Kent D. Williamson, a former executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, died June 7 after a long illness. He was 57 years old.
Williamson served as head of the 35,000-member organization from 2000 to 2015. As he wrote on the NCTE website in February, he was an “unlikely choice” for the NCTE position—he had taught as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga and as a graduate assistant, but was never a K-12 English teacher. Prior to his time at the Urbana, Ill.-based NCTE, Williamson had also worked as an executive director for the American Dairy Science Association and as a development officer for the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
“Kent was such an important part of the history of NCTE, and certainly of the current efforts we are making,” said Barbara Cambridge, NCTE’s interim director. “We’re quite sure his spirit will continue to be with us and to lead us forward.”
Under Williamson’s leadership, NCTE helped start initiatives such as the online teacher resource hub ReadWriteThink and the widely celebrated National Day on Writing. Williamson also directed the National Center for Literacy Education, a partnership started in 2011 between NCTE and more than two dozen groups aimed at supporting teachers of all disciplines with literacy instruction.
“He was absolutely committed to working together collectively and collaboratively,” said Cambridge. “That is something he firmly believed in and committed our organization to. As responses come in from people from other associations, it’s clear how much they looked to Kent for leadership in that area.”
Williamson exemplified that commitment in a 2013 letter to the editor in Education Week, writing, “It’s time to stop piling on the initiatives and start building the capacity of educators to work together on the real issues that inhibit high-quality teaching and learning.”
In February, while battling an ongoing health issue, Williamson transitioned from executive director of NCTE to executive emeritus. In a letter posted on the NCTE website, he wrote:
"[I’ll] carry with me many special memories: the delight of young teachers at their first NCTE convention, the lasting mentorship bonds among those participating in caucus or ‘shared interest’ communities, the thoughtful speakers and writers who kept us focused on powerful scholarship even as so many policymakers seemed headed in other directions. And, selfishly, the opportunity to build my circle of loyal and sensitive friends from within our staff and across the nation who continue to do their best to support and uplift me. Who wouldn’t want a career like that?”
Image: From NCTE
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.