School Board's Evaluation of Wise May Produce Fireworks

Article excerpt

Byline: William Bainbridge

This year's fireworks started a day early for the Duval County School Board.

At the board's July 3 meeting, numerous citizens criticized Superintendent Joseph Wise, weighing in on falling graduation rates, increased dropout rates, disappointing Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, achievement gaps and the superintendent's "elaborate travel."

The Rev. George Harvey Jr. testified, "Although we love each of you ... your agenda isn't working." He asked the board to "do the right thing and relieve Wise of his duties."

In Wise's own "self-evaluation" he cited a "lack of trust among various identifiable and unidentifiable groups" and "pervasive negative attitudes about our city's public schools based on true and false data."

Now, the groups are becoming more identifiable, and the negative attitudes seem to be pointed directly at Wise.

That may have been a preview of a looming showdown between some School Board members and Wise.

Nancy Broner, chairwoman of the board's previously nonfunctioning evaluation committee, said board members will rate Wise on his performance-based contract. An amendment to the contract permitted yet another delay of an evaluation.

In a few weeks, each board member is to meet individually with Wise. The plan is to finally complete this first evaluation in August, after Wise has been on the job a year and 10 months.

If the board rates Wise highly on performance benchmarks, he will receive bonuses on top of his $275,000 annual salary.

One board member, who does not seem inclined to be voting for bonuses, is attorney Brenda Priestly Jackson. She told me that "during the administration of Superintendent John Fryer, the dropout rate consistently went down."

Priestly Jackson understands the importance of the vital dropout number. Dropouts not only inflate FCAT scores by not participating, they often become a burden upon the community.

At the July 3 board meeting, Priestly Jackson told the public she came to the meeting with a "heavy heart" feeling compelled to "share areas of concern."

She questions her vote to hire the superintendent since she believes "the quality of life is endangered for all of us that love Jacksonville."

I have been critical of Priestly Jackson. …