Fates Of 3 Duval Schools Up In The Air As District Must Choose A Plan For Them This Month

Nov 7, 2017

The future of three low-performing Duval County schools is up in the air, as the district has to tell the state by Nov. 15 what it plans to do if they don’t make grades of at least a C this school year, said Superintendent Patricia Willis in a school board workshop Tuesday.

The schools, Lake Forest Elementary along with Northwestern and Matthew Gilbert middle schools, have had a history of nearly all D’s and F’s over the last six years.

The state’s options for the three schools include: closing the schools and reassigning the students to other schools, closing the schools and reopening them as charters or contracting with an outside entity to operate the schools. Willis pointed out that last option could also include a district-managed charter school.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

Charter schools are public, but privately managed. A district-managed charter school would mean the school would operate like a charter, having its own school board and rules.

A recently-passed state law, called House Bill 7069, gives low-performing schools fewer improvement options and less time to turn their grades around.

Willis said district used to be able to also choose a “hybrid plan” or a district-managed improvement plan, which could mean the district might add additional support to a school or change around its leadership.  

Also, schools earning two consecutive D’s or and an F used to have a year to plan what are called “turnaround” interventions, but under the new law the district has to immediately implement an intervention.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

Although school grades aren’t expected to come out until this  summer, the district has to choose plans for the three schools in November. If the district goes with the option of a charter school or management company, the board will have to vote on those contracts by Jan. 31.

“We cannot wait to make decision in June because of [the requirement of] getting those entities up and running,” Willis said.

Willis said even if the district were to choose the charter school option for the schools, even if the schools made C’s, they’d still have become charter schools because a contract would already be signed.

School board member Becki Couch said that’s because of the new House Bill 7069 law, which the school board is suing the state over. It requires all districts use standard charter school contracts. Before this year, the district would have been able to add a line in the contract saying the document would only be valid if the school received a grade below a C.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

Willis pointed out during the workshop, the three schools are all fewer than five percentage points from a C. Northwestern, one percentage point from a C, has made three F’s and three D’s over the last six years, but it’s also improved 11 percentage points over the last three years.

Board Chair Paula Wright was adamant these impending decisions not lower morale.

“The most important thing to me is that we make certain that every student, every parent, every teacher, every administrator understands we value the work that they do and that we are fully supporting their efforts and we are encouraging them but we are going to be walking the walk with them,” Wright said.

Willis said the plans for the three schools haven’t been selected yet. Community Assessment Teams made up of community stakeholders, educators and parents have to make recommendations to the state after accessing the schools’ performances and talking with the communities.

Willis said after an October Community Assessment meeting, the favored options were an external education management operator or district-managed charter schools. However, there’s still another community meeting on Nov. 9 at Matthew Gilbert Middle School at 5:30 p.m.

At the same time, Duval has five other schools —Arlington Heights Elementary, George Washington Carver Elementary, Gregory Drive Elementary, Ramona Elementary and Arlington Middle School — that have made D’s and F’s and must make a C by the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

Tuesday night the district approved additional support for all eight low-performing schools

The board voted to contract with a Jacksonville company called Turnaround Solutions Inc. to improve the schools.

According to its website, the company’s president, James Young, was a principal at three Duval County schools, improving their grades from F’s to passing.

The eight schools would get educational and professional development services from Turnaround Solutions, Inc. The contract requires the each school get at least 50, seven-hour days worth of in-person or virtual services. No more than 15 percent of services could be virtual.

School grades are made up of several components, including standardized test scores, graduation rate and improvement.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride.