Roger Williams

“...I look at myself as an eclectic and a realist. I feel that there is no one way to teach as there is no one way to learn. We must choose the best from many systems and coordinate them into one good system. The times ahead for education are cloudy at best. Education is in need of strong leadership. I think the results of my first eight years in education reflect strong leadership and a conscientious attempt to improve the quality of education for students.” -quote from Roger Williams’ application to CUSD, 1976

When many people think of retirement, they think of traveling to visit children and grandchildren, playing golf regularly, stepping up their involvement in community organizations, and maybe taking a bike trip or two. Roger Williams has managed to fit all that into his schedule, and then some. He is the president of the Chico High School Foundation, which he founded in 2003 to help support curricular and co-curricular programs at Chico High. He was interim principal at Gridley High in 2005, served a term as president of the Canyon Oaks Country Club Men's Board in 2006 and chaired the City of Chico's Human Resource Commission in 2007. At the same time, he has served as a board member for the North Valley Community Foundation (with which the Chico High Foundation is affiliated) and is a member of Chico Rotary.

And all that since retiring from twenty-three continuous years as principal at Chico High School.

Roger grew up in Dos Palos, California: a place, he claims, "where football and cotton were king." The oldest of four boys, he worked summers driving a tractor, signaling crop dusters as a flagman, and moving 300-pound blocks of ice for the Union Ice Company. He recalls that when the cantaloupes were being picked and packed for market, it was typical to work sixteen and occasionally twenty-hour days. This work schedule didn't interfere at all with his participation in athletics: he played three years of varsity football and baseball, and was named captain of both the football and baseball teams in his senior year. He continued with both sports through college, and as a sophomore at Coalinga Junior College was a member of a Hall of Fame team in football and earned all-league honors in baseball. He played another two years at UC Santa Barbara on a baseball scholarship, graduating in 1967 with a degree in history. He would go on to earn a teaching credential and an MA in Educational Management.

In fall, 1968, Roger began teaching mathematics and coaching varsity baseball at Dos Palos High School. It was here that he began to formulate his educational philosophy: that the program should be individualized and personalized to meet student needs, and that at the same time "schools should insist on performance, and students should be held accountable for their performance." He wrote a diagnostic / prescriptive mathematics program which was recognized as a Title I exemplary program, organized a Graphic Production Center to prepare instructional materials for the entire district staff, and directed individualized workshops for teachers and parents. In 1973, Roger became Director of Curriculum at Dos Palos High. Later he became principal at the adult school in the district.

In 1976, Roger moved to Chico with his wife Nancy and young daughters Ashley and Jenny to accept a position in the Chico Unified School District, initially dividing his time between Chico Junior and Chico High. In January, 1981, he became Chico High's interim principal. He was confirmed as principal in June, 1981. During his administration, Chico High was named a California Distinguished School (1996), a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence (twice—in 1989 and in 1998), and a National Service-Learning Leader School (in 2000). In addition, Chico High won 129 league and 63 section championships during those years, as well as Exemplary or Model Program status for fine arts, tech prep, the agriculture program, and the library. Several smaller learning communities, or schools-within-schools, took hold, and offered personalized options to students—in keeping with the educational philosophy that Roger first began to develop at Dos Palos. He believed that the key to student learning lay in providing opportunities and activities that allowed students to "blend the head and the heart."

Roger Williams has received many awards and recognitions, including the Chico Community Peace-Maker Award in 1996, the state CIF Distinguished Service Award in 2003, Rotary's Paul Harris Fellow award in 1993, ACSA's high school Principal of the Year award in 2002, and the Star Administrator award from the agriculture teachers of the Superior Region in 2001. He was president of Rotary in 1992-93. In 2003, Chico High's theater was renamed the Roger Williams Theater in recognition for his successful twenty-three year tenure as principal.

Among Roger's accomplishments, there are two which continue to impact Chico Unified School District students to this day. The first is the Chico Rotary Club's ABC (Achievement Builds Choice) program, which has operated continuously in the district's three high schools since 1991. Through this program, students are recognized for academic achievement: for improving their grade point average, or for maintaining good grades.

The second accomplishment – the Chico High School Centennial, in 2002 – was not only a successful celebration in its own right, but it laid the groundwork for the Chico High School Foundation. An active Centennial committee—a cross-section of Chico High alumni, parents, staff, and supporters—raised $26,000, much of which eventually went back to Chico High teachers in the form of mini-grants for classroom projects. As classroom budgets dwindled in Chico and around the state, it became clear that such mini-grants filled a critical need. Currently, Roger presides over an eleven-member Chico High Foundation Board which oversees a total of $273,000 in 26 different funds, all set up to benefit Chico High students or teachers. By the spring of 2010, the Foundation will have awarded Chico High over $140,000 in scholarships and mini-grants. The annual CHS Foundation dinner in fall, 2009 included a playhouse raffle which raised over $6,000 to purchase computers for the Industrial Technology Department.

One of Roger's favorite quotes is from Albert Camus: "Real generosity toward the future lies in giving to the present." He goes on to offer his own interpretation of those words: “So what?” lies in “Sow what?” These words embody a philosophy that Roger lives—in his tireless work for students at Chico High, for the community, and more recently for the Chico High Foundation. If anyone embodies the "exemplary service to the school system" which the Hank Marsh award was set up to recognize, it is Roger Williams.

Liz Metzger, author