CHARLES TOWN – The past, present and future of race in Jefferson County education became a sharp focus of discussions this past week inside and outside the red brick building that served as a segregated high school for black students from 1942 until 1965.
Throughout last week differing opinions and common ground were highlighted over the Black Math Genius, a supplemental course adopted but then postponed over a public controversy.
On Monday evening, the former Page-Jackson High School in Charles Town, now the school system’s administrative offices, became a focal point for a protest rally condemning school officials for how they implemented Black Math Genius. First developed for urban Chicago schools with predominantly black students, the curriculum offers black and African cultural and historical references to stimulate the interest, confidence and skills of minority students in the academic subject.
“While I appreciate the fact that the [school] board recognizes that there’s a problem with our children’s math education, they should be addressing the problem for all students, not implementing programs meant to segregate and divide our community,” said Daphne Andrews, one of the rally’s organizers with the conservative political group We the People of Jefferson County.
“Jefferson County’s children are in trouble,” Andrews added. “CRT, or a.k.a. Critical Applied Principles, is a pervasive disease that is already starting to infect our school system. Our Board of Education has hired far-left radical outsiders to implement these programs.”
About 75 people attended the outdoor rally that featured an opening Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, as well as posters and banners declaring “Stop Teaching Hate” and “Education is Not Indoctrination. Stop Critical RACE THEORY NOW!”
Andrews Friedman, a Harpers Ferry-area resident who attended the rally after learning about it on social media, said sorting students into special classes based on race is wrong. “It’s segregation,” said the 62-year-old who grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland. “It’s a return to Jim Crow, and I’m old enough to remember segregation.”
“I see us moving backwards like going down a hill at a very fast rate, and I don’t like it.”
About the same time as the rally, Jefferson County Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson announced that the Black Math Genius would move forward under a new name.
The course’s name will be changed to Culturally Responsive Math and will run for two weeks this summer, the superintendent said. Although shortened by half, the course’s content would remain largely the same, she said.
Last week at the Page-Jackson administration building, Gibson led three separate small group forums with parents, current and retired teachers and a few children. About 50 people participated in the forums. On Thursday, 17 people, including three students, attended one of the sessions. However, most people there had previously spoken out with concerns or support for the Black Math Genius.
However, participants in the forum generally agreed the Black Math Genius curriculum offered helpful instruction. In addition, they generally concluded the course’s approach and various exercises could inspire children of any race or background to learn and achieve more in math.
Those attending the forum said they were open to incorporating at least some of the Black Math curriculum into regular classroom lessons. Karen Buck, a grandparent who spoke passionately during the protest rally about staving off federal political and cultural meddling in Jefferson County’s schools, agreed that the curriculum included constructive exercises.
During the forum, Gibson acknowledged that controversy and questions surrounding Black Math Genius arose because the course wasn’t adequately explained to the public. The course’s name also caused “many misunderstandings,” she said.
“It did inadvertently send the message that it was exclusive to black students,” she said during the forum, “and that caused a great deal of concern among people as well it should. Had we had a program that either only black students could access or that we forced black students to go into, yes, there should have been a significant degree of backlash and outcry about that.”
“Hindsight is 20-20, and I take full responsibility,” she offered.
But Gibson also said school administrators will continue to look for different supplementary programs to improve the academic performance of any group of students. “That’s our intent,” she said. “We may offer more programs. … There’s a short game [to improving students’ academic performance] and a long game.”
COMMUNICATION GONE WRONG
Weeks ago, parents and citizens began questioning the content and promotion of the Black Math Genius curriculum. At that time, school administrators revealed that they paid $63,280 with federal pandemic funding to adapt the program into a free, optional four-week summer school workshop.
One flier promoting the course was circulated to black students and parents using the headline “Warriors Needed,” and included an added explanation, “Warrior Criteria: Black/African American Middle and High School Students.”
Black Math Genius was offered as a voluntary, noncredit activity as part of an expanded overall summer school program.
The summer program was developed to help strengthen students’ academic skills in the wake of their educational shutdowns and disruptions during the pandemic.
However, Gibson and the course’s developer, Assata Moore, said the course was open to any student and can benefit any student.
School officials have not released any document explaining what arrangement the school system made to use Black Math Genius. No contract was completed with Moore, who has served as a trainer and consultant, school officials said.
During a school board meeting on Monday, Gibson presented the latest 2019 math test scores for Jefferson County students. She said those scores illustrate how black students are performing considerably lower in math than students with white, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial backgrounds.
Those statistics drove the