ALBANY -- Valerie Williams is hands-on. As the assistant superintendent for human resources in the Dublin Unified School District for the past three years she always tried to spend as much time on campuses as possible.

Williams will be bringing that hands-on approach to the Albany Unified School District as its choice for superintendent to replace Marla Stephenson, who is retiring on July 1 after 15 years with the district, the last six as superintendent.

"My goal is to work with an elite board and a good staff," Williams said. "Find all of the things that work well in Albany and continue to move forward to make kids successful."

The AUSD board voted April 11 to hire Williams.

Williams, 54, was born in Hawaii and graduated from Kailua High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in speech and communications and teaching credential from the University of Hawaii.

"I always knew I wanted to work with kids," Williams said. "My first volunteer job was working with special needs kids."

Williams taught English at a middle school in Hawaii for one year before moving to California. She worked for one year at Valley Christian High School-San Jose and then spent 11 years in the Eastside Union High School District in San Jose. She spent three years as an assistant principal at Independence High School-San Jose, then became the principal at Wood Middle School in Alameda.

Williams said school and district administration wasn't her original career plan. Cathy Giammona, her principal in the Eastside district, and now an associate superintendent there, had other ideas.

"When I first started teaching, I was going to be a career teacher," Williams said. "My principal tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'You're a teacher-leader. (She) started taking me under her wing and started grooming me to be an administrative leader."

Williams then moved to Fremont as director of student services and then director of certificated personnel. There, she worked under Superintendent Doug Gephart, whom she cited as another mentor.

"Doug has been one of my biggest champions," Williams said

Williams moved on to Dublin, where she has worked the past three years.

Having lived in the Bay Area for nearly 30 years, Williams knows a little bit about the Albany district.

"What I know coming in is Albany is a high-performing district," she said. "This is a very caring community. I think this is a unique and wonderful district. Yes, their children are high-achieving but there's still a bit of an achievement gap."

Williams added, "Albany's a nice district, a lot of support, it's a close-knit community. All of the community is very supportive. There are a lot of people in the Albany community who are part of the UC Berkeley community."

Williams said she doesn't believe Albany became a high-performing district by chance or because it's fortunate enough to have great students. She said it happened because of the staff and community.

Asked if she was recruited here or if she applied, Williams said, "I did not apply for any other position. I applied for Albany. Because that's the district I wanted to be a part of.

"Everybody hears about Berkeley. Everybody hears about San Ramon. The more I researched it, the more I said, 'This is what my 29 years of learning has prepared me for. I really believe that this is the one district I have been waiting for."