Fierce Battle Brews in District 5

By Desmon, Stephanie | The Florida Times Union, August 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

Fierce Battle Brews in District 5


Desmon, Stephanie, The Florida Times Union


It could be the tightest of all four Duval County School Board

races.

Incumbent Gwendola Jones acknowledges it won't be easy to win a

second term representing District 5, a diverse district that

spans from the Westside Skills Center across the St. Johns River

to Wolfson High School on the Southside.

She faces two well-known opponents and another candidate with a

following of his own. All four have raised thousands of dollars,

three of them topping the $10,000 mark.

Meanwhile, Jones, a 60-year-old retired social worker, is the

one who has had to take public stands on desegregation, new

school construction and neighborhood schools, issues that have

divided her mostly black district.

"I'm sure I haven't pleased everybody," she said.

Enter her challengers:

Jimmie Johnson, 63, retired in January after working in

Northside schools for 37 years, as football coach, athletic

director and principal at Raines High School for 16 years. He is

the "community sweetheart," Raines PTA President Anna Matthews

said.

He wants the African-American community to be able to trust the

School Board. He said it does no good for the board to agree to

build new Northside schools one month and take those schools

away the next.

Denise Parsons, 44, is active and outspoken, a former Raines

PTA president and a strong voice on the citizens desegregation

committee. She once ran for the state House seat once occupied

by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown.

Parsons wants administrators to be held more accountable for

student success. "People get their paychecks whether children

are educated or not," she said. "Sixteen schools can fail, and

nobody's head rolls."

Oliver Muldrow, 59, is a vocational education specialist for

the school system, where he has worked since 1970. His is a

grass-roots support. He helped organize the Northside Civic

Association and is active in the Greater Grant Memorial AME

Church and has helped others with their political campaigns.

He wants students to graduate from the system with the

necessary skills. "My campaign is about preparing students for

the world of work with a marketable job skill," he said.

A winner will emerge after the Sept. 3 primary only if one

candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, the

top two vote-getters will face off Nov. 5.

Four years ago, Jones won 48 percent of the vote in a

five-person primary and went on to defeat Willie Charles

McCullough, a part-time teacher, by a wide margin.

In her four years on the School Board, Jones has taken a

low-key approach. One of two African-American board members, she

and the other, lawyer Gwen Gibson, tend to vote together on

major issues. But Jones is more laid-back, a sharp contrast to

Gibson, who is known for her challenging and questioning of the

school system.

Sometimes it has been hard to pin Jones down. As part of a

proposed desegregation agreement with the Jacksonville branch of

the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,

she voted to build a number of schools in different parts of the

county. Since then, she has voted against changes to the

agreement and against moving forward with school construction.

The youngest children should be guaranteed a seat in their

neighborhood school, she said, but she voted last year to

convert Spring Park Elementary School into a dedicated

performing arts middle school, a move that would have shut the

school to local children. …

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