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Teachers take the stage at first School Board Candidate Academy

Guest blogger Christian Bilgrien is a senior at the University of Florida studying Elementary Education. He is currently interning with JPEF, and believes strongly in an equitable education system. He appreciates JPEF’s efforts to work towards ensuring fair and equal education for all students.

Close to 100 community members convened at JPEF’s first ever Duval School Board Candidate Academy to share their aspirations and experiences navigating the issues that affect our public school system with school board candidates. Over the course of a day, candidates and attendees interacted with a Data Walk and four panels that consisted of retired board members, students, teachers and parents.

The participating teachers, many of whom were the 2018 Teacher of the Year for their school, were specific and honest about the changes they believe need to be implemented in Duval County Public Schools (DCPS):

  • Kelley Ranch, Lee High School

  • Brandon Wilkinson, Paxon School for Advanced Studies

  • Terrye Kibler, Hendricks Avenue

  • Leslie Brannon, Garden City Elementary

  • Roshanda Jones, River City Science Academy

  • Jason McDaniel, Chimney Lakes Elementary

  • Stacy Marshall, Sallye B. Mathis Elementary

  • Caran Mullins, San Jose Elementary

Sharing thoughts on education issues and areas for improvement

Lack of equal opportunity: The teachers noted how larger districts can feel like they don’t have the same opportunity or flexibility as smaller districts. Some schools see less funding than others, and this affects the materials available for the students in the classroom.

“I came to Duval from a smaller county,” said one teacher, “and it was a very different dynamic. In my first weeks in Duval during pre-planning, other teachers at my school said, ‘Keep your workbook out because they are going to come to look and if it’s not ready, you will be done.’ I didn’t teach with a workbook [in my previous county]. In the College of Education, I was taught not to use it. Since then, I have learned to negotiate curriculum, and I have a supportive administration that helps me.”

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Teacher retention: Multiple teachers noted the challenge of frequent teacher burnout due to understaffed schools and lack of resources to buy basic supplies for their classrooms. The challenge of teacher recruitment and retention is real as 40-50 percent of teachers leave the classroom within the first five years of teaching -- the time-frame needed for these teachers to become effective.

“The biggest problem is morale,” one panelist said, “and a sense of hopelessness and apathy within the entire community. Teachers leave because they feel they can’t get done what they want to get done. We can’t change the system and there is no solution. I hate to present a problem with no solution, but I’m unsure how to fix it. Maybe more funding?”

One teacher expressed a desire for decision-makers who aren’t in the classroom to allow teachers to be teachers, recognizing that teachers bring the expertise and creativity needed to do an effective job.

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A different approach to school board involvement: One teacher spoke out about the lack of school board involvement in the classroom. This teacher challenged the school board candidates to be involved, visit classrooms and become knowledgeable about what is actually happening within the school building.

State standards: Multiple teachers noted the difficulty in complying with state standards and expectations, and the lack of funding and materials to make that possible. One teacher noted how the greatest thing said all day was from the Student Voice panel: “Things have been the same for decades, what’s up?”

The student was referring to the consistent lack of financial support and ineffective practices mandated by the state and federal government and implemented by the DCPS school board.

August School Board Elections Public Forums

JPEF believes it is critical that school boards and school board candidates listen to teachers and proceed with the intention to find ways to realize their hopes for the educational future of the district. This event was not empowering teachers, because they already have power. Rather, it provided them with the platform to elevate their voice. By having these critical discussions, we can continue to normalize and nurture community leadership and involvement.

Members of the public are invited to join us for the School Board Elections Public Forums that will be held in August at the Jessie Ball duPont Center at 40 E Adams Street. Click below to register or follow us on Facebook and participate in the forums LIVE from the comfort of your own home.

District 4 Public Forum - Aug. 7

District 2 Public Forum - Aug. 8

District 6 Public Forum - Aug. 9