Welcoming Williams: A familiar face in a new role


Over the past 20 years, she’s seen seven different principals, and now, Decatur’s new principal is veteran Arlethea Williams.

For 10 years, Williams taught biology and environmental science, but she never pictured herself in an administrative role.

While she envisioned a 30-year science career, she accepted the dean of students position and served for two years before being named assistant principal. A position she held for seven years.

Williams has experienced Decatur through the lens of a teacher, parent and administrator. Her varying experience gives her a unique view of the history surrounding Decatur High School, allowing her to attend to every part of the machine that creates a functioning educational environment.

Cara Cassell, english teacher, at Decatur high school is heading into her 25th year of teaching, and still remembers her first impression of Williams.

“She’s always been really fair and really clear, and just really organized.” Cassell said.

Cassell knows that Williams’ success isn’t just about her professional credentials but a combination of her strengths, Deeming her everything you would want in a colleague.

“I think that she really loves us. I think she really loves the school and the faculty,” Cassell said, “and I think she’s very dedicated to Decatur.”

Williams is well-acquainted with Decatur as one of its longest-serving staff. For Wendy Keith-Ott, art teacher for almost 17 years, she’s always seen a school with Williams as a member of the staff.

In Keith-Ott’s eyes, Wiliams’ serious yet empathic personality has helped the entire staff rally around her as the new leader, allowing the staff to really connect with her and be heard.

“She has been a classroom teacher, and she hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a classroom teacher,” Keith-Ott said. “That is a real gift, something that teachers greatly admire. She’s probably the most-respected principal I’ve seen at Decatur.”

Alexis Williams enjoyed the extra support her mother gave her while she attended Decatur High and even used her room as an extra locker.
Alexis Williams enjoyed the extra support her mother gave her while she attended Decatur High and even used her room as an extra locker.

Williams partially attributes her success as principal so far to her longevity in the school system.

“I’ve been around long enough where I hope everyone knows that I have their best interest at heart,” she said.

Her hand in the school isn’t limited to the faculty. Her support extends to the students as well. Williams thinks that students view her as a harsh administrator, but other faculty members know there’s more to it.

“Have you ever heard her really fuss at a kid? It’s really great . . . but you know she loves you at the same time,” Keith-Ott said. “You don’t know it at the time, but you find out later.”

Senior Felix Poley has felt Williams lessons firsthand, usually for carrying his backpack in the halls. A cardinal sin for any student at Decatur.

“She just wants to scare you into changing and being a better person,” Poley said.

Williams want all of her students to succeed, and one of her main goals as principal is to ensure every student has a plan after high school.

Her daughter Alexis Williams, from the graduating class of 2014,  reveres her mother’s engagement and responsibility within the Decatur community.

“If a student misses their school bus, she’s there helping them figure out how to get home. If a teacher has an emergency and can’t come to work that day, she’s looking for substitutes,” Alexis said. “However, my mother’s greatness doesn’t come from her actions. It comes from her spirit and her commitment everyday to do what’s right because it’s right,”

Channeling her own love of students into her new position, Williams’ hopes that her students continue to grow and prosper.

“As small as we are, we can be greater than we are,” she said. “It’s not that we’re bad. I just hope we can be better.”

Despite the positive aspects of being principal, Williams knows it’s not all easy, especially for teachers. There is always setbacks being a teacher, but in her experience teachers have an attitude that allows them to bounce back.

“We can have a very bad day, but we always wake up the next thinking it will be better,” Williams said.

Although her in-class experience was years ago, Williams uses her experience to empathize with teachers, giving her greater tools for administration and leadership.

Ayoka Shakir, an English teacher of 15 years, knows Williams commendable behavior sets her up as a role model for the whole school.

Shakir took many class trips with Williams and during that time learned about her love of water as they walked along the Seine in Paris.
Shakir has taken many class trips with Williams and during that time learned about her love of water as they walked along the Seine in Paris.

Shakir views William’s ability to empathize grew from moving up the ladder of the education system.

While Williams has adapted to change, one of William’s closest friends Francis Johnson, believes that her morals have remained consistent.

“She’s really about the same person I knew at the beginning., Johnson said. “She’s still true to her character,”

For Jenna Black, head of the Frasier Center for the past 30 years, Decatur has changed as much as the world has. When Black first started in 1986, 400 students were enrolled. The majority of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch.

The problems in the ‘80s revolved around Decatur’s small student body, the opposite of the growth the district faces today, and pressure started the conversation about “merging with DeKalb County.”

As older teachers retired, Decatur started attracting a younger crowd of teachers. Williams was one of those teachers, being a first time teacher and parent.

Black saw Williams twice a day, when she dropped off her daughter and picked up her daughter from the Frasier Center.

Black considers Williams’ long term experience a strong suit, believing it gives her a unique look at Decatur’s issues. Black thinks Williams is taking the right actions to strengthen Decatur’s morale.

“She’s really going to support things that make Decatur a more positive place,” she said.

With that in mind, Williams has a great deal on her plate and responsibility weighs heavily on her new position.

The growth of Decatur has made it challenging to park due to the construction and immense change has taken Decatur’s spirit downward. During the stress of change the faculty and staff looks to Williams to help restore Decatur’s pride.

“When something happens, good or bad in this building, I’m the first person they call,” she said.While the responsibility weighs heavily on her, Williams has goals to help. “I wanna do right by everybody,” Williams said.

Williams’ long history with Decatur has let her grow to truly love where she works and the community she guides everyday. Her community has found these qualities whether it be her daughter or a student with his backpack on.

“To be honest,” she said, “it’s been a great place to be.”


Photo courtesy of Alexis Williams

Photo courtesy of Ayoka Shakir