ALMA – Superintendent David Woolly is retiring after 50 years teaching, all with the Alma School District.
Woolly grew up in a school, as her father was principal of the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Little Rock, and her mother was an elementary school teacher in the Little Rock School District.
“And because the School for the Blind is a statewide boarding school, the superintendent had a residence on campus,” Woolly said. “So I literally grew up in a school. I would get up in the morning in a school, go to school, come home in the evening and be in a school. My playmates when I was young were the students of the school for the blind. , because that was my neighborhood.
“I didn’t know there was another way to make a living.”
Woolly, 72, attended the University of Arkansas to study music education with the goal of becoming a band manager. He said that when he graduated in 1972, Alma was the only one with a vacancy.
“Now that wasn’t an attractive job,” he noted. “The music program here in this school district wasn’t in good shape, and that’s generous. But it was the only job I was offered, so I took it. I didn’t know if I was going to stay here a year or something. I had no idea.
Woolly said it happened that a woman named Marsha started teaching at the school the same year, and the two later married and raised their family in Alma.
Woolly said they always knew he would end up in administration, which he did in 1976 as vice-principal at Alma High School. He has held several other positions since. He took over as superintendent in 2011 after the death of Charles Dyer, then superintendent.
Woolly said he planned to retire then and was okay never having been superintendent, but he could not leave the district after Dyer’s death. He noted that it was unusual to spend an entire career working in one place, but that Alma was the best place to be.
“We were doing great things. We were making great progress. We were building fantastic facilities. be. When you get there, that’s what matters,” he said.
Woolly said that during his tenure he has seen district facilities go from hounds to gold-plated buildings that could rival any district. He said enrollment at Alma has more than doubled to more than 3,300 students, which, in turn, has allowed for more opportunities for extracurricular activities.
He said it is a school district’s obligation to provide high-quality extracurricular opportunities to every student, regardless of their interest.
There are about 1,100 students in high school, and fewer than 10 are not in a major after-school program, such as football, softball, band or ROTC, he said.
“Something that’s a big program that’s very active and time-consuming, and teaches them about time management, teamwork, courage, those things that make the difference between a successful person at adulthood and not,” Woolly said. “You don’t learn these things in algebra class. Algebra is important, but you don’t learn these things in algebra class. You learn these things in after-school programs. So that’s always been a big priority, just as important to us as having high quality teachers.”
“A lot of kids are in more than one. It’s not unusual at all. We have football players who are dancers, and all that cross-pollination is very important to us,” he added. . “That’s another thing we’ve been working hard on for ages. We never tell a student, ‘You can’t do this because you’re doing that.’ We never do that. We do everything we can to allow them to do whatever they want to do, whatever they want to try.”
Mayor Jerry Martin said Woolly has helped children at the community level in many ways and it has been an absolute joy and pleasure to work with him. He recalled that in 2019, Woolly allowed the city to use the college building to distribute shoes, clothing and school supplies, as well as haircuts and health checkups.
“Neither necessarily has the funds to do some of these projects, so we can work together, have better facilities, and give our kids the tools they need to be successful in life,” says Martina. “We had excellent leadership with Mr. Woolly at the helm, and he will be greatly missed.”
Woolly has also advocated for schools at the state level when speaking to lawmakers. The best example is when he worked in a supporting role researching and presenting statistics to lawmakers in Jim DuPree v. Alma School District in 1983, he said.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has found that the state government has consistently failed to provide the money and programs needed to provide a proper education for all Arkansas children.
“It did a lot to even out the funding, especially for the fast-growing districts,” Woolly recalled. “If we had lost this case, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here today, because we would be part of another school district. We were about to die financially, because we were growing enrollment pretty quickly without the money. to track what we needed to do to educate these growing children.”
Woolly said all of her work begins and ends with students in mind. He said that’s the impact he wants to leave in the Alma School District, no matter what position a person holds.
Woolly said that was part of the reason he gave up his regular salary this year, after Alma hired Bryan Duffie as assistant superintendent last year. Woolly is making $12,000 this school year after taking a salary of $176,580 in the 2020-21 school year, according to district financial records.
Duffie was previously superintendent of the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District.
“I wanted him so that on July 1, when he becomes superintendent, he gets to work and his learning curve is already behind him, because I’m still here,” Woolly said. “So could we have afforded to pay him and pay me? Yeah, the district could have afforded that. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want the district to pay those two top earners in the district.”
“That speaks to me a lot,” Duffie said. “He loves Alma, loves this school district.”
Woolly said he was retiring now because he wanted to leave while he still had the energy and health to finish his career the way he started it: working with children. He said he plans to travel the world a bit, but still wants to volunteer for Alma Schools, work with the University of Arkansas Office of Development, and talk about education. in the Legislative Assembly.
“There’s no way for me to tell you how much it means here,” he said. “The thought crossed my mind recently, why now? Why so long? This is what I wanted to do every day. This is where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be somewhere else doing other things. “I wanted to be in Alma School District. It’s not a job. It’s my life.”