After the Pittsford Central School District apologized for a classroom worksheet about slavery, Spectrum News spoke with the leader of another local school about preventing an incident like that from happening again.
“The incident with the lesson plan was extremely unfortunate and I think the superintendent did a great job right away in declaring it as such,” said Dr. Shaun Nelms, superintendent of East High Educational Partnership Organization in Rochester.
Pittsford Central School District Superintendent Michael Pero apologized to parents Tuesday for a worksheet that inaccurately claimed enslaved people from Africa agreed to work for colonists in exchange for passage to America.
“This is a lesson that if not shared, if not caught, and if not presented to that school district, it could have damaged those kids for a long time, to the extent that they might be repeating and say information as fact, 10, 12, 20 years later,” said Dr. Nelms.
At East High, the school partnered with teachers, consultants and the University of Rochester to create a curriculum ensuring all students have similar learning experiences from grades six through 12.
Nelms says those lesson plans and resources are also available to all teachers in the county for free.
“What we’ve created for teachers throughout the county is a website called elevatededucator.org which is designed to show school districts and teachers how they might create lessons that are more inclusive, more historically accurate, and that they also challenge students and themselves in a more deep learning experience,” said Dr. Nelms.
In addition to duties as superintendent at East High, Nelms is also the director for the Center for Urban Education Success at the University of Rochester, a program dedicated to support schools in the Rochester area. “CUES more so than East is going to be the variable in this community that’s going to help change the curriculum conversation,” Dr. Nelms said.
Nelms tells Spectrum News the incident at the Pittsford school is not just isolated to that district or rural areas, it’s something that happens in all districts.
“I don’t think it’s geographic in nature, I think it’s really indicative of teachers not being adequately trained and school districts perhaps not having a curricular focus that’s not inclusive,” said Dr. Nelms.
The superintendent says work is being done with other superintendents across Monroe County to address these issues but adds the work doesn’t mean much unless teachers also have a culturally responsive and sustained lens in the classroom.
"And that takes the collaborative effort between area colleges that area training teachers, schools districts to adopt meaningful curriculums, and then us the community holding folks accountable for doing exactly that,” added Dr. Nelms.
Pittsford Central School District says it met with the staff members involved in that lesson and has taken steps to fix the situation.
The school system says it will re-teach the topic of slavery with correct information and is working with teachers across the district to make sure the worksheet is not being used.
“This situation reinforces the significance and importance of working with our staff with regard to high-quality resources, ongoing professional development and culturally responsive-sustaining educational practices. This is something we take seriously and are committed to continuous improvement,” said the school district in a statement Tuesday.