Guest post: Seismic movements happening each day at GRASP Academy


Recently, Donna Orender, a member of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, had the opportunity to visit GRASP Academy, Duval’s school designed specifically for students with dyslexia. Here, she shares some of her reflections from visiting the school.

-- Ale’ta Turner

It is the sum of our imperfectness that creates a world of beauty. For our children, who are constantly tested by a thinking process that does not follow what is deemed “normal,” the challenges for all of us as parents becomes all consuming. Research shows us that success in school is predicated on achieving success. But when the current learning systems are not designed with your brain circuity in mind, well there is a disconnect.

In addition to the shame, the fear of failure and ultimately the loss of talent that is left undeveloped, the opportunity to GRASP these kids and meet them on their own terms with teaching techniques that will move them forward is a virtual treasure trove of opportunity.  For my dear friends who have kids who have these learning challenges, there is finally a revolutionary new home for them. It is a place for learning, to achieve success and realize a sense of peace, that all families who are faced with these challenges so eagerly seek. It is called the GRASP (Guiding, Remediating and Accelerating Student Performance) Academy, and it recently was created and officially opened by the forward thinking Duval County Public Schools.

The kids were warm and welcoming in each of the classrooms I visited on "opening day." I made new friends quickly in each of the grade levels as I practically danced through the halls with delight. The visual and tactical learning that was taking place was so inviting. The boys sitting on the carpet were delighted sorting through their numbers, small groups were reading, little toys and charms were everywhere... I wanted to stay. I knew this was a place that I would learn in best, even today... active, tactile, personal. I really felt proud to be associated with a group that not only had the vision to see this opportunity through, but also the stamina and fortitude to execute against that vision.

The opening ceremony was inspirational as all of the students marched into the courtyard, clad in their red shirts accompanied by their spirited and committed teachers. Everyone from School Board Chair Cheryl Grymes to the lauded principal Amanda Sauer, who came from Colorado to lead the charge, were enthusiastic and proud of this leadership moment. But it was Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who inspired us all who were fortunate to be present that day. We knew there was something very special about all that was happening. A school designed to specifically address the more localized needs of a student population is where our higher learning and results will be realized. This is change audit is definitely a positive for all who have a stake in creating the kind of paradigm shifting schools that move our kids and our communities forward. He encouraged us all when he said, "You have to be agents of change, willing to be in the epicenter of an earthquake where seismic outcomes can spread throughout a community, a nation. For all of us and in particular the teacher leaders that are here, this is what transformation looks like."

More recently, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund's annual Public Perceptions Poll found that more than three quarters of respondents think Duval County public school teachers are effective.

Transformation looked beautiful and continues to feel beautiful at the GRASP school. There is much to be learned for all of us. There are seismic movements happening each day for the students who are fortunate to receive the benefits of being in the GRASP of innovation, the embrace of change and the hope of tomorrow. Go to the head of the class...


-- Donna Orender, JPEF Board Member and Founder of Generation W




of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.