By Felicia Gaines
A letter to the school board.
Greetings to the Honorable Duval County School Board,
It has come to our attention some of the boundary changes recommended by Superintendent Vitti differed from those of the commissioned working groups. Particularly, the recommendations of the working groups that were rejected for Jackson High, S.P Livingston Elementary, and West Jax elementary scenarios. Please continue reading to see our multiple issues with the Superintendent’s recommendations. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but we sincerely ask that you please give us an opportunity to relay our thoughts and feelings regarding this matter.
DESTROYING FEEDER PATTERNS
The current recommendations do not align with what was stated to communities at the beginning of Supt. Vitti’s tenure here in Duval County. At that time, we were told there would be a plan to strengthen the feeder patterns, which could potentially make neighborhood schools stronger. Therefore, helping schools keep students within there attendance zones, making them more marketable. http://
jacksonville.com/news/metro/ 2013-05-10/story/vitti- discusses-blueprint-improve- planning-between-duval-schools It is well known the high schools are the cornerstone for each feeder pattern. High school is where the Duval County Public School System ends its work with children and releases them into adulthood. Thus, it can be concluded that negative impacts to high schools can destroy the entire feeder pattern. Please note in the recommended scenarios we have two high schools involved, that being Jackson and Raines High Schools.
For Jackson High, the situation is quite simple…making it a dedicated magnet means it is no longer a neighborhood school, which negatively impacts the immediate community. In essence, Jackson High School will be closed and the preservation of its rich history will be lost. The school will be reopened with a new name and number and the heritage of Andrew Jackson High School will no longer exist. In our communities, high schools are so embedded into the identity of the neighborhood, that by removing the connection to the neighborhood by disconnecting its students will lead to a devastating gap in community, its members and the school. Though, we as a community understand that more students are needed to fill the school to optimize the space, it must be considered that the investment that has taken place in other high schools in the District did not happen for Jackson until last year. My point, under Pratt- Dannals all neighborhood high schools received accelerated programs, with the exception of Jackson. When Honorable Wright was elected, she attempted to fix this slight; however, the IB program did not last a year at Jackson. In the school year 2014-15, Jackson received an early high school program. Nevertheless, the program hasn’t had time to be marketed properly to sustain students in Jackson’s feeder program. It should also be noted the size of Jackson’s attendance zone, is the smallest in the district. This zone is the only high school in DTO that hasn’t been added onto in 25+ years. (Raines and Ribault received students when Paxon was converted to a dedicated magnet, and Jackson lost students when First Coast was opened). If the main concern for this boundary change is to increase enrollment, it would seem most logical to extend Jackson’s boundary to gain the suspected overcrowding from First Coast, which originally negatively impacted Jackson’s enrollment. Finally, Jackson’s program offerings needed revamping 10 years ago, but up until recently this is just being done and I’m sure if given time the programs being considered will become viable options creating unique opportunities for the students living within Jackson’s attendance zones and countywide. As a recommendation, please consider extending the boundaries to regain the students lost to First Coast years ago and the whole school magnet option for Jackson, as was done with Ed White.
The Raines High situation is quite different. We feel as though Raines is being torn down at its foundation. Last year, with the conversion of Butler to a dedicated magnet, Raines was left with Northwestern being its only middle school in the feeder pattern. (So, making Northwestern dedicated as well will be disastrous to our community). Now it seems that elementary schools in the feeder pattern are now being re-purposed in the case of West Jax and SP Livingston. We could understand consolidating two elementary schools, but re-purposing them both so that one is not serving the community and the other feeding some of its 3-5 grades to Central Riverside will be a great disservice to those living in the Raines attendance zone. The recommendations as they stand would create a large hole in the Raines feeder pattern that will possibly be too large to overcome. We feel the working group recommendations were fair and a great compromise for both scenarios.
BETTER OR WORSE
Throughout this boundary process we have been informed if something was not done then our schools will be restructured by the state due to them not meeting state standards. Conversely, we also hear that our schools are doing better and we are headed in the right direction. So, it brings into question ….are we doing so bad that we don’t have time to see the QEA plan through? And, if this is the case, then why are we not being told the real story of what is taking place? It seems that mixed messages are being given, which leads to confusion, then to mistrust. What are we to believe? Is it that boundary changes are the ONLY way to achieve the turnaround that is needed? Is the turnaround so urgent that previously carefully developed plans do not have time to be implemented? If so, that would be extremely sad and very hard to believe.
REQUEST FOR PATIENCE
We are asking for patience to see if the plans in place will turnaround the accountability scores, which means the schools will receive higher grades making them more attractive to students living within their attendance zones. Yes, we realize that turnaround work is not easy. Please know that you have students and teachers working hard daily with the plan that is in place and was created by the current team. To make some of the recommended changes now, seems to disregard and not acknowledge the current work of the schools and appears the schools are being considered defeated. Superintendent Vitti has repeatedly asked for time for himself and we are doing the same. Please give us the opportunity to get the work needed done. Last year was the first year for the FSA and we believe progress will be made in these schools this year if given the proper attention and time. We believe in the students and staff at all our schools in Northwest Jacksonville and fully stand with them.
Whatever is decided by DCSB pertaining to these boundary changes will need to be supported by everyone. We will need to get to work the very next day to ensure the success of the children that will be affected. Still, we ask that you make working together easier by listening to the people. The working groups, made up of volunteers for Jackson, SP Livingston, and West Jax, voices have already been disregarded. Personally, as a member of the Jackson working group, I can speak to the students, faculty, alumni, and community members that repeatedly told us they do not want to be a dedicated magnet. They informed us this was the first time they had been informed of an enrollment problem, and they let us know they were committed to doing what they could to increase enrollment. Now, you are requesting participants to voice the same position once more, only this time to Board Members. The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc. is prepared to continue work diligently with the District to ensure academic progress in these schools. Hopefully, everyone can come to an agreement/compromise as we prepare to work to make the education process better for our children.
AT WHAT COST
For some, boundary changes are considered a quick fix to overcome accountability requirements. There is usually a cost associated with the convenience of a quick fix. The questions we pose to you today, is at what cost are we prepared to make these changes, and who is ultimately paying the price? It seems to us the price is too high, as the results of this gamble could potentially put us in a far worse position. Take Butler for example, who is seeing its lowest enrollment ever after being converted to a dedicated magnet. Please do not misunderstand me, I believe that given time the Leadership Academies will grow. However, that growth will take time, which we have been told in the scenarios given that no such luxury exists. Then, we would have even more schools being underutilized while waiting for a newly developed program to grow roots, then sprout up, and multiply….POSSIBLY. As to who is paying the price… the children, their parents, and the community these schools serve. In the case of SP Livingston, according to Superintendent Vitti’s recommendation, the children will leave this elementary school after second grade and begin school at a new elementary school. It is our understanding that the basis of K-8 is to decrease the number of transitions a student has to a make, which is suppose to be better for the child and easier for the parent. The Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc., as lifelong community members, respectfully ask that you do not gamble with the lives of our children or the life of our schools and communities.
Again, our apologies for the length of this message, but we feel our concerns were worth the read and time as we can’t force you to see reason but we cannot stand idly by and watch this become dangerous for our children and communities. Please know we invite further discussions on this matter, either individually or collectively. We sincerely thank you for taking the time to listen (read).
Friends of Northwest Jacksonville Schools, Inc