Will Duval County School Board Vote Out Vitti?

Sep 19, 2016

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti in a board workshop earlier this year.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Updated at 6 p.m.

Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti could lose his job this week — that’s according to School Board member Scott Shine, who said Board Chair Ashley Smith Juarez wants Vitti gone.

“I actually had heard about this and asked Dr. Vitti and he told me explicitly that he had been having ongoing conversations with Smith Juarez, that she had given him an ultimatum to resign. (Vitti) said he would not resign. She said she would schedule this meeting to terminate him,” Shine said in a phone call Monday.

Calls to Smith Juarez weren’t immediately returned Monday afternoon. Vitti responded in an email confirming Shine's account.

"I do not intend to resign," Vitti said in the email. "I am‎ committed to the district, community, and the work that has yielded positive results and momentum."

Shine sent an email to media and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti Sunday night accusing Smith Juarez of setting up a meeting to vote on terminating Vitti’s contract, which doesn’t end until 2019.

The special meeting, scheduled for Friday morning at 10:30 a.m., lists the purpose of the meeting to discuss “governance and administration.”

District spokesman Mark Sherwood sent an email to WJCT Monday evening on behalf of Smith Juarez addressing the board and Vitti about Friday's meeting. 

“We have spent extensive time examining student achievement data and the superintendent’s projections for proficiency growth moving forward. At the last workshop we agreed that there was not a clear path forward for our district and I was deeply troubled by both the results and the lack of an aggressive, effective plan for student achievement. 

I called a special meeting for Friday to give the governance team the opportunity to deliberate a path forward that is best for children. I intend to discuss how we can do better for the children and the city we serve.”

In Shine’s email, he said “it is known by (Smith Juarez’s) spoken word to the Superintendent the purpose of this meeting is his termination.”

Board members gave Vitti his annual evaluation this month, scoring him as “effective,” the second-highest category.  

Smith Juarez scored Vitti one of the higher scores, a 39 out of a possible 60 points. Board member Cheryl Grymes scored him the highest with 54 points, and Paula Wright gave him the lowest score of a 29.

However, Smith Juarez was tough on Vitti at his evaluation, telling him she isn’t seeing the progress she expected, particularly in the achievement gap between white, black and hispanic students.

In her evaluation notes, Smith Juarez said Vitti is “often disrespectful to board members. Has misrepresented the truth publicly and privately.”

Later on, she describes Vitti as “stubborn and does not incorporate feedback until insisted upon by the board.”

She added he operates independently and doesn’t take advantage of ties the board has to the community.

The state has given the district the grade of a B two years in a row.

Vitti evaluated his performance prior to his evaluation this month.

Shine said at Vitti’s evaluation it isn’t very common to see big jumps in data and the improvements taken place are “very, very good.”

In Shine’s email, he alleges Smith Juarez is using “coercive tactics to intimidate Dr. Vitti into resigning his position.”

Shine also points out the language on the meeting’s notice is vague.

“I believe this is deliberate to not post the topic of what’s going to be considered,” said Shine in a phone interview Monday.

Shine ends his email with the line: “I stand by my support for Dr. Vitti’s continued employment with the district and will vote against termination, if this meeting takes place.”

The board is now operating with six members since District 7’s Jason Fischer stepped down this summer. If Vitti’s contract is voted on this week and the vote is a tie, the chair, Smith Juarez, would be the deciding vote.

Shine said if the board terminates Vitti’s contract it would be one of the most damaging things to the school district since he’s been living in the city over the last 30 years.

“I think it would be a disaster,” he said. “So many of the reforms that we’ve put in place are Dr. Vitti’s initiatives. Without his guidance I'm afraid many of those things will fall apart.”

There is a board agenda review meeting Tuesday morning.

Editor's note: This articles was updated with a comment  from Vitti and Smith Juarez.

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