Call it the Lew Williams Project.
To honor Pinellas School Board member Lew Williams, who died unexpectedly Saturday, superintendent John Stewart said Tuesday the district will pursue an early childhood initiative to better prepare children before they step foot in a classroom.
"He stood for young people … he wanted to do something for every child," Stewart said at a School Board meeting. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could establish something … in his name?"
Stewart said there are no specifics yet, but mentioned the possibility of partnering with social service agencies. He said staff would bring something to the board at a later date.
Williams, 68, was a lifelong Pinellas educator known for his gentlemanly manner and quiet effectiveness. He retired as an area superintendent in 2005 after rising through the ranks as a teacher, principal and district administrator. He won election to the school board last year.
As part of a short tribute, the district also aired a video with snippets of Williams on the campaign trail and during his brief stint on the board. Some district staffers cried quietly.
Board members said they will remember Williams for his kindness, his dedication to children and his humility. "He represented all that is good about being an educator and all that is good about Pinellas County schools," said Linda Lerner, who knew Williams for 21 years.
Carol Cook called him "a child advocate" and "an advocate of families."
Board member Peggy O'Shea called him, "The nicest man in the world."
Terry Krassner said Williams "emulated everything a leader should stand for and be, throughout his whole life."
And chairwoman Robin Wikle read from a poem she wrote in his honor, reminding everyone that Williams decided to spend his retirement, not fishing, but serving students.
Also Tuesday, the board voted 6-0 to approve a controversial student assignment and rezoning plan that will result in school changes for 2,183 kids, according to district numbers.
The plan redraws the geographic school zone lines for 27 of the county's 63 public elementary schools and requires some students currently attending out-of-zone schools to return to their neighborhood schools.
School district officials say the changes will relieve overcrowding in some schools and better utilize vacant space in others.
The following students can remain in their schools but must provide their own transportation.
• This year's fourth graders.
• Kids who were in kindergarten in 2008-09 and were assigned schools through open enrollment.
• Students in K-3 who were not assigned to their zoned school due to a lack of available space or another zoning exception.