By Christina Giruzzi and Ashley Reeves
Doctor of Education Shaun Nelms has been consistently working to make changes in the Rochester City School District. Nelms is the superintendent of East High school and also leads the Center for Urban Education Successat the University of Rochester.
Nelms attended the College at Fredonia for a Bachelor in Science in Education, and continued his education at the University of Rochester for his masters in educational administration. Nelms received his Doctorate at the University of Rochester for K-12 school leadership.
Throughout his lifetime, Nelms said he always knew he wanted to be in a position of service. Initially hoping to become a police officer or detective, Nelms was always drawn towards helping others and being helped by others.
“Even as a police officer, I saw that as not a job to catch criminials, but a job to really improve the community. As a youth, I benefited from a lot of people in the community who were actually service oriented, so it’s been my desire to do those things,” Said Nelms.
Prior to becoming the superintendent at East High, Nelms served as a deputy superintendent in Greece, a Chief of schools in Rochester, a principal at Rush-Henrietta Middle school, and an assistant principal in Greece.
In 2014 before Nelms became the superintendent, East High was the lowest performing high school in the lowest performing district in New York State. With a 19% graduation rate, the state decided to close the school but gave them a few options to remain open. One option was to remove half of the students and staff and replace them, which according to Nelms does not work. Another option was to convert It to a charter school; however, many charter schools begin in elementary school so it would have been difficult to implement in a high school. Another option was to give it to the State University of New York in the SUNY system, but they did not have the capacity to take over the school because of their main focus being on the colleges already. Another option was to close the high school all together and the last option, the one East High decided to choose, was to give the high school to a receiver or partnership organization. In this case the University of Rochester became the receiver which means they agreed to support the school turnaround, as long as they were able to change some structures within the school.
East High agreed into a receivership called theEast High Educational Partnership Organization, or EPO. A plan was made in the EPO and Nelms was the first to implement this plan. According to Nelms and some preliminary data, this receivership program has been somewhat successful.
“Success is relative and we still have a number of kids who struggle coming to school with attendance. We have kids who don’t feel like the school is safe, so I would say until every kid feels like this is a place that represents them [we aren’t as successful as we’d like it to be],” Said Nelms.
By the time the school finished their first year in the receivership program, they had already raised the graduation rate to 40%, four years later they achieved a 61% graduation rate. At the end of this academic year they are looking at a 70% graduation rate.
Previous co-worker and long-time friend Michael Giruzzi met Nelms when he worked in the Greece Central School District in 2002.
“[Nelms] has always exhibited tenants of leadership in all his positions. [He] has always put students at the forefront of his focus. His goal has always been student success. I have seen his focus change to impacting those that truly need his support. His focus has been specific to make sure that social inequities and needs of our inner-city students are focused on with a specific plan to help them achieve and create a lifetime of success.” Said Giruzzi.
Nelms takes a lot of pride in being personally involved with the school and students at East High. East High principal, Marlene Blocker says Nelms is committed to supporting excellence at East.
“He is visible in the hallways, at sporting events, at school functions and always has a gregarious smile to accompany his warm banter. He has established a supportive and nurturing rapport with both families and our scholars, that is based on his genuine desire to help them excel. He keeps it real with our scholars and gives them hope. Nelms is accessible and has a true pulse of what is happening daily,” Said Blocker.
Nelms said his goal is to make East High students feel like the school represents them.
“I think that there were a couple of moments this year in which I heard teachers and staff and students talk about East as their own place, as their East. That made me extremely happy,” Said Nelms.
Nelms has plans to further his knowledge through research around his work. Nelms hopes to get into higher education, finish his book and perhaps travel the world to help school districts who are working to improve urban issues.
“I just want to make sure that there’s someone being a guardian of equity and a champion of equity for those kids, and if I can provide that then great,”