Haywood County Schools names new superintendent
The search for a new superintendent of the Haywood County Schools system is over, and as it turns out, those charged with conducting the search process didn’t have to look very far.
Dr. Bill Nolte was perceived as a frontrunner ever since his candidacy was first made known, and Chuck Francis, chairman of the Haywood County Schools board, said there was never really any doubt the job would go to Nolte.
“Well I don’t think there was,” said Francis. “I think that the main thing is, the board wanted to reach out and see who was out there, and we saw, and we chose Dr. Bill Nolte.”
After interviewing four candidates, three of whom were from outside Haywood County, board members voted unanimously the night of July 3 to issue Nolte a 4-year contract worth $10,551 a month plus $14,500 in local supplement pay per year. Previously, Nolte earned $7,599 a month and $8,000 in local supplement pay.
Nolte replaces former superintendent Dr. Anne Garrett, who left her position of 13 years this past March.
Since then, Nolte, who previously served as associate superintendent, had filled the role of interim superintendent. Under Garrett’s tenure, student performance in Haywood County public schools soared from a so-so 40th place ranking among North Carolina’s 115 school districts to 11th place in each of the last two years.
“In the last four years Haywood County schools has made some very good progress in this state,” said Francis. “We’re now ranked in the top 10 percent in the state and it’s due to a lot of hard work with our personnel, our people. The board makes policy decisions, and we let our folks, administrators, do the day-to-day operations. They are the ones that do the work.”
Like Garrett — a 30-year veteran of Haywood County Schools — Nolte will be responsible for maintaining and improving on the top ten percent ranking of a school system that serves more than 7,000 students from kindergarten though high school in the largest school system west of Asheville.
Good to great
Born in Munich the son of two members of the U.S. Army, Nolte grew up in the service, but was most solidly rooted in the American South.
“We settled on a farm that was owned by my mother’s parents. My parents bought a large proportion of that farm in the early 1960s and I bought that from my parents about three years before my father passed, on the Tennessee and Alabama line,” he said. “I’m certainly a Southern guy.”
Nolte first attended tiny Motlow College before moving on to Middle Tennessee State University.
“I thought I was an athlete and I really wasn’t,” he said. “I thought I was going to play basketball.”
Instead, he earned a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine, and then a master’s degree in education from UNC Charlotte followed by a doctorate from Western Carolina University.
Upon joining Haywood County Schools more than 30 years ago, Nolte filled a variety of roles, including those of assistant principal and principal as opportunities arose throughout the county.
When Dr. Anne Garrett was hired as superintendent in 2004, she hired Nolte as her associate superintendent.
“We made a concerted decision that we were not going to be average anymore,” he said. “The school system had performed a little above the state average for several decades.”
Around that time, a book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t was making the rounds; since its release in 2001, it’s been hailed as one of the best management books ever written.
Nolte said the lessons learned therein sparked HCS’s leap from good to great, and continue to influence him today.
“One is that we build very specific district plans across the board to help us look at the next steps,” he said. “The other thing that we’ve done is we are really well known in the region for some of the best post-college training for teachers. We have a big training day — some years more than one day — where we bring in highly respected national speakers and we have a lot of our own people speaking. So our people are on the cutting edge in terms of training.”
The final lesson is an intensive conversation in every school, each semester, about data trends — the who’s and what’s of students, subjects and standards.
“We take that data every year and we look at what the next thing is that we’re going to work on to get better,” he said.
Invariably, if things aren’t getting better they’re getting worse; Haywood’s top 10 percent ranking isn’t as self-perpetuating as one might think.
“It’s a constant challenge for a lot of reasons. First of all you have new staff all the time, new teachers,” said Nolte. “You get new principles, new assistant principals. So a lot of the tools you have to go back and retrain on those tools, and we take a back-to-basics approach.”
Reverting back to basketball analogies, Nolte said that being a successful free throw shooter is contingent on technique and being a successful rebounder depends on first blocking out, just as being a good student involves a firm command of the basics.
“There are levels of questions — the harder questions are beyond recall, they’re beyond just memorizing the math formula. They’re very conceptual,” he said. “You have to understand what’s going on mathematically be able to figure out the problem maybe by combining a couple of formulas that you have learned.”
Maintaining the level of performance that Haywood County parents have come to expect also involves challenges that lie outside the students’ abilities themselves; chief among them is the environment in which learning takes place.
“Our buildings are in pretty good condition, but we have probably too many buildings in too many places. I’ve talked to the board about this and I think they’re very much in consensus with this,” Nolte said, noting that it was one of the topics that came up during his interview.
“The county continues to attempt to sell the [old Haywood Hospital building, currently used as the district’s central offices]. I think they should, and I hope somebody buys it and pays taxes,” he said. “I think it would be good for all of us.”
Other choices that need to be made include the former Central Elementary School, closed in 2016 amidst controversy, as well as some far-flung facilities in Crabtree and property adjacent to the Folkmoot Friendship Center.
“It is my goal as we do our strategic long-range planning, maybe sooner if our central office sells, but certainly during that process this coming year that we build a facility plan with help from the community, and everyone in the community knows with the plan is,” he said. “We tell everyone about it, and then we implement that plan in a logical fashion, step-by-step.”
A factor in that is the possible appearance of large housing developments that could impact the system rapidly and unexpectedly. Last month, the same concern was raised during a Waynesville Board of Aldermen hearing concerning a large proposed housing development off Plott Creek Road.
Physical security is also an issue both in Haywood County and across the country. Nolte’s been frank in the past, and hasn’t yet deviated from his assertions.
“If we are going to spend money, we need to make sure that it’s money well spent and doesn’t just feel good, doesn’t just look good in the newspaper or sound good on the radio,” he said. “I think we need to continue to do what we can to add physical security. We need to be very careful about that though because a fence keeps bad guys out but if there are bad guys inside we need to get out too. We need to be very thoughtful about that.”
School resource officers are a welcome addition, and this year Haywood County will get at least one more, but Nolte expressed disappointment that funding recently appropriated by the General Assembly is either nonrecurring or grant funding.
“Those grants will go to the poorest school systems first, many of them will, which means we’re not likely to get much of that money,” Nolte said.
Still, HCS has the best security device that money can’t buy.
“We have great kids who talk to us. It’s our best security device. Grandparents, parents — tell your kids to keep talking to us,” he said. “Most of the time it’s nothing, it’s not credible. But every now and again when it is, we need that.”
Nolte added that starting August 25, staff will engage in a particular type of training that has become an unfortunate necessity in the reality of today’s American educational experience.
“We’ve looked at the data from across the country, and the reason people die is because they bleed to death,” he said of school shooting victims. “We have plans and security and evacuations and law enforcement who will come quickly and you can’t prevent everything, but one of the things we will start looking at is training lots of people to stop bleeding. People don’t like to hear that, but it’s one of the things we need to add to what we do.”
With a focus on academics, administration, facilities and safety, Nolte appears poised to lead Haywood County Schools into the post-Garrett era, while augmenting the progress they made together.
“It’s been interesting and watching him grow,” said Francis, an 18-year veteran of the board. “I know that Dr. Bill has been an employee that’s always been a team player, always excelled everywhere we’ve ever had him, whether an assistant principal or moving on up the ladder, he’s always excelled in every position that he’s been assigned to.”