Northam creates Commission on African American History Education

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Photo Credit: niroworld

Gov. Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Thirty-Nine, which establishes the Commission on African American History Education.

The Commission is charged with reviewing Virginia’s history standards, and the instructional practices, content, and resources currently used to teach African American history in the Commonwealth. Governor Northam made the announcement speaking at the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing, a ceremony to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619.

“The full history of Virginia is complex, contradictory, and often untold—and we must do a better job of making sure that every Virginia graduate enters adult life with an accurate and thorough understanding of our past, and the pivotal role that American Americans have played in building and perfecting our Commonwealth,” said Northam. “The important work of this Commission will help ensure that Virginia’s standards of learning are inclusive of African American history and allow students to engage deeply, drawing connections between historic racial inequities and their continuous influence on our communities today.”

The Executive Order tasks the Commission with issuing a report no later than July 1, 2020, with recommendations for improving the student experience, including but not limited to:

  • Technical edits to and recommendations for enriched standards related to African American history;
  • Broader considerations for the full history and social studies standards review process; and
  • Necessary professional development and instructional supports for all teachers to ensure culturally competent instruction.

The Commonwealth first established its history and social science standards of learning in 1995. Since that time, the standards have been routinely updated based on feedback from practitioners, historians, and stakeholders. The work of the Commission will help inform the next history and social science standards review the state will undertake.

Additionally, the Virginia Department of Education will work with Virtual VirginiaWHRO Public Media, and committees of history and social science public school educators, university historians, and college professors to develop a new African American history course for high school students. Together, they will establish objectives and competencies to provide a foundation of knowledge and understanding of African American history.

This new elective will be available to all students in the Commonwealth virtually beginning in the fall of 2020. Its component digital parts will be accessible resources for students in numerous other history courses.

The governor has appointed the following individuals to serve on the Commission:

  • Derrick P. Alridge of Charlottesville, Professor of Education and Director of the Center for Race and Public Education in the South, Curry School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
  • Dr. Rosa S. Atkins of Charlottesville, Superintendent, Charlottesville City Schools
  • Edward Ayers of Richmond, Professor of the Humanities, University of Richmond
  • Jarvis E. Bailey of Fredericksburg, High School Administrator, Westmoreland County Public Schools and School Board Member, Fredericksburg City
  • Maria D. Burgos of Prince William County, Supervisor of Global Learning and Culturally Responsive Instruction, Prince William County Public Schools
  • Christy S. Coleman of Chesterfield, CEO, American Civil War Museum
  • Dr. Robert N. Corley, III of Chesterfield, Associate Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs and Project Director, The Wallace Foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative, Virginia State University
  • Pamela Croom of Hampton, President-Elect, Virginia PTA
  • Dr. Andrew P. Daire of Moseley, Dean of the School of Education, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Crystal DeLong of Bedford, Teacher, Liberty High School, Bedford County Public Schools
  • Beau Dickenson of Harrisonburg, President, Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium and Social Studies Supervisor, Rockingham County Public Schools
  • Crystal M. Edwards of Lynchburg, Superintendent, Lynchburg City Schools
  • Anne Marie Evans of Fluvanna County, Director of Education and Outreach–New American History, University of Richmond
  • Dr. John K. Lee of Raleigh, Professor, North Carolina State University
  • Makya Renée Little of Woodbridge, Parent Advocate and Florida A&M University Alumnus
  • Dr. Monica Manns of Henrico, Director of Equity and Diversity, Henrico County Public Schools
  • Basil Marin of Atlanta, Assistant Principal, DeKalb County Schools
  • Tyrone Nelson of Henrico County, Chairman, Henrico County Board of Supervisors and Pastor, Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church of Richmond
  • Dr. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander of Chesapeake, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Professor of History, Norfolk State University
  • The Honorable Atif Qarni of Prince William, Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Gloria Randolph-King of Roanoke, Retired Roanoke City Public Schools Administrator
  • Rodney Robinson of Richmond, 2019 National Teacher of the Year
  • Dr. Vanessa D. Thaxton-Ward of Hampton, Director, Hampton University Museum
  • Pastor Michelle C. Thomas of Loudoun County, Founder and CEO, Loudoun Freedom Center and President, NAACP Loudoun Branch
  • Dr. Dietra Trent of Halifax, Former Secretary of Education
  • Dr. James F. Lane of Chesterfield, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Dr. Alice Reilly of Alexandria, Educator, George Mason University
  • Renita S. Williams of Chesapeake, Secondary Social Studies Instructional Supervisor, Newport News Public Schools
  • Rodney Jordan of Norfolk, Co-Chair, Virginia School Boards Association Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments and School Board Member, Norfolk City
  • Cainan Townsend of Farmville, Director of Education, Robert Russa Moton Museum
  • Chris Van Tassell of Richmond, Program Coordinator and Educator, Virginia Museum of History & Culture
  • Robert C. Watson of Williamsburg, Assistant Professor of History, Hampton University
  • Dr. William E. White of Williamsburg, Visiting Distinguished Scholar, Christopher Newport University
  • Jonathan C. Zur of Richmond, President and CEO, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities

The full text of Executive Order Thirty-Nine can be found here.

Additional information about the Commission and its meetings will be available online here.

Northam’s full remarks at the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing, as prepared for delivery, are available here.



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