Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY OF HOPE; Everyone's Issue

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY OF HOPE; Everyone's Issue

Article excerpt

A massive survey of Jacksonville readers, leaders and educators showed remarkable consensus about several key issues facing the Duval County public schools.

- The quality of the schools has declined in a generation.

- School funding is poor.

- Student behavior is fair, at best.

- More parental involvement is needed.

- Appointing School Board members is a bad idea.

The extensive survey also showed a major disconnect.

- Educators think much more highly of themselves and their principals than city leaders and readers.

The poll by The Times-Union was not a scientific sample of the entire community. However, a separate survey conducted by random phone calls validated the major results.

The newspaper collected survey responses from about 1,600 educators, 722 readers and 321 readers. The survey took about a half-hour to complete. Also, many of the respondents added comments.

Called City of Hope, this is a major civic journalism project to examine the factors that go into how children in the Jacksonville area are reared. While education is a big part of that, it is not the only factor. The goal is to help move the community toward solutions.

The future of the city is at stake. As one business owner told reporter Mary Kelli Palka, some graduates of our schools are showing up for work without minimal skills. For instance, some have trouble filing according to the alphabet. The stark fact is that careers in the 21st century are going to require the ability to learn on the job, to think critically. What we used to consider college-level education will be required for most new jobs.

Other observations from the poll:

ENGAGE CIVIC LEADERS

The schools need more mentors, more business partners, more visits.

Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals has conducted an open door policy, inviting leaders to visit the schools.

Many visitors have been pleasantly surprised by the commitment of the educators at the schools and concerned about the level of challenges facing students.

GET BEYOND THE FCAT

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is not designed to be an evaluation tool, simply a test of minimal skills. Well-educated students should be well beyond these skills. Ideally, students should be evaluated in the first week of school and at the end of the school year to assess progress. Such an evaluation regimen would be a good way to assess teacher performance, generally.

BUILD CREDIBILITY

The Times-Union editorial board recently held a discussion with several retired educators. They indicated that simply conducting thorough evaluations from principals on down can have a positive impact on the schools. That is basic management. The Duval district with a cooperative and engaged teachers union has been a leader in using merit pay. Consistent and thorough evaluations need to be enforced and tracked.

BREAK DOWN BARRIERS

City government and the public schools need to work better together. …

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