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John R. Williams, Amityville schools superintendent, dies of cancer

John R. Williams, Amityville schools superintendent, in an

John R. Williams, Amityville schools superintendent, in an undated photo. Williams died Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2014, the district announced on its website. Credit: Michael Ebert

Amityville schools Superintendent John R. Williams, whose leadership helped take the district's schools off the state's "needs improvement" lists, died Tuesday, the district announced Wednesday on its website.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Kathleen Gulbin, who was the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction until last month, when she retired. In an interview last year, Williams, 68, said he had been diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and would retire at the end of this school year.

His death adds urgency to a search for new leadership that was already underway. Mary T. Kelly, former assistant superintendent for data and technology, has been serving as the district's interim leader since mid-January and will continue until the end of the school year, Gulbin said.

Williams, of Long Beach, took over a troubled Amityville district in 2007, having spent much of his 47-year career in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., and in the Sewanhaka school district in Nassau County.

He helped guide all of Amityville's schools off the state's "needs improvement" lists. Two of the district's schools, Northwest Elementary and Miles Middle School, are currently listed by the state Department of Education as "local assistance plan" schools. That category is new for 2013-14 and functions as a watch list.

The accomplishment was more of a feat than many people realized, Gulbin said.

"We had a very high rate of low socioeconomic status, a high rate of special education students, and a burgeoning rate of English-language learners that had more than doubled in the last few years," she said.

The district, with a $60 million budget and 2,790 students, draws students from Amityville Village as well as North Amityville and East Massapequa.

In the 2011-12 school year, almost two-thirds of students received free or reduced-price lunches, records show, and 14 percent of students were judged to have limited English proficiency.

In the interview last year, Williams said that poverty made his job harder, but that he had never viewed it as an excuse.

"We kind of vowed when I came here that we were going to keep expectations high," he said.

In a letter posted on the district's website, Lisa Johnson, board of education president, credited him with focusing on character education and new instructional technology.

"Dr. Williams left our District having built a solid foundation for all," she wrote.

Funeral arrangements are being planned in Scranton by Williams' family and a memorial service is being planned in Amityville, Gulbin said.


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