The most diverse neighborhoods of the Salt Lake City School District have new representation on its board of education.
After a month without a board member, Precinct 1 in the northwest corner of Utah’s capital city is represented by Bryce Williams, a native of the Rose Park neighborhood.
Williams, 34, is an administrator at the University of Utah who oversees the Bennion Center for community service. He also is a current member of the board of directors for the Salt Lake City School District’s charitable foundation.
“As we work our way out of the pandemic, I look forward to spending time face to face with families, students, teachers and administrators,” Williams said, “to hearing what their needs are and to working collectively with the rest of the board to address those needs.”
Seven candidates had applied for the position and were interviewed by the school board. Members chose Williams in a 5-1 vote Tuesday night. He was immediately sworn in.
His selection comes after the previous board member in the seat, Joél-Léhi Organista, resigned earlier this month after he was arrested. He was charged with downloading child pornography and a felony count of sexually assaulting a boy under age 14 whom he met online. He is now also facing federal charges.
Organista had originally been elected this fall to finish out the term of a previous member who stepped down early. Now, Williams will complete that term, serving for a year and a half until the next school board election in November 2022. A standard term on the board is four years.
Board President Melissa Ford said during the public candidate interviews Tuesday that choosing a new member is “one of the more difficult decisions we as a board have to make.”
She said she feels strongly that members should be elected by their constituents. “This isn’t a position that we should be in,” she said.
But she said she wants the board to be able move forward and focus on what matters.
Williams said during his interview that he intends to do just that.
One of the biggest challenges he wants to address is access and equity in his precinct and the district overall, where roughly 57% of the school population is students of color and slightly more are considered to come from low-income households. Some of those families are recently resettled refugees.
He wants the district — and the community at large — to better support families, to help their kids get good grades and be able to participate in school extracurriculars.
Williams proposes, first off, helping the district in “being innovative” in how it gets information to parents. Some parents work two or three jobs and don’t regularly attend school meetings. Others don’t speak English.
“I believe we need to utilize the resources we have in the community,” Williams said.
He wants families and businesses and the district to come together to find solutions, like more translation services, for one, or more access to technology — which presented a challenge during online learning with the pandemic.
Williams also believes the district can learn from the pandemic. Salt Lake City was the only district in the state to stay with all-remote instruction when classes started in the fall (though it later shifted back to in-person learning this spring).
“I think the pandemic was a lot of let’s react, let’s react,” he noted. “But I think we need to do a lot of planning. There’s a lot of possibilities that things like this will come up in the future and we need to prepare for that.”
The one member who voted against William’s appointment, Mohamed Baayd, said he preferred to appoint a woman of color who had less experience on paper but more understanding of the community, including having a child in the district. Williams is white.
“Bryce did an amazing job. He’s well qualified. He’s got a lot of experience,” Baayd said. “But I’m a firm believer in opening doors and opportunities to others who can also climb the ladder. … I would really like to see someone else given an opportunity.”
When Williams was ultimately selected, Baayd said he would still support him and work with him. Williams covered his face as those in the room cheered and clapped.
“I’m very grateful for this process,” he said. “I guess I’m just a little overwhelmed right now but very much look forward to serving alongside all of you and all of the residents of Precinct 1.”
Williams’ precinct covers six elementaries and two middle schools, including ones he attended as a kid before graduating from West High.
“I am a product of Precinct 1 and Salt Lake City School District,” he said. “That’s really what has got me to where I am.”
Williams has served as a member of the West High School Alumni Association since 2006. He has also been on the board for the Salt Lake Education Foundation since 2017; he will resign that seat to take his new position.