Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fryer Missed an Opportunity to Build Trust in Community

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fryer Missed an Opportunity to Build Trust in Community

Article excerpt

I'm glad to see that reading is a burning issue in Duval County's schools these days. I just hope that egotism doesn't snuff it out before it spreads.

Last week's School Board meeting left me a little worried about that. Superintendent John Fryer, it seems, got a little impatient. Not at some dork yammering on about the nutritional value in cafeteria tater tots, but at School Board Vice Chairman Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson, you see, got out of line. Overstepped his bounds. He proposed that a board committee be formed to keep tabs on the progress of Direct Instruction -- a phonics-based reading program that has been lauded by parents and teachers in many of the city's poorer schools. Among other things, Johnson also wanted the committee to look at ways to expand the program and to hire an outside group to see to it that everything gets done.

But to Fryer, that move amounted to an ambush. He warned the board that if it adopted Johnson's motion, it would amount to a no-confidence vote in his leadership.

So, of course, the board didn't.

Now that was just too childish. So childish, in fact, that it reveals why Johnson had to come up with such a resolution to begin with.

True enough, some of Johnson's proposal was a bit too detailed to avoid being labeled as micromanaging. That part about requiring all low-scoring elementary schools to adopt Direct Instruction, as well as specific meeting times and such, well, I don't know about all that. But the crux of it -- to expand and support Direct Instruction -- was workable.

Johnson made the motion because although the program is enjoying unprecedented success in most of the 16 schools that use it, its backers, the Interchurch Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, are worried that future funding for it is shaky. They also are concerned that children who are in three schools slated to close won't be able to resume Direct Instruction at their new schools, and that principals who want it at their schools feel administrative pressure to pick America's Choice instead.

America's Choice is a largely untested reading program that Fryer favors. …

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