When Felicia Williams became principal of Saddleback Elementary five years ago, she brought a vision of helping children build confidence.
This year, Saddlebrook was awarded a grant from the federally-funded 21st Century Community Learning program, allowing students to receive extra instruction for more than two hours after school. It’s part of Williams’ push to help the school achieve greatness and children believe in themselves.
“Every year, a motto drives our instruction,” Williams said. “This year, it’s ‘From Good to Great.’ I want greatness, and I expect greatness.”
The five-year, $500,000 program provides enrichment and academic intervention and funds teacher pay, she said.
“I think we’re doing a good job of setting our kids up for success,” the 35-year-old Cincinnati native added. “I want a child who doesn’t believe himself start to believe in himself after we’ve helped him.”
The school for preschoolers through sixth grade has made parental involvement a priority, Williams said, in its quest for greatness.
“Our parents are more engaged than ever,” she said. “Earlier this year, we had an event and more than 200 parents came; that’s the first time we’ve had that many. We’re having a family carnival under the stars and expect another large turnout.”
When parents meet teachers, administrators and staffers, they become personally connected and invested in success, Williams said.
“As principal, I get to make a lot of connections with students and their families.”
Williams said Saddleback has achieved greatness at least in two other areas, keeping a quality staff and improving math scores.
“We have a talented, dedicated staff,” she said. “We have not had significant turnover in my five years here. We have 27 teachers, ranging in experience from right out of school to 16 or 17 years in the classroom.”
The improvement in math has come from weekly evaluations and specialized instruction for students at least 30 minutes a day, she said.
Williams started as an academic coach at Saddleback before becoming interim principal then principal.
“She’s an excellent principal,” MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “It’s my third year in the district, and I have continued to be impressed with her and her dedicated staff.”
Williams has three master’s degrees – in public administration, education and educational leadership. She’s working on a doctorate at Grand Canyon University.
“Her background as an academic coach has helped her as principal in improving performance,” Chestnut said.
Williams and her husband, Lionel III, who teaches at Maricopa High School, have lived in Maricopa for 10 years. They have two children.
I had not thought about living in Maricopa when we first came to Arizona 11 years ago,” said Williams, whose first job was as a fifth-grade teacher at Santa Rosa Elementary. “A Realtor told us about the good deals on houses. It’s gone well for us since then.”
Saddleback Elementary School
Education: B.S. in Communication, Ohio University; master’s in elementary education, University of Phoenix; master’s in education and education leadership, Northern Arizona University.
Family: Married with two children; husband Lionel III teaches at Maricopa High; son Lionel IV a fourth-grader; daughter Laina a kindergartener
Hobbies: Shopping, running, reading, spending time with family and friends
First job in education: Kindergarten teacher
Memorable moment as elementary teacher: Musical performances
Most interesting reason a student has been called to the office: Student had eraser stuck in ear canal
Favorite subject: Math