Guest column: Renaming schools is over, but working on equity in education has just begun

JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune writes about education equity in the Florida Times-Union.

6/14/2021

This column was originally published in the Florida Times-Union on Sunday, June 13.

The Duval County School Board has voted: there will be no more Confederate-named public schools in Duval County. 

As we put this season behind us, I want to express my gratitude to the superintendent and School Board for their leadership, and my commitment to staying laser focused on the work that remains.

Renaming the schools is only part of what it looks like to pursue equal opportunity through our public schools.

Student outcomes data – which guide all our work at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund – show that racial disparities are improving but still a challenge. For example, about 66 percent of white third-graders are reading on grade level, while only 37 percent of black third-graders in Duval County are achieving at that level.

Better educational outcomes for black and brown students will allow businesses to recruit a more diverse workforce and create the foundation for a thriving, inclusive city.

What can we do?

As an independent think-and-do tank, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund is committed to helping pilot and scale best practices in partnership with donors and educators. 

Education research has taught us a lot about what makes a difference for diverse learners, but it takes significant support to implement these practices across our many public schools. To pilot innovations, JPEF works closely with teachers and principals through strategic initiatives. To reach scale, JPEF plays a convening role in partnership with Duval County Public Schools, local charter schools, education-serving nonprofits, parents and families, and many more community stakeholders. Right now, we’re working to convene partners to improve teacher diversity and boost third-grade reading skills.

Through our initiatives, we’re also working closely with 12 principals in Title I elementary schools and with 48 teacher leaders in schools across the county. We help these outstanding educators drive even better results in their schools through the adoption of research-based practices. Even with the disruptions of COVID-19, we’re seeing just how much these practices make a difference for students. For example:

  • Nadine Ebri, an algebra teacher at Southside Middle, led a project through the support of JPEF’s Teacher Leadership Initiative. At the start of the school year, her students were behind. By the spring, her class was scoring second-best in the district among their peers. Her success hinged on a simple but under-used idea: students will work harder and learn more if they have a positive experience with math class.
  • Dr. Wayman Graham, Principal at Long Branch Elementary, led a project to strengthen family engagement at his school. Even during a pandemic, he found safe ways to host events with families -Donuts with Dads and Muffins with Moms - in which staff and families could communicate face-to-face. This year, his school performed extremely well on a key measure of school improvement, the 5Essentials survey, showing 14 points of growth in family engagement. 

Renaming public schools was the right thing to do. After a long year, many are tired of the school renaming issue. But we cannot tire working to fulfill the promise of public education.

We must continue to press forward until all children are achieving their full potential. 

Rachael Tutwiler Fortune is president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.

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DID YOU KNOW?

 

87%

of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2018-2019.