Dr. Felton Williams: Education Champion of the Cause
If Long Beach educator Dr. Felton Williams had his way, the outpouring of accolades for his successful program development within the city unified school district would be a low key event without much fanfare.
His traditionalist quiet side doesn’t surprise Uduak-Joe Ntuk, a local engineer and youth mentor.
He said that while Dr Williams holds important standing in the educational community, he often works behind the scenes. As only the second ever African American board member in the history of the city school district, he commended Williams for developing important programming, especially for Black students.
“The work speaks for itself. He’s a different generation of leader,” Ntuk said.
Over the years, Dr. Williams has elevated the Concerned African American Parents group district-wide through workshops, information outreach to address the achievement gap with parent support, homework, and access to parenting classes. He has also pushed access for Advanced Placement classes for Black and Brown students.
In past years, Ntuk said students were required to be in magnet programs to qualify for AP courses, which was previously open only to PACE students.
Dr. Williams expanded that process.
“Now, more African American and Latino students have access to AP classes. They have a better chance to go to college, and increased academic exposure in high school,” Ntuk said.
Dr. Williams, who has served on the Long Beach Board of Education for over 13 years, has championed the lead on President Obama’s Boys to Men of Color Initiative through a number of citywide events for both the male and female academies. Students can access support systems, work in smaller groups, coaching on etiquette and receive job training preparation.
Since elected in 2004, Dr. Williams said that the low AP course participation rate for Black students, and all students of color, bothered him. Advanced Placement classes became a top priority, giving many more kids a chance for educational choices that they may not have been able to access otherwise.
“When I looked at the numbers district-wide, we were looking at 500 kids of color in AP. Now we’ve got over 3,000 today,” said Dr. Williams, who has also served as president and vice president overseeing the Board for the 74,000 student school system.
He feels there are many reasons why Black and Brown students get left behind.
Looking at the big picture, sometimes kids will “self-select” out of AP because they think the study is too difficult, he said. Or, they don’t want to bring their GPA down, fearing that the work is too challenging.
They must be nudged in the right direction.
“You have to bring the kids in and make sure the infrastructure is there to deal with it. We put things in place, devised a program, setup orientations for kids and parents, and a way to support them,” Dr. Williams said.
He attributes program success to working directly with the schools, volunteers, and making sure the connections to the students were tight. It helped move the process along.
“A lot of good people gave up their time for that,” he said. “It took three years worth of work, meeting every month, sometimes more than every month.”
Dr. Williams, also a former dean at Long Beach City College, holds his Master’s degree in business administration at CSULB, and a Ph.D. in higher education at Claremont Graduate University.
Establishing board member goals was another big part of the process, he said. Out of that effort, they were able to establish a methodology to look at everything from math to reading, and determine the measurements needed to bring the kids up to a new level.
“Getting the district to a place where it was able to strategically plan its goals, and how to move from one point to another — to me that was major,” he said.
Dr. Williams, immediate past chair of the Council of the Great City Schools’ Board of Directors, is locally and nationally recognized for his impact in areas of urban public education.
“His passion for equity and excellence has had a profound effect on how all of us serve our urban students. There could be no one more deserving,” said the Council Executive Director Michael Casserly.
In the winning, Dr. Williams also took home the 2017 Green-Garner Award of the $10,000 college scholarship to present to a student.
LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser applauded Dr. Williams’ many contributions.
“We can’t thank you enough for everything that you’ve done for our young people. From the day you stepped on as a board member you’ve been a huge advocate for equity and access for all of our kids, and because of your efforts to lead our initiatives, our district is recognized as one of the best in the nation,” he said.