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Woolly’s legacy set in motion early 5/17/22

Woolly’s legacy set in motion early

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


There are myriads of class photos hanging along the hallway that connects the science department with the front office — many of whom became Alma educators. 


High on the wall, in a mint black and white frame, is a picture of Jerry Valentine — perfect mid-70s haircut and all. 


A 1975 Alma graduate, Valentine had All-American looks and athletic skills to boot. But his future was shaped by David Woolly. Not long in fact, after he had signed on as one of the school’s coaches.


Valentine sat in the same office once occupied by Woolly, whose 50-year reign with Alma Schools is coming to a close. 


Jerry Valentine had a front-row seat to greatness - the good, the bad, the unfortunate.


In 2011, when longtime Alma Superintendent Charles Dyer succumbed to cancer following a short illness, Woolly stepped in to, for all practical purposes, keep the bus on the road. 


“I think Mr. Woolly has done an exceptional job of keeping the Alma school district together after Mr. Dyer had died,” Valentine said. “He and Mr. Dyer had worked together for so many years. I think they knew what the other was thinking before they made a comment.”


“He and I worked together for so long, we were like an old married couple — we could finish each other’s sentences,” Woolly said. “I was a detail person; I wanted to know where the i’s are dotted and the t’s were crossed on everything. He was not... Charles was a numbers person and I was a writer. 


“In many ways, our skills and personalities meshed really well.”


During their heyday, Woolly and Dyer oversaw improvements throughout the district, including the installation of air conditioning. 


In 2010, a couple of years after his wife Marsha had ended her career, Woolly planned to retire. He wasn’t 60 yet. 


“That fall, in 2010, that was going to be my last year,” Woolly said. “When he (Dyer) got sick, not a lot changed during that winter, because most of the detail work I was already doing. I had long ago accepted I was not going to be a school superintendent, and I was OK with that. But that winter, when it became obvious that he was not going to survive, it was not in the best interest of the district and the community for me not to be superintendent. Charles and I had more than one long talk about that.”


“We all long ago had concluded he was likely to die someday while still superintendent.”


Then, in the fall of 2011, Woolly's wife, Marsha began feeling bad. 


“It was obvious to me that Marsha wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “She thought it was arthritis. Well, as it turned out, it was the breast cancer from five years earlier that had metastasized. From the day she went into the hospital until the day she died, it was 100 days. 


“She died on Sept. 2. That was much, much harder on me than Charles dying, as you would expect. And as close as Charles and I were, that was very difficult.”


Two deaths in two years, first Dyer and then Marsha, might have crushed some people. 


“I guess the good part of it was that I had plenty to do here,” Woolly said. “But there were still some difficult times. Jared (his son) went to China for four years; that was hard. You have to grieve, too. (But) life goes on.”


Woolly jokes that he and Marsha never had problems bringing work to the family dinner table.


“For a lot of couples, that doesn’t work, but it worked fine for us,” he said. “We had no problem working with each other and talking about philosophies and school issues at the dinner table; we enjoyed that. That was healthy for us.”


Computer literacy


Back in 1981, as Woolly was settling into his role as Leonard Daniel’s assistant principal, he wrote a curriculum for teaching computer literacy.


“This was at a time when schools weren't teaching computer classes,” Valentine said. “(But) the Federal department of education adopted ours and Mr. Woolly traveled all across the US, and even outside the United States, and taught teachers how to teach computer literacy. Because of that, Alma High School got at the time a state-of-the-art computer lab.”


A decade after seeing a kid on a horse, in the hallway in the middle of the day, Alma became one of ten computer lighthouse schools in the nation with a computer literacy program. 


“It was kind of a big deal,” Valentine said. “Here we are, no paved parking, no AC, and we had concrete floors and people were coming to Alma High School to see how the lab was being taught.”


“I was in hundreds of schools, from Hawaii to Puerto Rico,” Woolly said. “I wasn’t in every state, but I was in about 40 states. It was cool. It was fun but I was ready for it to end when it did.”


Because of his busy schedule, Valentine was soon bumped up to the assistant principal. 


“Because of this program, David was gone so much, so Mr. Dyer moved him from assistant principal to the administration building, and I became the assistant principal for three years (before replacing Daniel in 1986).”


The future 


“This year I did almost nothing over spring break, and I kind of liked that,” Woolly jokes of his impending retirement. “I know I need to chill for a while; I need to get bored.”


Woolly plans to do some traveling this fall. He’ll stay involved with the Razorbacks, too. 


“I have a pretty good trip to Europe planned for mid-fall,” he said. “For 20 or 30 years, I’ve been involved with the U of A in various ways. That will not only continue, but now that I have more time, I expect that to increase. I am going to be more involved in serving on school accreditation teams across the south. I probably will stay involved with the legislature, too. 


“Like a lot of people, I probably have too much on my plate; I’ll be busier than I probably want to be.”


Woolly said he plans to volunteer for the school, too. 

“I want to continue to be involved with the school district, in ways that I can volunteer,” he said. 


First, Woolly needs to take a step back.


“I’m not worried about getting bored,” he said. “Although, in the short term, I really need to.”