OLN Spring Leadership Institute Focuses on Civil Rights


April 18, 2014


Winston Cornwall, Civil Rights Specialist for Oregon Department of Education

The Civil Rights Movement, past and present, loomed large at the spring Oregon Leadership Network (OLN) Spring Leadership Institute where more than 250 education leaders from across the state participated in plenary and breakout sessions focused on bringing equity to Oregon’s classrooms. The event took place on April 15 in Salem.

Winston Cornwall, Oregon Department of Education civil rights education specialist, took a personal approach to his opening keynote with stories of discrimination complaints in Oregon schools and his own experiences as an African American man in the state. He noted that outright exclusion of students based on race and other factors is one thing, but when students experience unintentional discrimination it’s more subtle and just as damaging.

Later in the talk, he said that disproportionate discipline in Oregon schools is a civil rights problem that affects, in particular, Native American, Alaska Native, and economically disadvantaged students, and that Oregon schools disproportionately identify special education students based on race. He said that when a civil rights violation takes place, the remedy involves more than making the victim whole and right. “You have to tell the individual, ‘I’m sorry,’” he said.

Joyce Harris, director of the Region X Equity Assistance Center (operated by Education Northwest), took the podium after lunch and gave the audience a pep talk. She told her own story: how, as a child, she had never seen her grandmother cry until news spread of the racially motivated murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and how her grandmother instilled in her the value of education. “I believe education is the best way to continue the work of those who fought for equality through the history of our nation,” she said.

In challenging educators in the audience to think of themselves as civil rights warriors, she said that teachers always need to have their antennas up so that children are not placed in a position where they are treated unfairly. She also described segregation reaching the classroom level even today, saying that “students in the same classroom are having very different experiences.”

The conference kicked off with opening remarks from Rob Saxton, deputy superintendent of the Oregon Department of Education, and OLN Director Rob Larson. Breakout sessions featured a broad range of topics related to equity, from culturally responsive teaching practice to disproportionate discipline to working toward implementation of equity goals.

You can find a range of Civil Rights Act educator resources on the OLN website.

Administered by Education Northwest, the twice-yearly OLN institutes provide an opportunity for teams of Oregon educators to engage in powerful professional development and networking. Last week’s event engaged members from 16 Oregon school districts, state education agencies, education service districts, higher education institutions, and professional education associations. These organizations are committed to equity and to achieving success for every Oregon student.