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Eight questions with… Dr. Ereka Williams, associate dean of education

Dr. Ereka Williams joined WSSU as the associate dean of the education department. Her goal is to restore WSSU's educator preparation program to its rightful place. 

Dr. Ereka Williams joined Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) as the associate dean of education on July 1. She is a former public-school teacher with more than 22 years of higher education experience. Most of Williams career has been focused on issues of educational equity and access for parents, teachers and learners of underserved communities. She is a nationally trained Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) accreditation leader. She serves as a coach with the National Institute of Learning Outcomes and Assessment, where she travels the country to help two- and four-year institutions with general education, assessment and accreditation. Williams is a consultant for the National Urban Alliance, mentoring and facilitating customized trainings for school districts around the country.

Williams had several goals when she stepped into her new leadership role. WSSU News caught up with her to discuss her mission, goals and personal experiences. Here are eight questions with Dr. Ereka Williams.

WSSU was the first black institution in the nation to grant degrees for teaching elementary grades, how do you plan to reestablish the university as a leading producer of quality educators?

In my first two weeks at WSSU, the tireless commitment of the faculty and staff of the Department of Education has become crystal clear. Their selfless commitment to the discipline and the candidates is obvious. I plan to bridge the experience, loyalty and commitment of our faculty and staff with the regional and national tools/resources readily available to us. We will restore our visibility regionally and nationally, secure partnerships that funnel majors and candidates as well as resources to our initial and advanced programs. We will tighten our processes, protocols and curriculum in ways that restore and sustain our education programs as the competitive, viable, and highly desirable programs they were intended to be. With the incredible leadership and vision of Dean Scriven, the support of the local and regional communities and unmatched energy of our alumni base--- educator preparation at WSSU will be reclaimed and restored to its rightful place. Regional, national, global presence and prestige is our storied, well-chronicled history and our present-day promise. 

What’s your philosophy on education?

An education is a curated, soulful experience that brings out the best in those who are invited into the process.  Education is an action word that involves spirit, care, passion, competence and confidence. When we integrate these elements, we facilitate an experience that challenges, supports, responds to and yields an outcome that is beyond our wildest dreams. In terms of mantras, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and yours” resonates with me. If we approached our students, our curriculum, our teaching, our profession the way we want to be approached, invited to or considered as learners in the process, we would all show up to our experience as educators with the best of intentions and most diligent efforts toward excellence.

Your prior experience includes establishing a Teacher Residency model. Can you tell us a little more about what that is?

Conceptually, Teacher Residency came about decades ago and is modeled after the medical residency model. The idea is that we prepare the next generation of leaders for the classroom through an intentional, evidence-based blend of coursework and mentored experience alongside vested, experienced, effective master teachers. Teacher residents, just as medical residents, learn through practice under the guidance of master, experienced teachers. The North Carolina State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted an abridged version of teacher residency from the national landscape which became law in July of 2019. That law replaced the former lateral entry teacher program. One of the strengths of our new approach to addressing critical shortages in the state’s classrooms over the former program (Lateral Entry) is that educational preparation programs (EPP) like WSSU’s Education Preparation unit now have direct leadership and management of the training these residents receive as they step into the classrooms without backgrounds in teaching. EPPs like ours now get to create, build, scaffold programs of study/experience that position this next generation of classroom leaders to launch more successfully. The prior program left the new, uninitiated teacher to his/her own devices to find isolated courses and piecemeal a teacher training experience that was disjointed, incohesive and often insignificant. We are excited to prepare and launch our residency efforts in the months ahead responsibly using what we know how to do best each and every day. Our efforts began on day two of my arrival and we are preparing to put a draft document before the University’s Professional Education Committee in the weeks ahead. We are excited about joining our colleagues around the state in this endeavor.  

WSSU’s goal is to provide a transformative education to its students and give them the life skills necessary to success. How does educating future educators fit into this goal?

An experience with a transformative educator leaves you different than you were before.  Those who are fortunate, have that one teacher or coach that changed it for them. That teacher, coach, mentor found, saw or exposed something in us that we did not know was there or that we never knew anyone else noticed. Preparing the next generation of teachers for tomorrow’s classrooms means preparing people to facilitate that experience for our descendants, the people you and I care and love deeply.  

Our majors should not leave us the way they came to us.  They should leave forever changed, forever different in a way that allows them to go on and make that difference in the lives of children and families for years to come.  I can think of nothing more transformative than creating a spark in an eight year old boy in rural North Carolina who did not believe he was good in math or the 15 year old girl in Charlotte who never thought she had worthy editorial skills until a teacher volunteered her to lead the school newspaper. Transformative teachers do this day in and day out in the most effective classrooms across this state and country.  As a parent, I depend on teachers to round out the work we do at home and to believe in my child’s sung and unsung potential as much as we do. What other way could we possibly define success?

Why should achieving educational equity be on everyone’s agenda?

The year 2020 has laid bare the systemic inequities that plague our country and our world. People of color have and do sustain the greatest atrocities in every way that matters: medically, socially, economically, politically. Education is at the top of the list. The only way to fulfill the promise of a democracy is through the equitable education of its citizens. Our country will never fulfill or achieve its mandate for democracy without an equitably educated citizenry.  

‘First do no harm’ is theoretically embedded in the former Hippocratic Oath that medical doctors pledged before entering the field to practice medicine. It rested on the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence. Those who teach other people’s children will either do it through the lens of equity or inequity. They will do so in ways that are beneficent without maleficence or they will do so in ways that cause in some cases irreparable harm. The P-12 classroom is the first institution our children engage in daily. If beneficence and nonmaleficence does not occur within those walls or on those screens, then where will it occur?  So, either we fully commit to equity in the classroom or we decide that democracy is not our goal or our agenda in America. 

If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

I have no idea what it would be, but I want it to be performed exclusively in Wakanda

Can you describe yourself in five words?

Catalyst, Observer, Flexible, Thinker, Comedian

What are your goals over the next few weeks?

To build internal/external relationships with WSSU stakeholders

To continue reviewing last five years of federal, state, local reports relative to our unit

To work with my unit to plan, create and re-create our vision, plans, and benchmarks for transformation

To unpack our house (Did you say next few weeks or months?)

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