School district earns state recognition for African and African-American studies

Jemeshia Lyons teaches an African-American history class for in-person and Digital Academy students at Eastside High School.

Press release from Alachua County Public Schools

Alachua County Public Schools is now one of just ten school districts statewide to earn ‘Exemplary Status’ from the state for the teaching of African and African-American history.

The district was recently notified by the Florida Education Commissioner’s African-American History Task Force that it had earned the prestigious recognition.

“We applaud your board’s determination and commitment to bring awareness to the students and community you serve,’ wrote Anthony Hill, chair of the statewide task force, in a letter to Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon announcing the designation.

“We are very pleased that ACPS is part of such a select group of districts statewide that have successfully documented their commitment to teaching African-American history,” said Dr. Simon. “This was very much a team effort, with critical collaboration between the district and local and state partners.”

ACPS staff spent 18 months working with a variety of individuals and organizations across the community to develop African and African-American curricula and train teachers and administrators to infuse the material throughout the district. In pursing Exemplary Status, the district consulted with Dr. Patrick Coggins, an education professor at Stetson University and an expert in multicultural education.

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The district also collaborated with the Alachua County African-American History Task Force, which is headed by Dr. Jacob Gordon, Professor Emeritus of African and African-American Studies at the University of Kansas and Executive Director of the Center for Multicultural Leadership.

Dr. Gordon says the collaboration between the district and stakeholders in the community was the secret to the initiative’s success.

“We have to respect what everyone brings to the table,” he said. “The district can’t do this work alone. The community has to be engaged to properly educate our children.”

Dr. Jon Rehm, who coordinated the district’s application for Exemplary Status, says the local task force was crucial to the process.

“Among other things, they provided us with a list of willing people in the community who helped us develop the curriculum,” he said. “We’ve also been able to identify and recruit people who have personal experiences and can bring the lessons to life for our students.”

The district submitted hundreds of pages of material documenting the district’s African-American history curriculum, how it is being disseminated, the partnerships developed to promote the district’s work, and other information.

Among those teaching African-American history at the high school level is Gainesville High School’s Nicole Harris, who was recently named the district’s 2021 Teacher of the Year.

Dr. Rehm stresses that earning exemplary status, while noteworthy, is not the ultimate goal.

“Exemplary status is really an assertion of our commitment to an ongoing process of growing, refining, and implementing an ever-evolving and culturally-relevant curriculum in every classroom throughout the district,” he said.

Dr. Gordon believes the recognition could also have an impact beyond Alachua County’s borders.

“This recognition paves the way forward for Alachua County to mentor surrounding districts to improve the teaching of African-American history for more students,” said Dr. Gordon.

A link to the district’s Exemplary Status application is available at: https://bit.ly/3arF3bk