“Better Schools Better Neighborhood” Conference

Dr. Nelmes Photo by Eddie Blanding Jr.

Keynotes CAO/WNY “Better Schools Better Neighborhood Conference” Dr. Shaun Nelms “Keeps Hope Alive!”

Dr. Shaun Nelms, currently Superintendent of the Educational Partnership Organization at East High in Rochester, delivered an insightful message of hope for struggling schools here during the Oct. 13th “Better Schools Better Neighborhood” conference sponsored by the Masten Resource Center CAO/WNY.

Dr. Nelms, an amazing young visionary who was born and raised in Buffalo, shared his model of success which is being used used ito turn around East High. Faced with low test scores and attendance, three years ago the school held a 85% suspension rate, a 19 percent graduation rate and was facing closure by the state.

This June 61percent of the class graduated and the school’s suspension rate has dropped to 21% and test scores have improved. “kids who are hopeful, demand and deserve the best,” stated Dr. Nelms. Speaking extensively on community building in urban schools, he pointed out that community schools are a strategy; a place to set partnerships to meet the holistic needs of students, “but it has to be the right partner.”

He and his team focused on expanding learning opportunities, social and nutritional services and workforce development. Increasing family and community engagement was also a focus, and they found that student participation correlated to increased parent engagement. To ensure that moral purpose, core values and policies match and to demand that there is no disconnect, “being at the table is critical in advocating for our kids,” said Dr. Nelms. He credited growing up “ in a complete village” with molding his sense of values, which enabled him to critically relate to the children and the institution he has been charged with saving.

As a youth he recalled Fine Print News which provided him with social/emotional validation; Tarts corner store which served as the community gathering place; Masten Park for recreation and mentoring; the Literacy Program on Best Street for foundational and academic skills; School 39 Lighted School House which gave wrap around care for working parents; the neighborhood church and Moot Center where young people were taught the importance of nutritional eating and wellness; Teen Patrol, the Mayors summer youth program for employment skills; and his mother Mrs. Patricia Nelms – an advocate, block club president and matriarch, who sat proudly in the audience as her son spoke.

“The child who is not embraced by the village, will burn it down to feel its warmth,” he said profoundly. ”That’s what we are seeing today.” The work of saving our children and our schools can and will be accomplished, he said, “if we just work together.”