Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City's Future Depends on Upgrade of Public Schools

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City's Future Depends on Upgrade of Public Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Ronald L. Littlepage, Times-Union columnist

Our public schools are -- you pick the term -- in crisis or in a state of emergency.

Those are the words being used and it's not the first time we've heard such descriptions. Some will never forget the embarrassment of disaccreditation in the 1960s.

Here we are again. How will the community respond?

Five of our schools -- Ribault and Raines high schools and three middle schools -- are now schools where students will be eligible for state vouchers because the students there performed so poorly on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

But it's not just students at those schools. Too many students throughout the county are performing at below grade level in reading and math.

The future of this city -- both economically and socially -- depends on reversing that.

Mayor John Peyton is right on the mark in pushing for an intensive early literacy program aimed at ensuring all of the city's 4-year-olds have an opportunity for a head start on reading skills so they are prepared for school.

In his annual budget message to the City Council Tuesday night, he urged council members to approve $7 million for that program and in an otherwise less than stirring speech, he stressed with spirit the importance of all our children being able to read.

That effort will also be aided by the universal pre-kindergarten program that the state must implement next year to meet a mandate from voters.

Both should be a big help to 4-year-olds and the future. But it's the present that is in crisis with too many students already in middle school and high school not being able to meet standards in basic skills in reading and math.

For several days earlier this month, the School Board struggled with finding ways to improve student performance, specifically in the voucher schools but also districtwide.

A proposal for extra pay to encourage highly qualified teachers to move into the voucher schools is a good one, although it remains to be seen how many of those teachers would want to make the move because of the challenges they would face. …

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