June 22, 2008

Galileo Principal ‘Retires,’ Joins Averett Faculty

By Sarah Arkin, Danville Register & Bee, Va.

Jun. 22--What some might call a full-time job, Bill Lawrence calls retirement.

As Galileo Magnet High School's principal prepares to officially step down from his position and "retire," he also is preparing to join the faculty of Averett University as an education professor.

One of the original curriculum coordinators for the high school that opened in the fall of 2002, Lawrence looks back with pride at his tenure on Ridge Street, talking Tuesday about the successes of the school's students.

"We've been quite successful," he said, noting statewide math and science awards as well as an active thespian crew.

Lawrence also is proud that the school has a wide variety in its student body and ideology.

"Students tend to be very active," he said. "We really emphasize community service. Over the last three or four years, (the students) have logged over 200 hours ... it's part of what we push -- to be good citizens you have to be involved in your community."

Lisa Coyne, who worked with Lawrence at the Langston Focus School, was on the planning curriculum committee with the retiring principal and is currently a biology teacher at Galileo.

"As a principal, he is very much a team player," she said. "We feel empowered as a group of 20 or so teachers to voice our opinions and work our ideas through him."

But Lawrence also works outside the office, Coyne said, doing two hours of lunch duty a day "so that teachers can have a duty-free lunch," solves disciplinary problems and is "very accessible to students."

"I think Bill has always kept sort of a love for teaching," she said, and even as principal "still is there early morning, tutoring students in IB math."

A Unique path

For a high school principal, Lawrence had somewhat of an unlikely start.

Originally from Florida, he served as a naval aviator for eight years.

While in the Navy, Lawrence received his Master of Business Administration from the University of West Florida.

In 1977, he came to Danville to work for Corning Glass. After just a year, Lawrence went into the freight air business in Danville.

It was his soccer-playing kids that got him into school.

Lawrence and other parents got together to push for a soccer program at George Washington High School.

The School Board said they would approve the program if Lawrence would coach. In 1984, he agreed to coach until they could find a permanent replacement. Seventeen years later, he was still there.

Along the way, Lawrence picked up a master's degree in education from Lynchburg College in 1994 by commuting to classes.

"I'd been working in the schools and everything, so I decided to go into teaching because I was enjoying it," he said. "And I did."

His first gig was not exactly traditional either. For 10 years, Larence taught at the W.W. Moore Jr. Juvenile Detention Home on Colquhoun Street.

"It was extremely interesting," he said. "It was a very unique experience; it gave me a lot of experience teaching different students at different levels."

That experience, Lawrence said, helped develop him as a teacher and sparked the philosophy that demanding excellence yields results.

"It didn't take long to discover that even (with) children you think would misbehave ... if you give them work to be successful, challenge them to get better," Lawrence said, "even in those circumstances, students would perform when they were challenged academically."

A passion for teaching

Lawrence can't escape his passion, even in retirement and the Averett faculty is thrilled to have him.

"He's reinventing himself and moving to a different level," said Lynn Wolf, chair of the English department and director of teacher education.

Lawrence has already been teaching physics at the college.

"He's just very versatile," Wolf said. "We're very excited about him coming on board with us." She also said it was great to have a male teaching in the department because it is always trying to recruit more male students.

"He's just a master at (teaching)," she said. "I think he will be a wonderful role model for our students."

Coyne said the move seems like a logical step.

"Maybe that's why he's so empowering to teachers," she said. "He really still does have a love for it."

"I'm a teacher," Lawrence said. "I'm just pretending to be a principal. I'm going back to the classroom because that's what I really enjoy.

"What success I've had as a principal is because I'm a teacher. I enjoy working with students. I enjoy working with other teachers."

Contact Sarah Arkin at (434) 791-7983 or .


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