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2023 Friday Medal Ceremony Honors Longtime North Carolina Educator and Education Leader Tom Williams

Image of three people: two women on either side of Friday Medal recipient Tom Williams. Tom is a man in a suit and tie holding a medal in a black frame. The women on either side are both wearing blazers and are standing in front of a red background

Dedicated. Leader. Caring. When asked to describe Tom Williams, his colleagues and friends most commonly use these three words. On Thursday, Nov. 16,  Williams, president of Strategic Educational Alliances, Inc., was honored as the recipient of the annual Friday Medal award during a ceremony at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. This award honors significant, distinguished and enduring contributions to education and beyond through advocating innovation, advancing education and imparting inspiration. 

“Tom Williams serves educators,” said Krista Glazewski, executive director of the Friday Institute and associate dean for translational research in the NC State College of Education, in her opening remarks during the ceremony. “He serves people, and his compassion has not gone unnoticed by anyone who has met him.”

The Friday Medal is given annually to selected individuals who embody the mission and spirit of the Friday Institute. It is named after Bill and Ida Friday, who were passionate advocates and leaders in education for more than 50 years. Williams is the 18th recipient to receive this honor. 

“The Fridays set a contemporary standard of excellence for public service in North Carolina and all across this nation,” said Williams during the ceremony. “To have my name associated with the Institute, with the medal and among the previous winners is the highest of my personal and professional journey[s]. The example the Fridays model every day has inspired past and current generations of North Carolinians to pursue excellence and continues today through the work of those younger generations of students, teachers and school leaders engaged in learning and leading in classrooms across North Carolina.”

Before founding Strategic Educational Alliances, Inc. in 2008, Williams served in North Carolina public schools for 32 years as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent.  Most of his leadership career was spent in the Johnston and Granville County school districts until his retirement in 2007. From 1994-2000, he served in the Office of the Governor for James B. Hunt, Jr. as the executive director to the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE). 

Since 2010, Williams has served the NC Principals and Assistant Principals’ Association (NCPAPA) as a founding developer and facilitator of its yearlong, blended learning, professional development series for principals, “Distinguished Leadership in Practice (DLP)” and its “Future Ready Leadership (FRL)” program for assistant principals. From 2010-2017, he was the director of leadership development outreach for East Carolina University’s Department of Educational Leadership (LEED). From 2014-2022, Williams served as a senior consultant to the Friday Institute, with a focus on leadership for digital teaching and learning. 

During the ceremony, Paola Sztajn, the dean of NC State’s College of Education, and Warwick Arden, executive vice chancellor and provost of NC State University, gave welcoming remarks to congratulate this year’s Friday Medal recipient.

In addition to the medal, Glazewski presented Williams with a glass word cloud award representing the Top 20 words colleagues and friends used to describe Williams and his leadership.

Longtime friend Michael D. Priddy, education consultant at 21st Century Leadership, LLC, chair of the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill School of Education’s Board of Visitors and an active member of the UNC-Chapel Hill University Board of Visitors, gave a tribute to Williams during the ceremony highlighting the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose, based on David Brooks’ book The Second Mountain. Priddy described Williams’ four commitments: his wife, Lisa; a vocation in education; a community of North Carolinians and a philosophy of loving life.

“Tom loves life every day,” said Priddy during the ceremony. “He wakes up excited about his next challenge, as well as about pursuing his passion for supporting and encouraging his family members, his golfing buddies, his professional colleagues and the aspiring school leaders with whom he works. Tom’s relationships are genuine. They are deep. They are constant, and they crisscross the state. He believes that all people matter. Let me repeat: all people. That’s why he embraces The [Dudley] Flood Center at the Forum, the expansion of the School of Science and Math and the opportunities he is afforded to nurture our school leaders and our young scientists and engineers.”

Closing the ceremony, Williams accepted his award by thanking those in the room, the Friday family and those who had come before him in receiving the Friday Medal. He reflected on his career and his work with everyone in attendance and then addressed the work that is to come in public education.

“As educators immersed in complexity and the challenges of improving our pre-K system, I encourage us all to always keep in mind, especially with our children, that our business is a people development business, and we must begin by attending to creating the conditions for a safe, healthy and secure environment that will foster the conditions for effective teaching so learning and our students’ personal development can take root,” said Williams. “This is equally essential to us as school leaders in creating a climate and culture where the adults in our care sense the same level of respect and consideration.” 

Also during the ceremony, Glazewski announced this year’s Friday Institute graduate student fellow winners, Madeline (Maddie) Stallard, Hamid Sanei and Oscar Miranda-Tapia, who will receive $2,000 to support their dissertation research. Stallard is earning a Ph.D. in the Learning and Teaching in STEM science education concentration in the NC State College of Education; Sanei is earning a Ph.D. in the Learning and Teaching in STEM mathematics and statistics education concentration in the College of Education as well as a Ph.D minor in statistics in the NC State Department of Statistics; and Miranda Tapia is earning a Ph.D. in the Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development higher education opportunity, equity, and justice concentration in the College of Education.