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When Carlisha Williams Bradley welcomed the new year, she wasn’t expecting to be removed from the Oklahoma state school board. But she wasn’t completely surprised, either.
“If [Gov. Stitt] had the opportunity to appoint new board members, I was not surprised that I was being replaced,” Bradley told The Black Wall Street Times in an exclusive interview in which she detailed her concerns and hopes for the future.
Bradley is an active advocate for public education and a vocal opponent of state leaders’ attempts to silence lessons on race in the classroom. She was notified of her removal from the Oklahoma State Board of Education via a phone call from the Governor’s office on Monday before the Tuesday announcement was made public.
“We are very grateful for her service to the state,” Communications Director and Senior Advisor to the Governor Carly Atchison told The Black Wall Street Times via email.
A day after being sworn in for a second term as Governor of Oklahoma, Republican Kevin Stitt made a major switch-up on the entity that oversees Oklahoma’s public schools. Telling news outlets “it’s a new day,” Stitt replaced several board members with corporate executives who have little to no experience in public education.
“She will be a wonderful representative for all of Oklahoma while serving on the board,” Gov. Stitt said in 2019 when he first appointed Bradley to the board.
No Black member on state school board
Carlisha Williams Bradley, a former Impact Tulsa executive director and founder of Women Empowering Nations, has years of experience as an educator and superintendent. Yet she was ultimately replaced with oil company executive Donald Burdick, a CEO of Olifant Energy II.
Gov. Stitt claims two of the former board members resigned on their own. Meanwhile, several of the new board members donated significantly to the campaigns of both Stitt and State Superintendent Ryan Walters, according to a FOX25 analysis.
Bradley’s departure means no Black person, male or female, serves on the board. Currently, no visible persons of color remain on the board even though 55% of Oklahoma public school students are non-white, according to the latest data from the state’s Department of Education.
“It’s truly as simple as it’s a new term for the administration and we want fresh sets of eyes on education in Oklahoma to break us out of the bottom and into Top Ten,” Atchison said.
In a display of grace after her removal, Williams Bradley echoed that sentiment, saying she understands a transition in leadership often means a transition in the makeup of state boards.
“It was such an honor to serve in that seat,” Bradley told The Black Wall Street Times.
Yet Bradley didn’t shy away from expressing her concern with the direction state leaders have taken when it comes to their priorities for public education.
“We were looking for a solution but there was truly no problem to be solved by the legislation that was passed,” Bradley said of the anti-CRT law that has created an atmosphere of fear among Oklahoma teachers.
State leaders attack “far-left” teachers
Even after winning the election to become Superintendent of Oklahoma’s entire public school system, Ryan Walters continues his campaign of contempt for what he considers to be “left-wing indoctrination.”
He’s engaged in a witch hunt against any teachers or school districts that discuss systemic racism after lawmakers passed HB 1775, which bans mandatory diversity training and bans teaching that one race is superior to another or that a student bears responsibility for past events due to their race.
As a result, multiple school districts, including Tulsa Public Schools, have faced penalties for their teacher training material and lesson plans that even whisper the terms “implicit bias” or “systemic racism.”
Most recently, Superintendent Walters announced his intentions to investigate two current or former public school teachers, threatening to revoke their teaching licenses, which requires a vote by the State Board of Education that he now chairs.
“I, as the State Superintendent and the Department of Education, will do everything within our power to not allow our kids to be indoctrinated by far-left radicals and to hold those accountable who have done so,” Walters said in a video posted to Twitter from his car.
Meanwhile, state leaders have spent far less attention calling out Oklahoma’s abysmal education standing among other states. Oklahoma ranks 49th in education, according to a 2021 EdWeek report.
Instead, Republican state leaders have focused on dividing residents for political gain, privatizing public education and attacking teachers who don’t share their far-right ideology.
Yet the Governor’s office doesn’t see it that way.
“Every parent in our state should be able to send their child to the best school that uniquely fits their needs, whether that’s a public school, charter school, private school, homeschool, etc,” Stitt’s Communications Director Carly Atchison told The Black Wall Street Times.
What Carlisha Williams Bradley hopes for the future
When asked if focusing on cultural war issues will catapult Oklahoma to becoming a top ten state, Bradley said she’s made her stance clear about the harm laws like HB 1775 do to the classroom.
“During my term, I was often found speaking out against HB 1775 and its impact in schools and particularly how it impacts children of color, the people we’re not talking to,” Bradley said.
“When we center conversations on those matters, we lose focus on the true dire needs that are taking place in public education.”
Bradley would like to see the State Board of Education and Oklahoma’s leaders focus on creating long-term solutions to the urgent teacher shortage. She also hopes leaders will begin to permanently address the lack of per-pupil financial investment in the classrooms, which impacts feeding programs and mental health services for the most marginalized students.
“When we can sit there and have conversations around critical race theory and code words that really chase us after an imaginary ball that we’re trying to catch that’s not even there in the air to be caught, we remove the focus of the true needs in serving students that are the furthest away from opportunity. That should be our focus,” Bradley said.
As Gov. Stitt and Supt. Walters’ administration appears to bring another year of controversy, alleged corruption, and chaos to the state school board, Carlisha Williams Bradley remains optimistic about the future.
In a message to Oklahoma students, teachers and parents, Bradley urged them to stay engaged.
“There are very well organized efforts that allow for us to hear certain voices more loudly than others, and I just hope that parents and families and educators don’t remain silent. Come, speak, act, organize, and remain a voice to be reckoned with.”