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Introducing Oregon’s upcoming Education Director: A passionate advocate for social justice, encouraging teachers to acknowledge and embrace their privilege.

Charlene Williams’s appointment comes as Oregon students struggle

Tina Kotek / Getty Images

The woman who will soon be tasked with turning around Oregon’s poor student achievement levels is a longtime “social justice advocate” who has passionately advocated against a “colorblind” curriculum and encouraged teachers to acknowledge their “privilege,” according to a review by the Washington Free Beacon.

Oregon Democratic governor Tina Kotek appointed Charlene Williams as the state’s next education director on June 27, praising her as the perfect leader for the current state of the education system. Williams, a former deputy superintendent and self-described “social justice advocate,” has consistently promoted controversial “equity” policies inspired by influential critical race theorists.

Under Williams’s leadership, one district implemented an “equity” policy in 2018, which required teachers to confront their “privilege” and commit to dismantling oppressive practices and policies. Williams conducted teacher trainings to support this policy, including a semester-long discussion on Robin DiAngelo’s thought-provoking book White Fragility, which argues that white people are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview. A third-grade teacher who participated in Williams’s training stated that the district aimed to make students reflect on whiteness and its implications.

Williams’s appointment comes at a time when Oregon students are struggling to meet academic benchmarks. The state’s student achievement levels in basic knowledge and skills are significantly below national averages, as reported by the state. As the new education director, Williams will be responsible for improving these achievement levels and managing the funding of Oregon’s public school system. In June, Oregon Democrats allocated a record $10.2 billion to the state’s school fund, which is expected to reach $15.3 billion when local tax revenue is included.

“I recognize the significance of my appointment to this role and the immense amount of work we have ahead of us,” said Williams upon her appointment. She expressed her excitement to build partnerships with students, educators, and families across Oregon to advance equity.

During her tenure as assistant superintendent of the Portland-area Camas School District from 2016 to 2022, Williams introduced the district’s first-ever equity policy. However, many district parents criticized it as being overly “woke” during a school board meeting in May 2021. Some parents questioned if Williams was attempting to implement “the 1619 Project in disguise,” referring to a controversial work by New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones that challenges the narrative of American exceptionalism.

Williams’s equity policy promoted the use of race and sex-based affinity groups and emphasized the correction of historical mis- and dis-information, according to concerned parents. Kotek specifically commended Williams for establishing these affinity groups, which effectively segregate individuals based on immutable characteristics. In a similar case, a Massachusetts school district settled a lawsuit over its affinity groups, pledging to ensure that the groups are open to all students, regardless of race or sex.

As deputy superintendent at Washington-based Evergreen Public Schools, Williams played a significant role in developing a new strategic plan that incorporated equity in every aspect, as confirmed by the district’s superintendent. District leaders credited the plan, along with Williams’s efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, for enabling them to view things through a new “equity lens.”

During her time at the Camas School District, Williams delivered a TEDxYouth talk advocating for the inclusion of race in public schools and criticizing the concept of a “colorblind” curriculum, arguing that it blinds white people to injustice. Williams asserted that educators have an obligation to disrupt and repair the current school system through antiracist efforts, emphasizing that equitable outcomes cannot be achieved by treating everyone the same. “You are part of the problem, and you are part of the solution,” Williams declared.

Kotek’s office did not respond to a request for comment regarding Williams’s emphasis on social justice and its potential impact on her performance as education director. Williams will assume the role of interim director on July 10, and her confirmation vote will take place in September when the Oregon Senate convenes.

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