F label, and do you think that’s impacting lack of involvement in the school?
Working with the label presents its own challenge because there is so much more going on here. You can’t assume that because we’re an F school that everything about us is lacking. That’s definitely a perception issue. When I’m out in the community and I say I work at Northside, I want a positive reaction. This is a wonderful school. It is a safe school. I wake up happy to come here every day, and everybody needs to know that this is a wonderful school. Unfortunately, academics is an issue for us from the perspective of we have a lot of overage students. When students are getting to us, they’re one to two years behind, and that’s averaging 50 percent of our student population. With the way that we get graded by the state, students take end-of-course exams, so the expectation is that you master algebra by the end of the year. If you’re coming in two years behind, that’s a major gain to have to make in a year.
Previously, you’ve said you plan to improve school culture at Northside. What are your plans to do that?
I want to change it from a couple of different avenues and build on what’s there. I want to build relationships and celebrate student successes. We’re going to meet with our leadership team to brainstorm what we want to do differently and what we want to add on to. Teachers have mentioned they wanted to bring back some of the old traditions. For instance, homecoming used to be huge with pep rallies, and alumni came back and celebrated with the students. They used to have a homecoming parade, so we may bring that back.
What role do students have in changing school culture?
I want to build on celebrating student success. Next year, we’ll have our freshmen students and their parents come in, and we’ll have meetings to set goals. That way we have something to monitor and something to hold students accountable for. I also plan to get student leaders involved so we have student input and student buy-in. I want to go out into the community and invite people to come to the school and show them the great things that are going on here. We need their support. On May 12, we’ll have an open house where I will present my vision for the school, so I can be held accountable for that.
What are some issues you want to vet with students?
We need to talk about dress code. We need to talk about attendance and tardiness and getting students to school. Or when they get here, keeping them in class. They have reasons for leaving class frequently. I want to know from students: what do we need to do to get you to stay in class and to stay on track? I’d also like to talk to them about other things that they’d like to celebrate. We have so many organizations on campus. We’d like to see more attendance in the clubs and find out ways we can get more kids involved.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.