MNPS Remembers Trailblazer David Williams II

David Williams II, 71, former vice chancellor and athletics director at Vanderbilt University, unexpectedly passed away Feb. 8, 2019.

David Williams II, an advocate for public education and long-time supporter of Metro Nashville Public Schools, died unexpectedly Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 of an apparent heart attack. Williams, who had served as a middle school teacher and coach in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan for 10 years before pursuing a legal career, never hesitated to share his views on public education and its importance to the city of Nashville.


“I believe in my soul there is no issue more important to a community’s success than public education,” Williams once said. “I saw what happened in Detroit and Columbus when the public lost faith and confidence in its public schools. It had a devastating effect on those cities. I want to do whatever it takes to ensure Nashville never falls victim to that.”

Williams was among a team of nearly 50 individuals assembled as part of a Transition Team at the beginning of MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph’s tenure. The team was charged with gathering information and crafting recommendations on areas the district should focus on for improvement and to expand opportunities for students served by the system. Williams led the group as one of the Transition Team co-chairs. Under William’s leadership, a total of 121 recommendations came out of the Transition Team’s research and deliberations focused on four critical areas: Student Achievement; School Choice; Communications and Community Engagement; and Human Resources and Talent Management. Of the 121 recommendations, to-date, MNPS has successfully met 91 of them.

In June 2018, Williams shared his excitement over the progress made in a short period of time. “The Transition Team conducted some very extensive research and made more than 100 recommendations designed to move the work of the system forward and to ensure continuous achievement,” he said. “By all accounts, Dr. Joseph and his team have tackled these recommendations with a sense of urgency. I am encouraged by the positive work that has taken place so far and I commend the Board of Education on establishing a comprehensive evaluation process that clearly communicates our city’s expectations for excellence in the school system.”

In addition to his work with the MNPS Transition Team, Williams has a long list of achievements as the being the first African-American to serve as athletics director in the Southeastern Conference and the first vice chancellor in Vanderbilt University’s history. He has further supported public schools by helping to raise funds and elevate the district’s profile as chairman of the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the United Way of Middle Tennessee, both key MNPS partners in providing services and supports to MNPS students and families. A huge proponent of equity and excellence in public schools, Williams was a noted researcher and activist around social justice issues. Additionally, he focused on empowering teachers, engaging students, and broadening an understanding of law and civics in K-12 education through his work on the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Education. He earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Detroit Law School in 1982 and a master’s (taxation) from New York University Law School in 1984.

“David was a mentor and a friend who I will miss tremendously,” said Dr. Shawn Joseph, MNPS director of schools. “When the going got tough – and it often still does – he was among the many compassionate and sincere Nashvillians who never hesitated to call with an encouraging word and to remind me to stay focused on what drives me daily – ensuring every single student in every corner of this county receive a great public education, every day.

“I extend condolences to his wife, Gail, his children, and the entire family. Nashville has lost a true champion of public education – but thanks to his enormous leadership – we have not lost sight of his vision for it.”