When public education makes the news, it’s usually state or district leaders we hear from: the governor, legislators, the School Board or the superintendent.
Indeed, many of the dramatic changes in education over the last ten years have come from policy. And all measures suggest Duval County public schools have made significant progress in that time.
Yet when our community thinks about public education, they think much more local. They think about the people in our schools every day: teachers, parents, and school leaders.
In a series of new questions in JPEF’s Annual Public Education Perceptions poll, Jacksonville residents shared their views on what makes a high quality school. The University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory conducted the poll in late 2018 with a representative sample of Jacksonville residents over 18 years old.
The findings are a great reminder of where the Jacksonville community, in partnership with Duval County Public Schools, should ground our efforts in public education.
When asked who has the greatest impact on school quality, 34 percent of participants said teachers, 30 percent said parents, and 13 percent said school leaders. Fewer people thought community and system leaders were most important to school quality.
School leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school, according to an influential 2004 report, “How leadership influences student learning.”
Over the last year, JPEF has participated in the Chicago Public Education Fund’s (CPEF) Community of Practice to learn about their nationally recognized model for supporting school principals to improve school quality. The Gates Foundation is another big education player with a focus on school quality and leadership - they support principals to use data for continuous improvement. According to the George W. Bush Institute, another group focused on school leadership, great principals recruit and retain the best teachers, set ambitious visions for their buildings, and create a culture of collaboration and constant improvement. School leaders also set the tone for a collaborative relationship with parents and guardians and the community.
We know from our own experience in Jacksonville that great principals are instructional leaders who support teachers to provide effective instruction and stay in the classroom.
Stephanie Bellino, the 2018 Florida Blue Duval County Teacher of the Year, often tells the story about how she almost quit teaching until her principal sat her down and shared data to show her how much her students had improved. That was the year before Stephanie won Duval County’s top teaching honor. Jacksonville is very lucky that she’s still in our classrooms teaching our students, and Stephanie credits her principal for keeping her at Garden City Elementary.
There’s no doubt our school leaders need support from the state and the district to be successful in helping our students learn. For example, more funding from the state and better pay for teachers would make a big difference.
As decisions are made by the state and district, principals and teachers are the ones who make them work for our students.