With the sound of the Andrew Jackson High School band drumming in the background, hundreds of students, parents and teachers packed the Jackson High auditorium Monday night to hear about the multi-million endeavor aimed at transforming their schools.
The Quality Education for All Initiative — or QEA — is a series of programs centered primarily around 36 under-performing schools –the so-called "transformation" schools that feed into Raines, Ribault and Andrew Jackson High School.
The programs, which include performance incentives for high-performing teachers and a four-year medical-residency style teacher training program, were unveiled in the spring. But Monday, many parents and students in the surrounding community got their first up-close look at the plan.
The school district held the first in a series of QEA public forums to a full house.
The evening began with a promotional video featuring several public and private backers of the initiative. That was followed by a presentation by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and a panel discussion.
"Research indicates this, that the number one factor that influences student achievement — meaning students doing well academically — is teacher quality," Vitti said. "We already have great teachers in the Raines, Jackson feeder pattern, but we don’t have the right incentives always and the right culture to keep teachers in those schools and to recruit more teachers into the schools."
So far, QEA donors have raised just under $40 million toward funding the efforts, with a goal of ultimately raising $50 million.
Monday night, gave those in the room their first chance to present questions and feedback to both school administrators and members of the initiative's advisory board.
Many of those questions centered on the performance incentives program, which offers a sizable bump in salary to teachers and principals with students who have demonstrated significant learning gains.
"You have teachers coming in, being labeled as 'high-quality teachers' or the best teacher, what does that do for the other teacher who may feel slighted?" asked Eunice Barnum, mother of a Ribault High School sophomore.
Vitti responded that teachers won't necessarily know whether or not their colleagues received the incentive, but he added that school officials need to start thinking differently about how salary advances are determined.
"If you are more effective than your peer with the same group of children, then why not incentivize them to stay?" he said.
The night also featured other speakers including Jackson High School teacher Sabrina Hall, who will qualify for the incentives program and School Board Member Paula Wright who oversees District 4, where Jackson High is located.
"We all need to understand and appreciate that we have private citizens in Jacksonville, Fla. who are committed to giving $50 million," Wright said.
Some in attendance applauded the effort. But Barnum said it will take a little more to sell her on it.
"I’m still trying to figure out how that’s going to transcend to every child, everyday, in every situation, and I’m not understanding just yet, but we’ll see," she said.
The district will hold two more Quality Education for All Community Meetings at Raines High School Thursday, July 31 and Ribault High School on Monday, August 4.
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.