Villager Q & A: Datren L. Williams, Conroe ISD board member
Datren L. Williams, a member of the Conroe ISD Board of Trustees, started off as his career an intern at Enron one year before it imploded. Williams said after that experience, he came to work for Rig Runner as the chief financial officer. Williams said he started out as the director of corporate finance before working his way up the ladder to become vice president of corporate comptroller.
QUESTION: Why accounting and finance?
WILLIAMS: When I was in college, I didn’t have much direction into career path. Unfortunately for a lot of college students, that’s still the case as far as career paths. I didn’t do internships, I didn’t go sit with folks, do kind of a shadow section with anyone. But I was very good at numbers, very good at math in general. I wanted to figure a way to maximum return. So, accounting was a good choice, I think. It got me in involved in business, which I am very passionate about. With an accounting background, I have the flexibility to do anything in the business discipline.
QUESTION: Why The Woodlands?
WILLIAMS: While I was intern, I knew I wanted to be in that area, some way or another in the Houston area. When I got offered the full-time job there afterward (at Enron), it was between Pearland and The Woodlands. One of the folks that I had interned with, one of my colleagues said The Woodlands had a superior school district. I had aspirations of raising a family. My wife and I were engaged at the time. I drove up and I loved the area and I loved the woods. I grew up in an area that was very wooded down south in Mississippi. It seemed a little more homely and less like a big city.
QUESTION: What about The Woodlands makes you want to stay in The Woodlands?
The Woodlands is very family oriented. Of course the school district is the foundation of The Woodlands. I think a school district is the foundation of any community. People move to the area to me case and point why I moved to the area because of the school district. Phenomenal school district, very family oriented, tons of parks, tons of recreational-type things. It’s not very heavy on the political side of things. It has its share, but that comes with the territory. We got a very evolving and a lot of culture in The Woodlands. You got mosques coming up, you have everything, every religious belief, background whatever. They are very much so welcome there. That diversity is something that is attractive for us.
QUESTION: What was your home life like growing up in Mississippi?
WILLIAMS: I had a good home life. My mom is one of 10. So I was raised with my uncles. I have two brothers. One older, one almost the same age. Me and younger brother are pretty much right there together. A lot of love, a lot of passion as it relates to my mom and grandmother about raising kids down in the south and that whole close-knit. There was no such thing as baby sitters. You didn’t have to take care of yourself because you had plenty of people to take care of you.
QUESTION: Was going to school, going to college, being a good student something family pushed you to do?
WILLIAMS: My mom wanted to make sure all her kids went to college. To be honest with you, my generation-my best friend and I – my group, we had drive, we had passion, we had an understanding that we had to make it happen. We didn’t have a fall back plan, if you will. Our parents were not going to take care of us. We didn’t have any type of expectations that the parents were. There was no going back. We had to get out and get it. The drive was there. We had goals and ambition and our expectation was to do better than our parents from a financial perspective. You don’t see that as much with the kids now. It’s sad that this generation-maybe the generation coming up-doesn’t do as well as their parents from a career, education perspective. So there was always that expectation that I was going to exceed my parents from a career perspective, from a financial wealth perspective, exceed my parents from an education perspective.
QUESTION: What do you believe are your greatest accomplishments are as a trustee?
WILLIAMS: My greatest accomplishment has been able to work with the board and be in a cohesive group. The team dynamic is what my expectations are going into the board and working together for common goals. Making sure we are fiscally responsible with the taxpayers’ money and accountable to the district. But it’s not about me. It’s not necessarily like I came onto the board with some sort of agenda or some one thing that I wanted to accomplish. I thought the school district was doing a phenomenal job. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see a need for me to run for the school board.
QUESTION: Why did you run for a seat on the board?
WILLIAMS: Some people say they got a calling or they wanted to aspire to be involved. I had no aspirations of going into politics. I still have no aspirations of being involved in politics. I thought it would be a very arduous undertaking, so I shunned it as much as I possibly could. But Gerald Irons is one of my greatest mentors. He’s been living in The Woodlands community for I don’t know how many years. He served on the school board for 20 years and he was about to step down. Like I said, he was a mentor of mine and my wife and his wife, Myrna Irons. And as I’ve been on the school board, I try to keep a low key. A low profile. I try to get things done. But I don’t need all the attention, you know. I’m just genuinely looking out for the best interests of the school district and the kids. I want the quality of education the kids receive in The Woodlands High School to be the same as the quality of education the kids receive in Caney Creek. I truly believe education is a great equalizer. It got me to where I am. It pulled me out of where I was as far as financially and it put me on par with anyone else in The Woodlands or in the community. I believe the sky is the limit if these kids take advantage of this education and it’s building them up to their collegiate education if they choose to advance that.
