The Jacksonville Public Education Fund’s one on one conference review, part 2, The Panel Discussion

By Greg Sampson
One X One
conference 2016
Part Two,
Panel Discussion
When Dr.
Vitti completed his presentation, he sat on stage with a panel moderated by the
chair of NE Florida United Way. On the panel were a student, a teacher/parent,
a parent/community member.
The student
led off and asked the superintendent about teacher creativity in lessons given
the new curriculum mandated and monitored by the district.
Vitti
response (hereafter V:) We need the curriculum to match rigor to the standards
(Florida standards, which are in essence Common Core—this parenthetical
explanation is mine, not Vitti’s.) Individual teachers will have a hard time
developing lessons on their own that will attain this level. When they teach
the curriculum as written, they will automatically reach the level required by
the standards. Teachers do have flexibility; teachers do improvise. As time
goes on, the District will begin to differentiate among teachers who produced
the desired results (high passing rate of FSA) and allow them to amend the curriculum
in their classrooms. Teachers who do not do as well will have to follow what is
set forth.
Teacher/parent:
It is hard to follow a rigid timeline in the classroom. Students don’t relate
to the content of the curriculum. Could we have courses that allow students to
study their own cultures?
V: There is
more flexibility to offer such courses in middle school and high school.
Elective courses are needed to keep students engaged.
Parent/Community
member: The superintendent is consistent in the message he brings. His answers
do not change from place to place as the audience is different. As a member of
the Jacksonville community, who hears from many people, I will raise their
concern: boundaries matter. Why do some schools have resources while others lack,
especially in the DTO schools (DTO schools are those in the special Quality
Education for All initiative, essentially the schools that feed into
Raines/Ribault/Jackson high schools)?
V: DTO gets
substantially more resources than other schools in the District. For example,
all DTO schools will have 1 to 1 technology by the fall. (This means there will
be one computer for every student.) If parents have a concern that their
children do not have a textbook for their grade level content areas, they should
call the school, the principal, or me.
P/C: How do
we get a school out of DTO? When do we figure it is successful? And will the
larger salaries continue for the teachers who work there?
V: DTO
schools follow research-based strategies and have reduced bureaucracy to deal
with. For example, the regional superintendent, Iranetta Wright, does not
report through the Chief of Schools; she reports directly to me. Some DTO
schools are performing more highly than other schools in the district. We
placed schools into DTO based on their feeder patterns (to Raines, Ribault, and
Jackson). Some schools will exit the program. They will receive greater
autonomy and flexibility at that point.
Teacher/parent
asked about the boundary changes.
V: The
proposed changes are across the district. We targeted schools with low
enrollment based upon capacity. Our changes are for schools where over 50% of
the students have left for other options: magnets, charters, home schooling,
vouchers. We want children to return to their neighborhood schools. Increasing
the utilization of available seats is important. We are prevented from building
new schools in areas of population growth if we have under-utilization
elsewhere. We can’t build new schools in Mandarin if we have seats available in
Northwest Jacksonville. That gives the charter operators freedom to move into
such areas as Mandarin and open new schools when we cannot.
The changes
are also related to performance issues. We need to fundamentally restructure
schools that are not performing (according to state tests). Saying we will try
harder is not enough. Parents are leaving underperforming schools. Some schools
are broken. We need to transform them so parents will buy back in and re-enroll
their children.
For the most
part, principal changes have settled. Things are stabilizing. There will be
fewer changes in the future.
I didn’t
write down who asked it, but the subject of school grades came up.
V: Give it
time. At this moment, you cannot decide upon school performance based upon the
grade. The state is undergoing a massive flux given the change in standards,
tests, and performance levels. Eventually things will settle, hopefully, and
when we again have consistency from year to year school grades will indicate
the quality of a school. Until then, look at more things: the school culture,
the relationships between children and adults, and the program offerings of the
school when making a decision about what school is right for a child.
We were
done. They released us to have discussions at our tables about the question of
the conference—equity in education.

I didn’t
keep notes when a few tables were randomly selected to report to the whole
assembly, but I do remember that another table reported an issue I raised:
given that we are going to online curriculums, where students do not receive a
textbook, aren’t we creating inequity for students whose parent cannot afford a
computer and/or an internet connection? Go to the library is not an acceptable
answer given the cutback in library hours over the years, especially in the
evenings and weekends, and the environment is not the same as a quiet place at
home.

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