There’s something vaguely familiar about West Ashley High School’s new principal, William Runyon; something that hearkens back to his predecessor, Mary Runyon.
It’s not the hair: his is shaved black stubble, hers a shock of white. She’s married to local attorney Bill Runyon and he shares a name with his father.
Wait! That’s it!
Mary, the new curriculum director for schools West of the Ashley, is William’s mother. It’s not often offices get handed off to family members, unless there’s a Kennedy involved.
But after several years as the headman at St. Johns Island High School, and stints in administration in Walterboro and other spots in the Lowcountry, William has come home to run WAHS.
Runyon said he knows people will find it interesting that he is succeeding his mom, but she’s not his supervisor, so there’s no nepotism. And, he says, they have significant differences in management style and approaches to the job.
He describes his mother as being able to talk education policy and about a more philosophical view of education. What Runyon says he knows better is running — whether it’s running the streets or getting onto past basketball players he’s coached.
“It’s like I just told the football team today — if you do it on Friday, it’ll be on the streets by Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll know about it for sure by Monday when they get back to school,” he said.
Borrowing on his coaching past, Runyon said he might do away with in school suspension, which removes a student from a teacher’s reach, and install more rigorous work-based, community-service punishments that will grow the student and not just eat up their time. “And it’s like I used to tell my players, the first three letters of my name are R-U-N.”
Runyon said WAHS represents the entire West Ashley community, and not just the families whose kids attend school there. As such, he’s looking to focus on creating leaders in his administration and the student body.
First thing Runyon did when he was given the office was to start work on getting the totems for the two high schools that preceded WAHS, Middleton and St. Andrews highs, and have them incorporated into the walk leading into the football stadium.
Second, he rearranged his administrative staff so that his various assistant principals would become in charge of subject specific groups of students. “If we don’t model change and collaborative leadership at the top, how are the kids going to trust us and buy in?”
With leadership work begun and the culture of the school beginning to evolve, while still linking to its past, then, Runyon believes, the school can improve its performance and its reputation. A tough challenge, considering close to two-thirds of the students at WAHS are on free and reduced lunch programs, while not always a determinant in educational attainment, this factor has run sidelong with lower scores and grades for many schools and districts across the country.
Doubters: Runyon was able to turnaround St. Johns’ on-time graduation rates, improving them from 46 to 76 percent in just a few years.
Key to mirroring that kind of improvement at WAHS, Runyon believes, will be getting teachers to work together in cross-curriculum lesson planning that will allow different subjects to dovetail into a more seamless educational process.
If all else fails, he can always ask his mom what to do.

Pin It on Pinterest