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By Kevin Taylor 

Alma Schools 

David Woolly


To be clear, Alma Superintendent of Schools David Woolly isn't the legend Charles B. Dyer was during his 45-year reign as former Alma High School principal and superintendent. And he's fine with that.


That said, Woolly picked up where the late CBD left off nine years ago, and, heading into his 50th year with the district, things are smoother now than ever.


"I'm not the legend; CBD's the legend, but I did continue it," Woolly said. "It is sometimes difficult to follow a legend. But that was not the case with us.”


Woolly's 50-year tenure will conclude in June 2022. He hopes his successor will be selected by March and, thanks to the Alma School Board's recommendation, he will get to work with his replacement throughout the 2021-22 school year. 


"I was really happy that the board liked that idea," Woolly said. "It's not unheard of to do that, but it's not common. I thought that would be a very worthwhile thing for the district and for my successor. I will take only a token salary next year in order to make this possible.”


Woolly expects the district to have numerous applicants and "three or four really strong candidates" for the board to pick from when the district closes in on his replacement later this spring. 


"A job like this, it's a great job in so many ways," Woolly said. "(Alma) is the right size (school) district. In a bigger district, there are too many layers of bureaucracy. There are too many layers to know what's really going on. If you're too small, you don't have enough students or staff to do everything you want to do.


"For many years, I have felt like the sweet spot was from about 2,500 to 4,000 (students), and we're right in the middle of that with 3,250 right now. I truly believe it's the sweet spot in terms of district size. Plus, it is a great community with great students and a great staff."


Woolly announced last week he will retire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, culminating in 50 years with Alma schools. It's been a remarkable ride for the Little Rock native — AHS band director (1972-76), assistant principal (1976-83), coordinator of federal programs for Alma schools (1983-87), assistant superintendent (1987-1995), deputy superintendent (1995-2011), superintendent (2011-present).


The board appointed Woolly as the acting superintendent in January 2011, a few months after Dyer was diagnosed with cancer. Later, following Dyer’s untimely passing in April 2011, Woolly was officially named Alma superintendent. 


In the nine years since Alma schools have continued to flourish.


Woolly expects his successor to get a birds-eye view of the district's way of doing things.


"I want us to be a two-headed animal next year," Woolly said. "We'll make every decision together. No two people do a job the same way; I don't need a clone. "It will be good for the district to have somebody with different ideas and different emphasis.


"There's going to be a lot of potential candidates that might say, 'Oh, I would never have a chance at that job.' Well, I've been working to make sure that's not the case," Woolly said. "We all put our pants on one leg at a time.”


Alma schools are a million miles from where they were in the 48 years (1972) since a fresh-faced Woolly arrived on campus.


"There's one word to describe that — unrecognizable," he said. "It's the only word I know that fits. Charles came in '66 as the high school principal and had been superintendent for four years when I got here. He told this story many times ... 'His first year as principal they had 27 accreditation violations, just at the high school.'


"We're about 2 ½ times bigger as far as student enrollment and the physical facilities are dramatically different. I'm not going to say they were the worst in the state, but they'd run a close second for worst facilities — concrete floors, space heaters that worked when they wanted to, no ceilings. One of the things I'm really proud of is we're still using many of those facilities every day, but they look just as good as our new facilities."


There are other differences as well. Back in the early ‘70s, five decades before anyone in Alma ever dreamed of fielding a soccer program, Alma High School had a reputation for fielding good football and girls basketball teams.


"In 1972, you did one of two things if you were a student at Alma High School — you played football or girls basketball," Woolly said. "They had good success in both, but not much in anything else. That's dramatically different now."


Alma has succeeded in all phases of extracurricular activities, from baseball to cheer to performing arts to ROTC.


"Just about every student, from grades 7-12, is in at least one major co-curricular program," Woolly said. "By major, I mean something that takes a considerable amount of time. I think our kids benefit greatly from that. Our kids graduate with the academics and knowledge you need, but that's not all you need to be successful.


"You don't learn to hold down a job, to be on time, to meet your commitment — you don't learn that in algebra class. You learn that in your co-curricular activities, and that's what makes people successful in college and in life. They've learned self-discipline, commitment, to be on time ... I think that's a big deal.


“You couple our participation level and success in co-curricular programs with our ongoing high level of academic achievement, and you have a winning formula.


“For a long time now we have been working hard to prepare our students to become successful adults. I hope the district never loses that focus.”