After 38 years of serving the students of Haywood County Schools, Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte is retiring.
Nolte was hired as superintendent in 2018, going on to lead Haywood County Schools from 10th place among North Carolina school systems to seventh out of 115 districts.
During his nearly four-decades-long career with Haywood County Schools, Nolte has held various positions within the school system.
In 1984, Nolte came to Haywood County Schools as the public health education coordinator as the state was focusing on increasing health education in public schools.
Nolte worked nine years in the school system teaching about public health issues like AIDS and drug abuse prevention. Then superintendent Dr. Karen Campbell approached Nolte and recommended that he look into becoming a principal.
Nolte left central office for an assistant principal position at Pisgah High School, followed by principal positions at Bethel Elementary School and Waynesville Middle School.
“Those were very rewarding years for me,” Nolte said with a smile. “You can learn a lot if you just kneel down beside a student and ask them what they’re working on.”
When Nolte went to Bethel as principal, the school was sitting a little below average for the state with a performance composite score of 75. In just seven years under Nolte’s leadership, the school climbed to a score of 91.
Nolte’s legacy at Bethel has lasted. The school is still among one of the top-performing elementary schools in the county.
Nolte jumped back to central office as associate superintendent in 2005. Over the next 13 years, Nolte collaborated with the district’s leadership team to move Haywood County Schools from 40th in the state to 11th.
Nolte was hired as the district’s superintendent in July 2018.
During the past five years as superintendent, Nolte has faced several noteworthy challenges. The Covid pandemic and shutdown is the most obvious.
“Any superintendent in the country could talk about Covid, but what our people in the county did was simply amazing,” Nolte said. “When Covid hit, we stayed connected, delivered food on buses across the county, and made sure our students had the materials they needed.”
On a Saturday in March of 2020, Haywood County Schools made the announcement that in-person learning was being suspended. In just three school days, the district had shifted to remote learning.
“During Covid, our people did as much they could by giving our pre-k students summer opportunities, lobbying with state officials over spectators at outdoor sports events, wearing masks when we needed and taking them off when it was safe,” Nolte explained. “We never stopped; we as in the hundreds of employees, thousands of students, thousands of community members never went home and threw in the towel.
While dealing with the Covid shutdown, Haywood County Schools also grappled with a ransomware attack.
“We were already in remote learning when the ransomware attack happened,” Nolte said. “We only lost one week of instruction, and we didn’t lost data or pay the ransom.”
Over the past few years, the community has also lost some students and a teacher who passed away on campus. Last year, a devastating flood also hit the county.
“Through all of those challenges, our people responded better than anyone could have expected them to respond,” Nolte said. “Our staff worked hard through each situation and didn’t wait for things to get easier.”
Despite the challenges, Nolte has continued to push Haywood County Schools and improve schools’ and students’ performance.
Nolte credits the district’s leap from 10th to seventh in the state with implementing in-person learning before many of the state’s other school districts during the Covid shutdown. He noted that 25 N.C. districts did not go to in-person learning for an entire school year.
During Covid, Nolte and his administration team encouraged staff to teach the most important standards that students would need to know for the next grade level.
“We decided that the education of our children is too important to do in a mediocre way,” Nolte explained. “I believe that our students will have an advantage for a long time over folks who did not go to school in person, and some may have an advantage for the rest of their lives.”
Nolte said some of his greatest memories are the days he found out Haywood County Schools moved from 40th to 11th in the state and again recently when the district moved to seventh.
Aside from that, he admits he has several great memories from each school year, most involving individual students.
“There have been lots of students that I’ve seen their light come on in the middle of third grade and learning all of a sudden became easy for them,” Nolte said. “Another great memory was when I was principal at Waynesville Middle School and our Odyssey of the Mind team won fourth place in the nation.”
After his retirement on November 1, Nolte will trade in walking the halls of schools to walking the woods in search of new hunting spots.
Nolte plans to spend some time on his family’s farm in Tennessee, travel with his wife, catch up on yardwork and house projects, and make time to hunt with friends.
“Dr. Nolte’s commitment to the students and staff of Haywood County Schools is to be commended,” Dr. Trevor Putnam, Haywood County Schools’ next superintendent, said. “He has dedicated his life to serving our great students, and we want to wish him all the best in retirement.”
The community is invited to celebrate Dr. Nolte’s career at a retirement celebration on Thursday, October 20 from 4:00-6:00p.m. at Haywood County Schools’ Central Office located at 1233 N. Main Street in Waynesville.