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Martinsville High School to offer Black history class this fall
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Martinsville High School to offer Black history class this fall


The Martinsville School District will join Henry County Schools in offering a Black history class to high school students in the fall.

“A tree needs to know its roots to have its strength,” Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Angilee Downing to the school board at its meeting Monday night. “I thought I knew history until I delved into this, and then I realized my ignorance.”

In August, 2019, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order establishing the African American History Education Commission.

Community input was solicited in 2020 at public meetings in Roanoke, Richmond, Danville, Norfolk and Woodbridge.

The commission was charged with reviewing Virginia’s History and Social Science Standards of Learning and the instructional practices, content and resources currently used to teach African American history —including the need for professional development for teachers on culturally competent instruction.

In August, Henry County Schools announced it would begin an elective option this spring: an African American history class focusing on the questions “What is Freedom?”

The will “evaluate how African-Americans have shaped, contributed and been shaped by the institutions, policies, and laws established by federal, state and local governments,” Henry County Public Schools spokesperson Monica Hatchett wrote in an email.

Downing said the plan in Martinsville includes exploring Africa, learning African American history from an African perspective and will include learning about the civil rights era, and more recent events including “how the struggle continues—I can’t breathe, Black Lives Matter,” and how to address Jim Crow laws.

“There are no tests in this,” Downing said. “How to rebuild and move forward is an important piece of this. How do we work together to move forward.?”

End-of-the-year report

Principals from all five schools in the Martinsville school system gave their final reports for the past school year.

“The teachers and parents worked together,” Clearview Early Childhood Center Director Sheilah Williams said. “The teachers seemed to collaborate even more, and the relationship between school and home was just amazing.”

Patrick Henry Elementary School Principal Cameron Cooper said when the pandemic began, it was a challenge to add the technology needed for remote learning.

“Teachers shared the resources they found,” Cooper said. “The social and emotional wellbeing of students and staff was a big thing.”

Albert Harris Elementary School Principal Renee Brown said everyone committed to meeting their goals of academic excellence despite the obstacles presented by COVID-19.

“We had some challenges when we started, but we overcame.” Brown said. “We had to adjust to the new computer educational program.”

This school year was Martinsville Middle School Assistant Principal Ama Waller’s first as an administrator.

“Our teachers and students were scared at the beginning, but learning can occur anywhere,” she said. “There is now a lot more communication between teachers, parents and students.”

Martinsville High School Principal Aji Dixon said his school met the challenges associated with the pandemic.

“We did a lot of work doing instructional videos,” said Dixon. “We provided social and emotional support for our young people all year long, we supported our young people with whatever it was they were going through—we were there for them.”

Dixon also said summer school was underway, and weightlifting and conditioning began earlier on Monday in preparation for a return to sports in the fall.

Also at the meeting, the board:

  • Heard from Finance Director Travis Clemons about personal protection equipment at the schools. “It’s not hard to get PPE money right now,” Clemons said. “New water fountains are trickling in, and all buildings will get new control systems to enhance air quality.”
  • Learned from Superintendent Zeb Talley that all teachers who wished to be vaccinated have been given the opportunity, and on July 1 students 12 and older may be vaccinated at a drive-thru vaccination clinic at Martinsville High School. All students 12-17 may receive a parental consent form, and their parents must be present for the vaccination.
  • Heard from Coordinator of Transportation Damien Tarpley about the status of school transportation. “We have adapted a concept of doing more with less,” Tarpley said. “Everybody needs more drivers.”
  • Heard an update about the summer feeding program. Martinsville High School will remain open for meal distribution the entire summer, and because of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, door-to-door delivery will not be provided, and multiple meals will be given at a time.
  • Learned that 20 of 39 slots for 3-year-olds already were committed for the upcoming year at Clearview and that, even through 80 slots were 4-year-olds are available, early sign-up is recommended.
  • Was presented with the book “Fear from Home,” which was written by one of the fourth-grade classes to describe what the year was like for them living in an emergency state during a pandemic.
  • Presented Talley with the National AVID Leadership Service Award.
  • Accepted the retirements of Marsha Collins, Terry Hawks and Steve Tatum.
  • Accepted the resignations of Kathleen Clerc, Judy Cox, Kaye Harrell, Breonda Jones, Teresa McKenzie, Morgan Norman, Hayley Richards and Shatera Robertson.
  • Accepted the appointments of Amy Bedwell, Shekeem Hairston and JoAnna Wilson.
  • Authorized Talley to designate Downing, Clemons and Executive Director of Special Education and Students Services Paulette Simington as stand-ins during the absence of the superintendent.
  • Approved the Federal Fund Consolidated Application request in the amount of $1,488,606.46.
  • Approved $13,059.83 in Title III funds for English learners and immigration students grant funds.
  • Approved a $154,000 allocation grant to be used for classroom multimedia network computers, equipment related to the internet and networking, and retrofitting or upgrading in order to maintain adequate high-speed and high-bandwidth capability.
  • Approved a contract for $2,500 for the Virginia School Board Association to provide policy services for the upcoming school year.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt.

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