Four of the six candidates running for Duval County’s District 4 School Board seat participated in a downtown forum Tuesday evening hosted by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund.
The district includes much of Jacksonville’s Eastside, as well as downtown and much of the Northwest side. Termed out District 4 board member Paula Wright, the current board chair, is challenging state Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, for her House seat.
In alphabetical order, the District 4 candidates appearing on the August primary ballot are Linda Butler, Erdine Johnson, Charis Scurry, Timothy Sloan, Cynthia Smith and Darryl Willie. Smith and Scurry did not attend the forum. Scurry attended a forum that WJCT News covered in June.
Linda Butler was raised on Jacksonville’s Eastside and has taught in both public and private schools. She’s a former Monticello, Florida, City Council member.
Erdine Johnson has a career in education spanning 40 years, first teaching and later becoming a principal in both traditional and charter schools.
Charis Scurry is the manager of education strategies for the nonprofit United Way of Northeast Florida. Her work focuses on the Achievers For Life Program with the goal of keeping students on track to graduate.
Timothy Sloan is a Duval County parent and a retired Army officer who attends many school district-related events and meetings, speaking out about education issues. He doesn’t have a candidate statement on the Supervisor of Elections website, but he was recently profiled in a Florida Times-Union story about school safety.
Cynthia Smith has been with Duval County Public Schools for a combined 16 years working as a clerk, bookkeeper, teacher, instructional coach and assistant principal.
Darryl Willie, a former teacher, is the executive director at Teach for America Jacksonville, where he recruits, selects and trains teachers for Duval County Public Schools. He has the endorsement of the political arm of the Jax Chamber.
Below are a sampling of questions the candidates answered at Tuesday’s forum. Responses have been edited for brevity.
- What is the biggest challenge facing Duval schools?
Butler: Continuing with district priorities of literacy, professional development and teacher retention. “[With] literacy we need to make sure that we are starting early.” She said it’s also important to eliminate any budget line items that aren’t priority for the district.
Johnson: Literacy by third grade. “We cannot wait until middle school or high school to close the achievement gap. If you do, you’re going to encounter discipline problems.” She said professional development should be available to teachers as well as reading interventionists.
Sloan: Lack of resources. “I honestly believe this that If we get these teachers...the resources that they need that they will propel us in order to be successful.” He said that takes collaboration and budget prioritizing.
Willie: Inequity. “If you look at the map and see where our failing or chronically low-performing schools are, they’re mostly in the north and northwest side.” He said low-performing schools should be
focused on with wrap-around services, mental health services and even options like longer school days or school years.
- How do we retain quality, career teachers?
Butler: It starts with hiring. “We need to make sure the people we’re getting in those positions are qualified to be in those positions.” She said professional development needs to be offered before a teacher is let go.
Johnson: Looking to the teachers. “Let them tell you where they need professional development.” She said school climate and leadership are also important.
Sloan: Educators need to know the community’s culture. He wants to start something called the D-4 community ride-along initiative to make sure community members and teachers get to know each other's communities.
Willie: “Teachers need to know they are valued within a school and a school system.” He said one way to do that is development to ensure they’re successful. He said development needs to be more consistent.
- What should be done about underutilized schools, specifically Andrew Jackson High?
Butler: Get stakeholders and community involved and find out where kids are going and why? “A lot of communication, collaboration should have been going on before you get to the point of closing a school, which I’m not for.”
Johnson: This issue is one reason she’s running for school board. She said the district has to start meeting with the community when “reg flags go up” to be proactive. She said half-empty schools will ultimately close due to funding.
Sloan: Closing and consolidating some schools would free up funds. “It’s not the popular answer, but again that’s why I’m running, because I’m a leader and we have to do what’s in the best interest.” He said the district should have been proactive.
Willie: Jackson High has a quality magnet program. “There just hasn’t been the proper marketing to actually push enough students into it.” He said the district has to think about creative ways to utilize schools with different programs and a long-term plan. He also suggested nonprofits’ working within schools could share some of the space and pay rent.
- How should the district support arts education?
Butler: She said she supports visual and performing arts, saying not all kids learn the same way. “We may not have a school of performing arts, but we can certainly have a course.”
Johnson: Arts are important mentally, but are also enjoyable. “When integrated into other subject matter areas children will increase their academic achievement.”
Sloan: Duval should have more opportunity for kids to experience the visual and performing arts, especially in elementary and low-income schools. He said Duval’s performing arts schools are phenomenal, but more kids need that arts exposure. “It would be a great asset and probably get our children thinking differently than they’re performing now.”
Willie: Arts can put joy in education. “I’m all about creating access and exposure.” He said resources like MOCA and the Jacksonville Symphony are available resources. He said funding has to be creative with partnerships and budget prioritizing.
- Election Information
The District 4 seat is one of three up for grabs in the August election. The others are District 2, which covers the Beaches, and District 6, which covers much of the Westside and Jacksonville’s urban core.
In Duval, any candidate who gets at least 50 percent plus one vote in the August primary wins the race. If that doesn’t happen, the top two candidates will move on to a runoff in November.