Simmons retiring next year


Paula Vogler

School Superintendent William Simmons recently announced his retirement in August 2009.

By Paula Vogler
Posted Aug 27, 2008 @ 05:20 PM
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After four decades spent in a career and field not originally planned for, Easton’s School Superintendent William Simmons will retire in August 2009. He will leave behind a 32-year legacy in a town he has always been fond of and a community of parents, educators and administrators that hold him in high regard.

Simmons’ career in Easton began in 1976 as the town’s director of special services. He served in that position for 12 years, then as the assistant superintendent for the next five years. He has served as the superintendent for the past 15 years, no small feat in a field where the average length of stay is four to five years.

“I hadn’t given much thought to being the superintendent; I enjoyed what I was doing,” Simmons said. “I never expected I’d stay here that long.”

Simmons credits three things with keeping him in his position as long as he has been. First, with each change in the makeup of the school committee Simmons said the new members had one goal and it was not to get rid of the superintendent like in some communities.

“I’ve had school committee members who came on board who had a common thread on why they came on board and it was to better the situation for the kids,” Simmons said. “It was not politics; I never became the issue.”

Second, Simmons said he always tried to treat people with respect and explain the reasons for particular decisions even if they disagreed on an issue.

“When issues arose he always made a point to sit down with people and to take as much time to hear their side,” said school committee Chairman Caroline O’Neill “At least they went away feeling they had been heard. I use to marvel at how effectively he could diffuse a situation. I wish I were as diplomatic as he was.”

“I was always impressed with the respect he has from the community and the teachers and the wonderful relationships he has,” assistant superintendent Michael Green said. “The way he deals with people is the key.”

Simmons said a third reason he has stayed in Easton is the long standing tradition of community support for the school system from the passage of overrides in 1991 and 2003 to two debt exclusions to build and renovate the town’s schools.

“There comes a point where the superintendent has to make a decision about how far can I really take this school system,” Simmons said. “The community support has always been there.”

“I was highly impressed with the amount of work and attention to detail and perseverance it took as a leader of the system, along with others in the community, just to get these buildings accomplished,” Green said. “He pushed forward, knew what to do, and made the right contacts.”

Simmons said he is most proud of the high academic achievement in the school system, something that has always been accepted as a priority in the town

He said that most potential educators he interviews always mention the community support and quality of education in the town.

Simmons said hand in hand with that priority is the way the adults in the system care for the kids, something he said can be a tough balance if it is not ingrained in the culture of the school system.

While he graduated with a degree in biology with the initial intention of becoming a doctor, it was a volunteer teaching position in the Worcester schools that opened a door he had not even considered.

He also got involved with Special Olympics, which created another desire he did not know he had.

After getting his masters in 1969, Simmons spent his first years teaching biology and chemistry to special education students for four years in a private school in Marlborough; he then became principal of the school.

His thirst for education still not satisfied, Simmons went on to graduate from law school at Suffolk University while working full time so that he could learn about advocacy, school law, and contract negotiations.

O’Neill said the law degree gave Simmons insight and understanding that the average superintendent does not have.

“(Because of his law degree) he was able to look at situations and immediately identify potential risks,” O’Neill said. “Even though he doesn’t practice law he’s very up to date particularly with school law.”

“I’ve chosen never to practice law because as soon as I got out of law school I went into a doctoral program in leadership,” Simmons said. “As my family likes to say, we wondered if you’d ever stop going to school.”

Eight years of part time schooling at Northeastern University and full time work later, Simmons received his PhD. He credits his wife, Molly Clark, a doctor at Newton Wellesley Hospital, with giving him “a great deal of support” through his many years of schooling.

Simmons said while he will miss the people and making decisions once he retires, he will also miss seeing the students reach goals they might not have thought were reachable.

For their part, the students that see Simmons in the hallways of the high school oftentimes refer to him as “The Sports Dad,” a reference used many times in Simmons’ son Bill’s book called “Now I Can Die in Peace” written after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.

It his son, daughter-in-law, Kari, and grandchildren Zoe and Ben who live in California are driving part of the desire to retire.

“I’m in good health,” Simmons said. “I don’t want to be an absentee grandparent.”

Simmons is also the oldest of seven children who are all in the area and he said he has a certain level of responsibility to them and the myriad of nieces and nephews he has.

“It’s an important part of my life,” Simmons said. “I think 40 years in this particular profession is something I’m proud of. Now I’d like to map out the next 10 years while I still have good health.”

“He’s been great to work with and great to work for,” Green said. “On a personal note he’s been a great friend and an invaluable teacher.”

“I always had confidence he would guide us through any challenges we faced,” O’Neill said. “It’s going to be tough to replace him.”

Paula Vogler can be reached at 508-967-3510 or by email at

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