Dr. Williams brings 30 years of experience to the post, will be first Black woman to lead the state’s education agency
Salem , OR—Today, Governor Tina Kotek, as Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced she has appointed Dr. Charlene Williams to serve as the next Director of the Oregon Department of Education and Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Williams brings 30 years of experience as a teacher and public school administrator, working in school districts of all sizes. She is the first Black woman in Oregon history to be appointed to the role and will officially take over as interim director on Monday, July 10. The Oregon Senate will take up her confirmation as permanent director in September.
“Dr. Williams is an exceptional leader and educator, and I believe will be a transformative, inclusive education director for all of Oregon,” Governor Kotek said. “My vision is to make sure every child is successful and has a safe place to receive a high-quality public education. We have work to do to build toward that vision. I’m thrilled to work with someone who is highly skilled in developing and implementing programs designed at closing education gaps. Dr. Williams is strategic, thoughtful, hard-working, and exactly the leader our state education system needs at this moment.”
“I have dedicated my life to education because I’ve seen firsthand how a positive student-teacher relationship can set a child on a successful path for the rest of their life,” Dr. Williams said. “First and foremost, my goal will be to support students in every corner of the state so that they have the same chance to succeed. I recognize the significance of my appointment to this role and the immense amount of work we have ahead of us. I’m looking forward to building partnerships with students, educators and families across Oregon that advance equity and student success.”
Williams has deep ties to the Pacific Northwest. She spent the past seven years as an administrator in Southwest Washington public school districts, most recently as deputy superintendent at Evergreen Public Schools, where she has been supervising district leaders, leading the development of the district’s five-year strategic plan and launching a superintendent advisory committee.
Williams previously served as an assistant superintendent in the Camas School District from 2016 to 2022. She supervised principals, designed professional development opportunities, and facilitated district level meetings and trainings to better align district services and support to schools. This included facilitating the adoption of the district’s first equity policy, establishing affinity groups for staff and students, and the creation of community forums for Camas residents to discuss equity issues. She was a recipient of the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) Award for promoting access, equity, and social justice for students.
Williams previously worked for seven years at Portland Public Schools, the largest public school district in Oregon. Her last role at the district was as the Senior Director of School Performance, where she helped redesign the teacher evaluation system in collaboration with the Portland Association of Teachers. She also worked with Peter Senge and the Waters Foundation to provide professional learning and resources for educators and leaders to implement systems thinking tools in their work.
She took on this role after serving as principal at Roosevelt High School in North Portland. While there she facilitated a collaborative grant writing process, resulting in a $7.7 million investment to transform the school, and led a focused effort to accelerate graduation rates and close the graduation gap for students of color, resulting in a promotion to campus principal. With her leadership, Roosevelt went on to significantly improve graduation rates and student performance. Williams led a collaborative team of teachers and administrators focused on closing the achievement gap across all academic areas for lower socioeconomic students and students of color through methods of acceleration. She earned multiple state and national awards for improving student achievement.
Williams arrived in Oregon in 1999 to become a math instructor, program coordinator and curriculum developer at Portland Community College. From 2002 to 2009, she served as the Director of Education and later principal at Rosemary Anderson High School, an alternative school that is part of the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC).
“I am confident that Dr. Williams will continue ODE’s commitment to serving each and every student in Oregon’s 197 diverse school districts and striving toward equitable access to education for all our children,” Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said. “Throughout the process I learned that Dr. Williams is a collaborator, she believes every student matters, and that she is deeply committed to serving all of Oregon’s kids. She is the right leader for Oregon schools at this time.”
"This is a historical appointment that is going to make a positive difference for students and teachers across Oregon,” said Joyce Harris, a longtime educator, former director of the Region X Equity Assistance Center and former director of the equity center at Education Northwest. “Dr. Williams has a special ability to connect with people. She is inspirational, approachable, and honest. During her time in Oregon, she was very effective at transforming a school's culture through collaboration and engagement. She will be a powerful advocate for all of our schools and communities."
"Dr. Williams is someone I know I can call and count on when I have a problem,” said Shay James, superintendent of the North Clackamas School District. “I've seen her unwavering commitment to each student and each community she serves. She always leans in and listens, showing the ability to lead and be a team player. Her brilliance lies in her work supporting educators’ professional development, bringing out the strengths in folks that ultimately moves our educational work forward. She understands the landscape of Oregon and will work to bring us together."
Prior to selecting Williams as the next ODE director, Governor Kotek’s education team led a national search that included candidate interviews with representatives from Student Success Advisories and educators across the state, the ODE executive team, Tribal Education Directors from Oregon sovereign nations, and the Governor’s executive team, prior to a final interview with Governor Kotek.