First School Board Candidate Academy introduces school board candidates to Duval’s opportunities for improving public education
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., June 26, 2018 — Today Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) hosted the first ever School Board Candidate Academy with the goal of building the capacity of aspiring Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) board members. Close to 100 parents, students, teachers and retired board members convened to share their aspirations and experiences navigating the issues that affect our public school system.
Data Walk – Understanding the challenges and opportunities within DCPS
The day opened with a Data Walk. Participants were divided into diverse groups that included candidates for school board, students and parents to tour and react to data that painted a picture of the state of our district’s public schools. The data points shared addressed areas of opportunity for Duval such as demographic and resource distribution, suspension, school safety, the $62 million budget deficit, teacher quality and more.
“We know there are many areas of opportunity for our great city,” Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, JPEF interim president said, “and so we hope the data shared today helped contextualize challenges and opportunities for school board hopefuls as well as inspire them to consider how they can leverage the school board seat, community organizations and stakeholder voices to become champions for students and for this community.”
Over 90 percent of teachers are rated Effective or Highly effective based on the district’s evaluation formula: 50 percent student growth, 45 percent observations and 5 percent individualized professional development.
However, tens of thousands of students don’t pass the Florida State Assessments English Language Assessment each year—our state’s indicator for literacy. Passing this test in tenth grade is one of the requirements to graduate with a standard high school diploma.
Additionally, African American students are disproportionately given out of school suspension as a form of discipline. In 2015-16 there were 6,752 instances of out of school suspension -- 5,240 were issued to Black students. Of all the out of school suspensions issued to Black students, 64 percent were issued to Black males. Many of these factor that impact whether or not a student passes the exam intersect with one another.
Graduation rate overall has trended upward for the district up to 80.8 percent this past year. However, graduation rate gaps persist over time. Furthermore, state legislation that has altered some of the graduation requirements could result in decreases in graduation starting with the class of 2022 with the greatest negative impact expected for Black students
“It’s unfair,” read one notecard from a student participant, “because if I was to do something that another person does and it’s the same thing, we both should get the same punishment. And we need fair punishments. Like, does suspension teach us lessons?”
Data shows that the majority of school safety incidents in Duval County were overwhelmingly physical attacks and fighting, however, this year’s state dollars and the discourse in our community did not focus in these areas.
There are many difficult questions to consider when it comes to improving public schools in Jacksonville.
“This is totally eye opening for me,” stated one candidate.
“How can students learn if they’re not in school?” asked another candidate. “I really think we have a problem. And we need to work together. We have to do something and especially with our African American students. If students are not in school, they can’t learn.”
So you want to be a school board member?
Following the Data Walk, Dr. Bradley Balch, professor and dean emeritus at Indiana State University and author of Building Great School Board-Superintendent Teams challenged folks considering a seat on the Duval County Public Schools board to also consider the multi-faceted nature of their role.
According to Dr. Balch, school boards oftentimes try very hard to work on the “what.” The board will decide what the priorities are for the district, and the superintendent decides how that will be operationalized.
Dr. Balch challenged candidates for DCPS school board to consider another way. “There’s ample room to allow for role and responsibility overlap,” Balch said. “The job of the superintendent can get limiting very quickly when the relationship with the school board is not strong. Superintendents need the support of an effective board if they are going to build community support.”
In an era of connectivity or even social transparency (driven by social media), where so many things have the potential to influence each other, transparency, effective communication and teamwork become leadership essential. Transparency is directly tied to community happiness, which in turn supports increased trust for the school board-superintendent team. Balch also challenged candidates to consider community input from teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders when considering decisions.
“The dream and how we’re going to get there needs to be at the center of the conversation,” Dr. Balch said. “We get distracted in our business by a lot of things and oftentimes these aspirational statements get lost. But at the end of the day, I would ask you as aspiring board members to look at your mission statements and reflect: does this really reflect our collective dream for students in Jacksonville?”
In addition, candidates also heard from retired school board members, teachers, parents and students around these topics. The goals of this first School Board Candidate Academy were to elevate teacher, student and parent voices to inform all candidates about critical issues happening in our local schools; and to elevate strategic and applicable issues related to public education for candidates to as they prepare to interact with and serve constituents in their district. JPEF will hold public forums for residents in districts 2, 4 and 6 to meet with and ask questions to their candidates for school board. The forums will be held at the Jessie Ball duPont Center at 40 E Adams St. from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. on the following dates:
Aug. 7 – District 2 Public Forum
Aug. 8 – District 4 Public Forum
Aug. 9 – District 6 Public Forum
The goal of these forums is to inform potential voters about priorities for our public schools that JPEF has identified and the role that school board can play regarding those priorities. For folks that can’t attend in-person, the forums will be broadcasted live at Facebook.com/JaxPEF. The live feeds will be moderated and questions posted to the feed during the live broadcast will be shared with the candidates in real time.
Contact Charmaine Campo, Senior Manager of Marketing & Communications, at (904) 790-1178 or Charmaine@jaxpef.org for more information.
About the Jacksonville Public Education Fund
The Jacksonville Public Education Fund is an independent nonprofit organization that works to spark innovation, relationships and resources to power the potential within and around our public schools to achieve excellent outcomes for all students. For more information, visit www.jaxpef.org or call (904) 356-7757.