Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Blight near Schools Must Be Addressed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Blight near Schools Must Be Addressed

Article excerpt

Each day, countless Jacksonville children walk down gauntlets of garbage-covered lots as they make their way to school.

Day after day.

Knowing that, do we really expect those kids to believe us when we insist - despite the muck and mire they're forced to navigate around each day - that we value them just as much as other schoolchildren in other neighborhoods in other parts of our community?

Do we really think it doesn't affect those kids?

That it doesn't color how they view themselves?

That it doesn't hinder what they allow themselves to dream they can achieve?

Of course, it does.

The Times-Union editorial page staff has documented overgrown weeds near schools, broken glass on sidewalks and other examples of blight.

And Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti openly acknowledges it.

"Kids aren't stupid," Vitti recently told the Times-Union editorial board.

"The way (the neighborhood around) a school looks signals to children whether they're valued or not."

Vitti added that adults can't tell children we have high expectations for them - or real belief in them - when they are surrounded by "tires on lawns and fences falling apart" on their daily journey to school.

"They see that, and they can see the contradiction between reality and what we tell them," Vitti said.

"It tells them they aren't valued."

COLLABORATIVE EFFORT

That's why it's encouraging that Duval's school system has been working with the city's Operation Neighborhood Blight ad hoc committee to intensify the battle against physical neglect in neighborhoods across Jacksonville - and address the fact that many of our heavily blighted areas are near public schools.

CRIME IS BLIGHT, TOO

Vitti has toured ravaged areas with City Councilwoman Denise Lee, who chairs the blight ad hoc committee, which has already made a major contribution and produced tangible progress in cleaning up wide sections of the community.

Lee began this project to focus on unacceptable blight by giving a similar tour to the editorial page staff.

At first last year, the blight was widespread and outrageous, worse than had been observed by the staff in recent years. …

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