ACSA Robert E. Kelly Award winner Will Ector continues to work with students as an advisor and a mentor.
Ector hasn’t lost the fire for serving students
November 1, 2021
Name: Will Ector Award: Robert E. Kelly Award
Will Ector gets emotional when he tells the stories of his high school students: A homeless boy diagnosed with cancer who would bring his clothes to school so friends could take them home and wash them. A girl whose mother was struggling with drugs and alcohol, so she left home and lived in an abandoned car.
Nearly five years after retiring as superintendent of Berryessa Union School District, Ector continues to be moved by the plight of underserved students and motivated to find ways to give them a better shot at life.
“You don’t lose the fire for working with students,” Ector said.
Ector is the recipient of this year’s Robert E. Kelly Award, which honors retired individuals who help advance the high quality of public education and who have made significant contributions on a volunteer basis over the years.
As a young man, Ector did his best to resist going into the family business of education. But after applying to law school and even trying out for the short-lived World Football League, it was an invitation from a family friend/superintendent in his hometown of Blythe that led to him coaching high school football.
“I said, you know, this is not too bad,” he recalled. “Plus, I was helping kids.”
He ended up having a 43-year career in education that included a stint as a math and physical education teacher, opening two new schools as a principal, working as an HR director at the district office, and a mention from then-President Ronald Reagan when Ector’s site was named a national distinguished school. Ector has served as principal at a wide range of schools — from schools that benefited from the dotcom boom in Silicon Valley to Title I schools where he says you had to hustle selling candy and wrapping paper just to raise money for student field trips.
Upon retirement in 2017, Ector had plenty of ways to stay connected to youth through the East San Jose Kiwanis Club. He became involved with the Turnaround Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to 14 graduating seniors who have faced adversity, one from each high school in the East Side Union High School District. Students receive $1,000 a year for four years and are paired with a Kiwanis member who mentors them throughout their college career. Ector helps coordinate and raise money for the program in addition to mentoring the youth.
“We have to let those kids know that we have their back,” he said. “We do everything beyond just give them scholarships. We make sure these kids can function and do well.”
During the COVID lockdown, Ector drove all over Santa Clara County to deliver students their checks and would connect with the transient students over Zoom, if they had internet access.
Ector also volunteers with The Green Scholars Program, which encourages students of color to become interested in the science and technology sector in Silicon Valley. He’s also the club advisor to Piedmont Hills High School’s Key Club, which has 300 members.
In addition to giving back to youth, Ector is helping to shape the next generation of educators as a professor in the Santa Clara COE administrative services credential program. He says his class is “a little different from the rest because it is taught through the lens of a person of color.”
“I love working with teachers coming into administration. [I enjoy] teaching them, getting them motivated to be the advocates for all kids and equity warriors,” he said. “Not everyone is experiencing the same successes in our classrooms.”
An ACSA member since 1983, Ector is a former Region 8 President and member of ACSA’s State Board of Directors representing Region 8. Ector has also continued his service to ACSA in retirement, having been a mentor coordinator for ACSA’s Mentor Program and serving as president of Region 8’s retirement charter.
Currently president of his Kiwanis Club, Ector is also an associate for the HYA Executive Search Firm. Being so active in retirement can be tough, and Ector is relinquishing some of his activities. Just some.
“I get talked about really bad. They keep telling me I’m failing retirement,” he said, with a laugh. “So I’m starting to streamline my schedule: If it’s not dealing with kids specifically, I’m backing down a little bit.”
2021 Robert E. Kelly Award winner Will Ector.
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