WAYNE, NJ – The Black Lives Matter protest that happened in June of this year spawned a movement to expand the curriculum in the Wayne School District to reflect greater diversity. Since then, at most every Wayne Board of Education meeting, current and former students have called in, requesting this change.
The district, under the leadership of Superintendent, Dr. Mark Toback, responded by first creating a district goal for the year of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”
The Diversity goal reads: “The 2020-2021 school year is to formally evaluate our district programs through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens and to then publish our findings in a comprehensive report that would be available to the public. This initial diversity, equity, and inclusion report will serve as the foundation for an annual publication to be delivered at the conclusion of each school year. Time is of the essence and the approach in the first year will be to proceed incrementally and to act on recommendations as the process progresses so as to avoid lag time between recognizing and acting upon the most pressing issues.
At the latest BOE meeting, Dr. Toback provided an update on this goal.
“We're happy to report the teachers and the Social Studies Department are beginning to use the Choices Curriculum add-on which was developed at Brown University,” he said, then mentioned that this curriculum has been in use in the school district for ten years. “This year, as part of our goal, we purchased additional units that enhance our requirements to meet the Amistad Mandate as well as address several current issues.”
According to the New Jersey Department of Education website, The Amistad Bill (A1301), which became law in 2002, calls on New Jersey schools to incorporate African-American history into their social studies curriculum. This legislation also created the Amistad Commission, a 23-member body charged with ensuring that African-American history, contributions and experiences are adequately taught in the state’s classrooms.
In Wayne, teachers will begin training on the new material on October 28. “The district will be focusing on racial slavery in the Americas, resistance, freedom and legacies,” said Toback. “Students and staff members are able to discuss a number of critical race-related issues, but the Choices program allows students to make their own decisions.”
From the Choices Curriculum website: “The goal of the program is not to lead students to a specific conclusion, but instead to share conflicting perspectives and allow students to make their own decisions about how they feel about the information presented and form their own opinions.”
For the students calling on the district to provide a more diverse curriculum, this is a good start. However, these students have been asking for more than African-American influence taught in American history and literature. They have also asked for LatinX, Asian and women influence as well.
TAPinto asked the Wayne Superintendent if the district would be addressing this request as well.
“We are engaged in a comprehensive review of our curriculum as part of our goal, but we must all remember that Wayne, as a public school system, is required to carry out the New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS),” replied Dr. Toback. “ Committees are being formed to pilot materials and new titles which will be recommended to add to our English and History courses after following the district review process.”
Another part of the district’s diversity goal is to establish both internal and external reviews of the district related to diversity, equity and inclusion. To that end, the district has hired Tamika Reese as a consultant to “provide us with that external review and also professional development,” said Toback during the last meeting.
According to Toback, “Tamika Reese has both breadth and depth of educational experience that spans over 25 years. Her work is grounded in collective efficacy, action, and self-reflection, and Tamika is best known for doing “whatever it takes” in order to enhance the improvement of student learning and achievement, as well as empowering and enabling teachers to improve equity outcomes for all students.”
On November 3, the district is providing its staff with a professional development day, which will include a speaker who will “seek to build the capacity of educators to focus on empowering student voice and agency by helping staff to recognize social and cultural barriers to student achievement,” said Toback. “New York State Teacher of the Year Alhassan Susso will be providing an excellent boost toward meeting our goal by creating a strong connection with our educators around this important effort across all of our schools.”
Toback described Susso as “an educator, author, and speaker who has devoted his career to transforming the lives of young people facing difficulties. He was the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year. Alhassan seeks to expand the worldview of students through the development of essential life skills necessary to succeed academically, socially and economically.”
For all involved, this is recognized as small steps toward a longer-term goal.