First-year Attleboro High School principal Bill Runey didn't have to make much of a physical move to begin his new job. As the former principal at Bishop Feehan High School, his new office is only a few minutes away by car. However, this is a major change for man who spent 24 years in private education—18 years at Bishop England High School in South Carolina and six years at Feehan.
It is a change, but to something Runey has wanted since he was a young boy. Growing up in South Carolina, he observed his father teaching and coaching at a community high school, and Runey determined he wanted to follow in his footsteps. Although his father died when Runey was just 14, those memories stayed with him and became part of his dream for what he wanted to do.
Runey sat down with Attleboro Patch in August as he was preparing for the first day at his new school.
Attleboro Patch: What are some of the changes you face entering public education at Attleboro High School?
Bill Runey: One of the things I'm most excited about is being able to be a part the career and technical education program. The CTE labs feature what today's high school students wants to have exposure to because before they make the decision on where they want to go to college, they need to have a sense of what they want to do with their lives.
The other thing that has been very rewarding for me has been the special education population. We have a certain population of students that are here almost year-round, and being able to connect with those students and their teachers has been very rewarding for me.
Patch: Unlike at a private school, with a public school, you are dealing with a teachers union. How does this affect your relationship with the teachers?
BR: My relationship with the teachers is all about communication. Obviously, there are protocols I'll have to follow based on the agreement, and I'm sure there will be a part of that that I'll have to learn. I have a high level of confidence that it will be a good working relationship.
Patch: Why did you take this job?
BR: I made the decision when I was about 12 or 13 years old that I wanted to be a teacher and a coach. That's because of my father, who had been a teacher and a coach at a community high school in North Charleston, South Carolina. So I grew up coming to school with him during the summers and after school. I would get picked up at my elementary school and get brought to his high school, and would stay there long hours for basketball games, football games and things like that. As much as I valued my time in private education, I knew that at some point, I wanted to truly follow in my father's footsteps and be a part of a community school.
I don't think there was any better fit than Attleboro High because I have lived in this city for six years, I've coached in the MetroWest league, I've coached in the AYBA league. I've gotten to know a lot of these families through my children and the coaching connection. When this opportunity presented itself, it was a great fit for me.
Patch: Is your dad still alive?
BR: No, he actually passed away when I was 14. He was very sick at a young age, had a heart virus, and back then in the late '70s, medical technology wasn't anywhere near what it is today. He actually got really sick and had to take half a year off to recuperate. He could have very easily just gone out on disability, but he wanted to get back to coaching and teaching so much that he came back even though he had a speech impediment due to suffering a stroke from when his heart failed. That right there was a signal to me that education was in our blood.
Patch: How did that shape you in your later teens growing up without a father?
BR: It made me appreciate my mother a lot more because she worked two jobs to be able to keep us going. It taught me a lot about responsibility. It taught me a lot about the fact that even at a young age, you can be faced with obstacles and adversity, and you can overcome them.
Patch: When people ask you what your philosophy on education is, what do you say?
BR: I think that on the high school level, our responsibility is to help mold people that will be contributing members of society because at this level, they truly are our future as a community of Attleboro, as the state of Massachusetts and as a nation. So, the academic work is very important, but there also is a personal responsibility piece to it that I think is very important as well.
Something that I will be rolling out is called Pride Through Personal Responsibility is Developed Every Day. What I want to sell to the kids and to the teachers is that you make eye contact with people and that this is your school—when you're walking down the hallway and you see a piece of trash, it doesn’t matter if it's your trash or not, pick it up. And that all comes to personal responsibility.
Patch: What sports have you coached?
BR: I was the JV basketball coach for nine years and the head basketball coach for nine years, so 18 years of basketball. I also was either an offensive or defensive coordinator for varsity football for 12 years. Now, I'm still coaching youth leagues. I think that's an important part because one of my goals is for every child that comes through our elementary schools and our middle schools to want to come to our high school. And if I'm out and visible, they say, "The principal is not such a bad guy. He's a real person and he's a dad." Maybe that will be one more connection for them to want to come to Attleboro High School.
Patch: How has it been adapting to the Boston/Providence area?
BR: I appreciate the fact that the weather up here by and large is better. I have become accustomed to the winters. Getting adjusted to a winter is much easier than dealing with the heat and humidity that you have in South Carolina pretty much from April 1 to mid-October or longer. I can't tell you the number of times I've worn short sleeves on Thanksgiving and Christmas. That's been a big change.
People ask me a lot of times about Southern hospitality. I think Southern hospitality is overrated. I think there are nice people everywhere. I think there are jerks everywhere. You're going to have people cut you off in traffic in Providence, you're going to have people cut you off in Charleston. I don't see a big difference with that.
Patch: Are you rooting for the New England sports teams?
BR: Oh yeah. I've always been a Celtics fan from when I was a kid. I grew up as a Dolphins fan and a Cincinnati Reds fan. That's because at the time I emulated an older cousin who liked those teams, there was the Big Red Machine and the Dolphins had been undefeated in '72. But when I moved up here and the Reds weren't good anymore and the Dolphins weren't good anymore, it was easy for me to latch onto Patriots and Red Sox in addition to the Celtics.
Patch: In addition to being a principal, you are going to be part of the fundraising team for the redevelopment of Attleboro High's sports facility. How do you feel about taking on that task?
BR: It's something that I certainly relish because it's something that's long overdue and the community is hungering for it. They're chomping at the bit to help. I'm not saying that it won't be a challenge, but it will be something that will be a labor of love. There are going to be so many people—whether their connection is through high school sports teams, the cheerleaders, the band, the White Hawks, Attleboro Pop Warner—who have a connection to the facility and want that project done.
The other beauty of it is we're going to make sure we have all of our constituencies understand it's a training facility as well. For example, the volleyball team can't use it as a playing facility, but they certainly can train on a much better track. They can go out and they can run on that turf. The other thing is I hope that we'll be able to have Special Olympics come back here. North Attleborough has been very generous to host that, but we'd like to have it back here at some point.