Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Opinion Roundup; Duval's School Grades Leap Forward

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Opinion Roundup; Duval's School Grades Leap Forward

Article excerpt

Leave a place better than you found it. This classic value that is part of the American psyche.

The adage comes to mind in light of the outstanding performance of the Duval County Public Schools.

The district maintained its overall B grade. So will those naysayers remember this fact?

In addition, A-rated schools surged from 31 last year to 46 this year.

And the proportion of schools that received an A, B or C grade increased from 75 percent last year to 89 percent.

Interim Superintendent Pat Willis credited hard work. Of course. That's a requirement.

It also starts with great leadership, especially at the principal level.

Departed Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has to be credited with much of this. He replaced a large number of principals, which caused some angst, but it was based on a sense of urgency.

A school can't afford a down year, especially one with a large number of struggling students.

Vitti, now the superintendent in Detroit, took a school system that was already on the rise and led it to new heights.

Most of the district's 36 struggling schools improved to at least C grades.

Turnarounds don't happen overnight. A school's culture can change quickly with a dynamic new principal but when students are several years behind, the catch-up process is difficult.

Bringing up students in reading is especially difficult when there is little reading material at home.

The difficulty is illustrated by the Wayman Academy charter school. After 17 years, it earned its first A. You can visit schools like this and see the dedicated teachers, the hardworking students and yet the school grades sometimes take years to reflect the hard work.

Research from the University of Chicago has shown that for schools to succeed it takes five elements: school leadership first, then parent-community ties, professional faculty and staff, a student-centered learning climate and an instructional guidance system.

Each of these elements must be working in sync with the others.

One of Vitti's legacies is to compare Duval with the other large metro school districts in the state, not with smaller, more fortunate suburban districts like St. Johns. Now Duval trails only Palm Beach among the seven urban school districts on school grades.

Let's thank all of the community partners of the school system, too.

INFLUENCE IN TALLAHASSEE

Duval County's consolidated government has given it a great advantage statewide in being able to rally the community in mutual goals.

But in the Legislature, Duval has been overshadowed by South Florida legislators. Since John Thrasher left the Senate for the presidency of Florida State, the local delegation has been in a power vacuum.

With that in mind, Rep. Paul Renner is in line to become speaker of the Florida House in 2022. …

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