Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Carmel High School Principal John Williams is preparing for his next course: Retirement 101.
Williams, and his wife Paula, are both originally from Evansville. Paula serves as the Director of Special Education for Zionsville School Corporation and is also scheduled to retire in December.
John Williams took the job as Principal of Carmel High School in 2003.
“Carmel has been a great school corporation for a long time,” Williams says. “Dale Graham’s 25 years of leadership gets the credited for transitioning Carmel from a rural to suburban high school.”
Under Williams, he continued Carmel’s tradition of growth and improvement and has served a pivotal role with increasing the rigor of Carmel’s student curriculum.
“When you come to a school like Carmel, with a commitment to excellence and where the school and the community reflect one other, there’s a certainty of the commitment from the community to support the school,” Williams says.
While Carmel is consistency competing at a high level in athletics, the school is proud of all of their accomplishments, including the academic achievements.
“The focus is not what you do, it’s how you do it,” Williams adds.
It’s evident Principal Williams is popular among the students. During his photo shoot, students walking by are encouraging their Principal to say, “Cheese!”
“It’s tempting to measure success by which championship you won, or what you have accomplished but it really sells short the process,” he says. “And at a high school, achievements are an extension of the academics.”
CHS has a lot to celebrate and it’s clear that they covet their processes and their opportunities.
“We are only big three times a day, and that is during passing period,” says Williams, who puts into perspective the 5,000 students under the roof.
Williams insists that size is the greatest strength of Carmel High School.
“Our size should only equal the opportunities we provide for our kids,” he says.
Carmel embraces their size and uses it to their advantage. The volume of students enables CHS to have a state-of-the-art radio station, TV station and a planetarium. One example of how size impacts academics is that, unlike other high schools, Carmel has four to five dedicated teachers in its Physics Department, which enables a multi-variable calculus class because they have enough students to fill a class.
While there is not one way to have a school system, the larger school has worked well for Carmel.
Carmel owns it. Their size is not used as an excuse. CHS find ways to engage students through its 100-plus clubs, intramural programs and 11 choirs, for example. They find ways for kids to be involved and encourage students to take ownership of their educational experience. Their marching band is non-cut, as well as several athletic programs.
“Carmel HS was a 4-star school when I graduated, and now it is even stronger and better,” says Donna Gray, co-founder of MatchBook Creative. “I now have a freshman and a sophomore at Carmel High School. One is heavily into sports, the other into tech, and I love the amazing opportunities available to the students.”
“You’ve got to be well-rounded,” says Williams, who indicates that about a decade ago they moved to a weighted grading system. “This change has encouraged students to take tougher courses.”
During his tenure, Carmel did away with the valedictorian, salutatorians and with ranking all together, instead opting for a rubric system based upon three key components: academic success and service and leadership and extracurricular. Carmel embraced the new “Distinguished Graduate” program.
When Williams applied for his first assistant principal job in Evansville, he was in the hall waiting for the interview and recalls being a bit nervous when the superintendent of that district shared with him, “If you just make every decision based upon what’s best for kids, then you will do fine.”
Williams indicated that when struggling with decision-making, and they needed to get re-focused, he would ask, “What’s best for the kids?”
It is Williams’ hope that the legacy he leaves is that Carmel continues to be a “kid-centered school” adding that he wants his legacy to be that, “The kids at this school knew that they mattered, and everything we do is about serving them. Sometimes serving them is not always seeing eye to eye, but it has always and will always be about them.”
“Principal John Williams has provided outstanding leadership and has played a critical role as being a part of what has kept Carmel-Clay a top-rate school system,” says Jerry Torr, State Representative (R-Carmel).
Williams’ advice to the next principal who takes his seat is simple.
“If you fall in love with Carmel, Carmel will fall in love with you,” Williams says. “It would be a mistake for an organization or an individual to think they need to fix it. You become a part of it, you immerse yourself in it and become part of the culture. By listening to the stakeholders, you learn. Then once you do that, you can guide and lead.
“Leadership is helping others get to where they need to go,” Williams adds. “What we (school administration) do is a continuum. These jobs are never done. We simply hold the seat until it is given it to someone else.”