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New Peekskill Superintendent Touts Responsibility

New Peekskill City Schools Superintendent James Willis says his management style is simple.

“I work on a philosophy of respect plus authority equals ownership,” said Willis at a Saturday morning meeting with parents on May 14 in the district office. “I believe everyone can have ownership of what they do, but they need to have the responsibility and authority to do so. I don’t micro-manage, I have expectations people going to do what they’re supposed to be doing or they come to me and ask what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Willis, who replaces Interim Superintendent Larry Licopoli in July, is coming to Peekskill from the Utica City School District, a highly diverse district of 10,000 students with nine elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.

“It’s a very unique district because we speak 43 different languages,” Willis said. “We have one of the largest refugee centers in the country so we get students from all over the world.”

Willis told parents he believes that while not every student can a high academic achiever, all students can learn.

“They learn at their own pace,” Willis said. “We try to force things sometimes to have kids move at a certain speed but I think all kids learn at their own pace and we as educators need to recognize that and accommodate for them.”

Prior to Utica, Willis was assistant superintendent for human resources in the South Country Central School District on Long Island, and prior to that he was assistant superintendent for human resources and administration in the South Orangetown Central School District in Rockland County.

Willis first started in education while teaching social studies and English teacher in the upstate Odessa-Montour Central School District, and has also served as an adjunct professor of curriculum development at Elmira College.

Before teaching he worked in the business field after serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and held management positions at SYSCO and Citibank.

Willis is married and has four children and two grandchildren, all of whom live in Louisville, Ky. He said he plans to live locally, and that he is looking to buy a home nearby.

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