Yesterday I attended a panel discussion with Dr. Nikolai Vitti - Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, Nina Waters - President of The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, and Laurie DuBow - Advisory Board member of the Quality Education for All Fund.
Since realtors are by nature ambassadors of our city, they have the potential to be ambassadors of our public school system, and the discussion was designed to bring realtors up to date on the vast changes that are underway in our public school system.
It's no secret that our school system has been wrought with troubles including low high school graduation rates, a large achievement gap, and controversy over the magnet and charter school programs. In recent years, philanthropists in our community came together to start the "Quality Education for All" (QEA) program -a large fund of private donors who have raised $35 million dollars to date to spend in our school system. Because the single most important factor in a child's education is the quality of the teacher, the primary goal of QEA is teacher quality and retention.
The work they are doing has already had impact. The high school graduation rate has increased 16% in the last five years, to 72%. Of the 7 major urban areas in Florida, we have moved to #3 for graduation rate of minorities, and #1 in math achievement.
Specific to recruitment and retention, the fund implements strategies often used in the business world - some of the programs include rewarding teachers with $20,000 to stay in an underperforming school, and $17,000 for a teacher to move from a high to a low performing school.
With regards to this huge initiative, advisory board member Laurie DuBow stated "We have everything we need in place for this to be able to happen, and that may not happen again. We need the superintendent's guts and our money." All board members have privately donated over $5 million dollars to the fund.
Dr. Vitti touched on a sensitive topic during the meeting - public perception of the school system. "If it's anything you leave here today with, it's this message - Give us a chance." He talked about how when he moved here, his wife called different places asking for advice about where to send her children. (In the discussions she didn't mention that her husband is the superintendent.)The message that she overwhelmingly got? "Whatever you do, don't send your children to public school here."
"Even if you're not 'in' the system, or choose to send your children to private school, it's our duty to support a strong public school system", Dr. Vitti urged. "We all believe in democracy, and one of the basic tenets of democracy is equal opportunity. In order to not perpetuate the caste society of "haves" and "have-nots", we have to provide equal opportunity in the form of quality education for everyone."
Here are some great resources shared in the discussion:
School Facts Jax - Your one-stop source for information about public schools. School grades, graduation rates, and more
Quality Education Fund for All - $50 million dollar investment in Duval County Public Schools
Jacksonville Public Education Fund - Nonprofit research-based organization focused on raising the quality of education in Duval County