URBANA – Preston Williams Jr. will replace Gene Amberg as the Urbana schools superintendent as of July 2007.
At its regular school board meeting Tuesday night, the school board unanimously voted to approve Williams, now deputy superintendent, for the position, less than two weeks after Amberg announced his retirement in a year.
"I am so glad that this was so easy to do," said school board member Ruth Ann Fisher. "The obvious choice has been sitting across the table from me."
Board vice president John Dimit noted that the board had met with Williams in executive session and talked with him at length about his hopes for the district. Then Dimit opened the topic up to the board for the discussion.
Nine praise-filled minutes later, Williams was offered – and accepted – the job.
The approval met with loud cheering and a standing ovation from the audience and the board.
Williams, clearly choked up, thanked his family for their support and the district for the honor.
"This position is much larger than one person, and I will be extending an invitation to the entire community to continue to support the district as we strive to achieve the desired goal of exceptional schools here in Urbana for all of our children," he said.
"I will also be doubling my efforts over the coming school year to work collaboratively with Dr. Amberg, the board of education and the staff of Urbana School District No. 116 to ensure a smooth transition."
Williams and the board will negotiate a contract; no terms or salary were decided on Tuesday. Amberg's base salary is $150,348 for the year that begins July 1, according to district spokeswoman Kathy Wallig.
Before voting, each board member shared his or her impression of Williams and what he brings to the district.
"We like your open-door policy," said Benita Rollins-Gay. "A lot of times we get calls from parents – I tell them to call Preston."
Steve Summers said even when he and Williams have disagreed, the educator has earned his respect. Cope Cumpston said she's been impressed with Williams' collaborations with the University of Illinois on behalf of the district.
"I think this is a terrific moment for Urbana," she added after the meeting.
Amberg also voiced his satisfaction.
"The board has made a superb choice," he said. "(Williams) has the skills and the knowledge and the experience."
Two community members also spoke to the board about the position.
Renee Bullock of Urbana asked that they "keep an open mind when replacing Mr. Amberg."
Tracy Parsons, chief executive officer of the Urban League of Champaign County and an Urbana schools graduate, voiced strong support for Williams, who is a board member of the Urban League.
"He already knows the community, he knows the families," Parsons said, adding that Williams has the support of the majority of the community.
Even before the meeting began, its ending felt like a foregone conclusion.
Mingling at a reception for the district's retirees before the meeting, Williams got many smiles, hugs and handshakes as he moved around the room. His family, including wife, Ivy; daughter, Jacquelyn; and son, Preston Williams III, also gave the meeting a sense of celebration.
"It's something that he's been working on for a long time," Ivy Williams said. "It was actually Gene Amberg that encouraged him and got the ball rolling."
She said that under her husband's leadership, "If it's not in the best interest of the kids in the district, it's probably not going to happen."
The school board is counting on that.
"Universally, we came to the conclusion that we had the person that we needed right here in the district," Dimit said. "At the end, we were all satisfied."