Person of Interest: Mark Williamson
Just like the members of DeLaSalle Charter High School’s cross-country team that ran its first meet in early October, Mark Williamson is a man on the move. Williamson, the executive director of the Kansas City, Mo.-based school that serves non-traditional students is in constant motion, a passionate advocate for kids who might otherwise be regarded by society as quitters. Today Williamson, who relocated to Kansas City from South Carolina in 2010, is excited about the kids’ inaugural foray into organized sports after many years. He sees it as another essential building block in DeLaSalle’s mission to provide an exceptional level of experiential learning to a population of students who are at high risk of dropping out. Challenges that are potential roadblocks typical in a DeLaSalle student’s earnest journey to get an education include mental health issues, addictions, domestic violence, teen pregnancy and poverty.
Williamson readily admits DeLaSalle’s mission is a challenge, but he wouldn’t trade his job for anything in the world.
“I visualize the problems these kids have as a toxic, black tarry substance that must be dealt with in order to serve the whole person,” he says. “We have to deal with their traumas and problems and scoop these students up in our hands and accept them in order to help them move forward. I love what I do.”
The holistic approach to the 200 DeLaSalle students is an obligation Williams and his team take seriously.
“You can send a child to a therapist or an addictions counselor, but we also believe it’s necessary to develop positive relationships with students,” says Williamson. “That means greeting kids when they get off the bus in the morning, in the hallways and cafeteria, and having structured time to get to understand their individual needs.”
DeLaSalle recently completed a $6.2 million capital campaign that will fund an 18,000-square-foot expansion of program space to accommodate 100 more students. And to Williamson, that means an increased opportunity to impact the lives of kids who could have easily fallen through the cracks.
“Hope is always there,” he says. “We just help them see it.”
TEAM SPIRIT: “Everyone—our 15 teachers and 41 support staff—is part of the team. We all want these kids to succeed in life.”
EMPOWER: “Up until last year we had uniforms. This year we’re giving students the opportunity to show responsibility with the way they dress. If their pants are sagging, you can bet I’ll fuss at them.”
RELEVANT: “If these kids were taught with purely traditional methods, we’d have a rugged start right out of the gate. We have to customize our approach.”
PASSION: “Staff could go other places and face fewer challenges. But they’re energized by our goals and objectives, the transformations they see.”
PARTNERSHIP: “We’re developing close alliances with businesses in the community to help give DeLaSalle students real-world experiences. That’s what it’s all about.”
For more information on DeLaSalle, visit www.delsallecenter.org.