Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leaders Disagree on Impact of Vitti Departure

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leaders Disagree on Impact of Vitti Departure

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Smith Amos

Some of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti's backers and detractors agree: There's a lot more work to do to push Duval County Schools toward success. But they disagreed about whether Vitti should stay in Jacksonville to do it.

Some community leaders were dismayed to hear Saturday that Vitti is one of three finalists for the Detroit superintendent's job. Vitti in a statement said he applied for the position to explore the chance to return to the Detroit area, where he was born and raised.

Some prominent Jacksonville leaders said that if he left, it would be a blow for Duval County.

"We absolutely would prefer that Dr. Vitti remain in Duval County," said Nina Waters, president of the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, which manages millions of dollars in donations and civic funds, including a $40 million educational effort called the Quality Education for All initiative, designed to help the district's most disadvantaged schools in inner-city Jacksonville.

"He's brought the leadership we needed to make the necessary progress now being documented in multiple performance measures," Waters said. "There is clearly more work to be done, and we would be delighted to continue to partner with him and the School Board to build on this initial success."

Over his four years in Duval, Vitti has improved graduation rates and the district has gone from a C state grade to a B, even as state academic standards and exams got tougher.

Said Wayne Weaver, a businessman and chairman of the Quality Education for All fund: "It would be a tremendous loss for the district to lose Dr. Vitti."

Yet among African-American leaders, the reaction is mixed. Some say Vitti targeted low-income and high-minority schools for initiatives; it would be a shame if he leaves before he was close to finishing them.

"All of us know that transformation takes years," said the Rev. John Guns, senior pastor at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, which houses one of Duval's out-of-school suspension programs.

"At one level, I see him as a friend, someone who is committed to the children of the district," Guns said. …

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