Our story begins with a dog walk.

 

Hi, I'm Craig Williams, and I didn't know it at the time, but a simple dog walk with my then 13-year-old son in the fall of 2013 would change my life. My family had settled in our corner of Southern Illinois in the spring of 1975 after we'd moved from North Iowa where my father had retired from his corporate gig. I attended middle school and high school in Southern Illinois before settling into a self-employed life of my own. I'd co-founded a screenprinting company a few towns south of ours and, later, a community magazine publishing firm in my hometown. Along the way, I'd become involved in lots of community volunteerism and what-not, as many are prone to do in communities like ours, and I served two terms on the local high school board before my son had even entered Kindergarten. I learned a lot about the challenges faced by rural schools like ours. It was hard to fund some of the programs and initiatives so many suburban schools just took for granted. But we made a good effort despite our financial limitations.  But at some point, something has to give. That point happened to coincide with the year my son entered 8th grade. That was the year our high school defunded its AP programming, its Fine Arts programming, and its Ag programming.  We'd just built a brand new school, with help from the State of Illinois, but local funds from the property tax formula simply weren't sufficient to offer some of these programs that my so was eagerly looking forward to. And so he asked me on that dog walk if we could consider, somehow, getting him into a different high school that did have those resources.

Funding was always tight for our local public high school, but