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Meet Dr. Williams: York Suburban's new superintendent starts this fall

Dr. Timothy Williams, York Suburban's new superintendent, keeps a hand made guitar, which he made at his last school, to practice his guitar lessons, strumming "Smoke on the Water," Monday, August 13, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

York Suburban School District's new superintendent started July 2, taking the reins after a difficult time for the district.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done to build relationships and build trust again," Timothy Williams acknowledged, noting that it will probably take a few years.

Former superintendent Shelly Merkle resigned in September 2017 after she vandalized two vehicles used by former assistant superintendent Patricia Maloney.

Emails between district officials, obtained by The York Dispatch, appear to show a coordinated effort to clamp down on information about Merkle's sudden absence, which wasn't acknowledged publicly for more than a week.

Merkle, 55, of Spring Garden Township, was charged with two counts of criminal mischief but was accepted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. The York County diversionary program allows first-time nonviolent offenders to avoid convictions by instead completing court-ordered requirements.

More:Ex-Suburban superintendent apologizes, gets ARD

More:Suburban's Merkle says she tried to resign sooner, board didn't accept

Williams said such a challenge is not new to him.

The 55-year-old said he faced a similar situation when he became superintendent at Westmont Hilltop School District in Johnstown, where "internal issues ... caused a lot of strife in the community."

Two years into a five-year contract, previous superintendent Donald Irwin — who was doubling as the district's business manager — received many complaints from staff and residents for ongoing payroll and billing issues, according to reporting from the Tribune Democrat.

Williams replaced Irwin in 2016, and within his first eight months, he settled three union contracts and saw the completion of two construction projects — including a major high school renovation and new elementary school, he said.

Williams said he plans to build on York Suburban's strengths and move forward, just as he did at Westmont — which he feels he left in a much better place than when he arrived.

York Suburban School District Superintendent Dr. Timothy Williams.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Background: Williams has served for more than 30 years in public school education, which "was always important in my family growing up."

Because his parents didn't have the opportunity to earn college degrees, he said, they turned their focus to Williams and his two brothers.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in history and a master's in education from Wilkes University, Williams continued with a doctorate in educational leadership from Immaculata University, according to a statement on the district website.

His first job was in Penn Manor School District in Lancaster, where he taught middle school English and social studies, he said.

"I always found it rewarding to help kids do things that they didn't think they were capable of doing," Williams said.

He said he was never about memorization and regurgitation but rather taking the information at hand and creating solutions — which he applied in his history classes by having students figure out why things happened rather than just knowing they happened.

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Early in his career, he also coached soccer and discovered "teaching and coaching are really similar kinds of things" because they both involve learning new strategies and finding ways to engage students, he said.

Returning home: Williams lives in Lancaster with his wife, Patricia Dunlevy Williams, and the couple hope to welcome a new addition soon — a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, a breed he previously had for 17 years.

The dog's American Kennel Club name will be Viking Loki, after Norse god (and Marvel character) Thor's devious half-brother.

"I'm sure he's going to be mischievous," Williams joked.

More:Westminster veterans head to York's Celtic Classic Dog Show

He also enjoys woodworking "in a big way" and has built furniture and an electric guitar, which he is starting to learn how to play.

"Building the guitar was the easy part," said Williams, a lifelong lover of music.

Williams has three children, two stepchildren and three grandchildren.

York Suburban: As he begins at York Suburban, Williams said he is in learning mode.

He's met with some community members, local law enforcement, faith leaders, parent-teacher representatives and nonprofits — the best way to understand the school community, he said.

Williams said he's looking forward to working in a district with such a strong academic record — which he also got to do in Lancaster and Cambria counties.

As superintendent, he hopes to find ways for the district to become more efficient, so funds can be stretched to better meet the needs of students.

"There's always challenges," he said, noting that dwindling resources make it difficult to run a school system. 

One area he'd like to expand is technology education.

Williams comes to York Suburban with an extensive background in technology, having also served as an IT director and in several other tech positions during his career.

More:York Tech draws state attention with summer career partnership

The most important thing, he said, is building a team that is committed to students and doing the right thing, which he said he's seen already in district staff.

"Everybody I've met here so far has been terrific," Williams said.

One thing he appreciates about the school board, he said, is that it has many differing viewpoints — which, at Westmont, he found stimulating. 

He expects to end his career at York Suburban but stresses that it likely won't be anytime soon.

"As long as I keep enjoying what I'm doing, I'll keep going," Williams said. "All indicators right now are that I will enjoy this for a while."