QUESTION: This is a very diverse area, but the school board hasn’t always reflected that, right?
WILLIAMS: Gerald (Irons) has been the only black who has ever served on the school district. Very few minorities have ever served on the school district. I am the second black. Conroe is over 100 years old. The school district is over 100 years old. I believe I am the only black public official.
QUESTION: How does that make you feel?
WILLIAMS: It doesn’t make me feel any type of way. It’s something that the county and the people of the district can definitely put a little more, I don’t want to say put too much focus on, but not to put unqualified folks or put on folks just because. As a growing diverse, and what I consider an up and coming county, that’s definitely important that some of the elected officials start to look more so. Part of the reason is that the minority demographic feel that they don’t have a shot at even being elected in Montgomery County. That’s a challenge in and of itself.
QUESTION: Are you saying the minority population in the area is underrepresented. Is that accurate?
WILLIAMS: I think that would be a fair statement. The people you have are doing the best they can to represent those demographics. I am not discounting that. I am not saying they are not represented. I’m saying that with direct representation-of them actually being on the board. Some of the things you hear and see as a minority, folks can’t really appreciate the issue unless they are in those shoes. I’ve run across a couple of those things, but you know it’s very minor stuff. Once you bring it to people’s attention, people want to do the right thing and they quickly correct it.
We have our challenges.
QUESTION: Recently, there have been some racial tensions in the school district. As a black man, what are your thoughts on that specifically?
WILLIAMS: I can address that not as a black man, but I can address that as just a man. The frustrating part for me is not the kids. The kids get it from somewhere. It’s the parents. The kids don’t come into this world with any type of prejudice whatsoever. The younger they are the more easy it is for them to assimilate and for them to play with other kids. It’s once they get older and start absorbing some of those views and perspective from their parents that causes those tensions. Parents should be cautious and cognizant enough to make sure that we aren’t instilling some of those prejudices and biases into our kids. It would make things a hell of a lot better. The parents get it from their parents, so it becomes systemic. It’s an easy way to-I won’t say eradicate it-but curb it significantly. It can be cured. If you can be careful with what you instill in your kids relative to how you treat other races or in general, based on their religious beliefs, color or origin, sexual orientation or whatever, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t come into play. And as it relates to the school district, the school district is an extension of the community. It is the community. Once the kids walk into the door, we can’t get them to shed some of the prejudices and some of the things they bring from the house and the community into the district.
QUESTION: What can the school district do to help?
WILLIAMS: The school district can and what we are trying to do is partner with the parents and partner with our teachers, because our teachers are community members, as well. They bring their biases and their prejudices and they are human, just like any of us do to the school district. Our job is to make sure we are sensitive to the some of the cultures that are prevalent and are becoming more prevalent in our school district. I think it’s a lot of sensitivity training, a lot of awareness training and making sure we see these things and are sensitive to them. Often times we easily dismiss things that don’t necessarily directly affect us. We marginalize some of these things as people being overly sensitive or hyper sensitive to things. It’s easy to do that when you’re not on the receiving end of it.
QUESTION: After Hurricane Harvey, originally homeowners were not given the opportunity for a reappraisal. Why was that?
WILLIAMS: I thought it was premature, the information wasn’t there and we hadn’t been abreast of by the county. It was premature. It’s simply what it was. We needed more information before we made that decision. And then even after we made that decision – we could have made that decision in November and it still would have been premature. I saw the item as a political move and a self-serving move. I didn’t necessarily appreciate that. I didn’t think it had any place in the school district. It didn’t have a place on the school board. I still feel that way. That agenda item should have waited, which it did, until we got very well informed by the tax assessor, Tammy McRae. She came in and did a very good job of educating us on what we should do and how we should do it. You got a unanimous vote on that, so what was all the hubbub about? It was just silly.
QUESTION: Your term expires in 2020. What are your goals?
WILLIAMS: My goal is for the school district to continue to grow and as it grows, continue to service the school, the kids individually in the same manner that it does now. As we grow and get larger, you want to make sure that a certain quality that the kids are receiving is still intact. I don’t want that to get lost. We have a new high school going up right now. We have elementary schools going up left and right. I want to make sure we are tangibly, fiscally responsible with the taxpayers’ dollars but first and foremost that the academic excellence that we are getting, the kids are getting and their personal attention to their academic success-I want to make sure that that continues. There is always room for improvement. We can’t get lax and complacent and lose sight of that. I want to make sure that we are at every turn continuously trying to get better.
QUESTION: Are you going to run again?
WILLIAMS: I will run again. I don’t want to monopolize or occupy a seat any longer than I think I should. It’s like term limits. Term limits are essential to eradicate certain foolishness. I don’t want to be sitting in a seat just to be sitting in a seat. I want to be passionate about what I do. I foresee that I’m still passionate about being on the school board.