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Norris School Principal William Collins leaves to work in higher education

William E. Collins, Norris Elementary School principal GORDON DANIELS

William E. Collins, Norris Elementary School principal GORDON DANIELS Purchase photo reprints »

Collins will start Aug. 15 as coordinator of the graduate Educational Leadership Program at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. “I’ll be teaching people how to be principals,” he said in an interview Monday. “It’s something I’m pretty passionate about.”

Collins said it seemed an opportunity too good to pass up. “I’ve loved my time here, I can’t imagine working with a better group of people or a more wonderful community,” he said. “I’m really going to miss it here.”

Hampshire Regional Superintendent Craig Jurgensen said Collins has improved the Norris School in his nine-year tenure, including creating and implementing a “learning communities” plan where teachers work together to share and learn best practices.

That system is a “teachers teaching teachers” model, he said, and that’s also what Collins will be doing as he instructs young educators about training to become principals and holding other educational leadership roles.

“I think this is a perfect match for him,” Jurgensen said.

Jurgensen said he will appoint an interim principal from a small pool of internal and external candidates by the end of the month to take over for the 2013-2014 school year. He said the School Committee will choose a permanent replacement by the end of that school year.

“I’m really going to miss him,” said Jean Kuhn, the school’s psychologist. “He’s a great guy, very kind. One thing about him is he really cares about the kids and he really gets the challenges that kids and families are facing. Schools are working with limited funds, but he always does what’s right for the kids.”

Teaching teachers

Collins, 48, said that he was motivated to take the next step in his career after completing his doctorate in educational leadership at Boston College last year.

“I was feeling professionally ready for the next challenge, and I weighed if it was being a superintendent or something different,” he said. “This is an opportunity to teach the next generation of school leaders.”

He was a finalist for the job of Northampton superintendent in 2011, but the School Committee selected Brian Salzer instead.

Collins said he has mentored other young principals over the years, and realized while working with them and teachers at the Norris School that he had something to offer others about how to be an effective educator.

“The most important thing in schools is what happens between students and teachers, but principals have the ability to create a climate where that can happen well,” he said.

Collins added that fostering teacher leadership and an environment where teachers feel empowered to be creative in the classroom is key. “I like to think I helped create that culture at Norris that lets teachers prosper and feel that it’s OK to share ideas.”

He put his ideas in print when he co-authored a book titled “Leader of Leaders: The Handbook for Principals on the Cultivation, Support and Impact of Teacher-Leaders” with Hal Portner, an author from Northampton. It is scheduled to be published Sept. 9 by Allyn & Bacon, a subsidiary of Pearson.

Collins, originally from Hanover, has worked in education for 15 years, including roles as a guidance counselor, principal and assistant principal. Before that, he worked as a deputy sheriff in Plymouth County and then as a management team leader at a Proctor & Gamble plant in Quincy.

In August, he and his family — his wife, DianeMarie, and daughters Mary Kate, 14, and Julianna, 8 — will relocate to New York from their current home in Longmeadow.

Collins said he will sorely miss working with children.

“I always say I feel sorry for the folks who work in offices and they don’t get to see the expression of a child who is celebrating a birthday or has just lost a tooth. To be around kids and part of that world is just great,” he said. “I’d only leave if I thought the work I was going to do was really important, and I do.”

Laurie Frye, who has taught kindergarten at the Norris School for 16 years, called Collins a great leader who always puts the children’s needs first and encourages staff to keep learning how to be better teachers.

“He makes you want to be the best that you can be,” she said. “He’s eager to hear innovative ideas and bring the best programs to the school, and he finds creative ways to fund them.”

Frye said he is an objective and skilled problem-solver and a “man of integrity.”

“I feel like we are lucky to have had him as principal here for so many years,” she said. “I know so many people will benefit from his teaching in his new job.”

A group of parents have arranged a farewell event for Collins from 3:30 to 5:15 p.m. June 26 at the school library.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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