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Human Resources: James Jacobs

James Jacobs

The people who walk through the doors of the Duval County School Board building often show up to deal with frustrating business. A parent might have to switch their child’s school, or just drive out of their way to drop off paperwork. These people are not always in a pleasant state of mind.

While managers and executives may have the most coveted titles, there are people largely unseen in almost every organization. They are wholly dedicated to their work without always receiving the recognition or distinction. In our Human Resources series we'll uncover the stories of these selfless individuals. Today we meet James Jacobs.

When visitors enter the school board building the first and last person they see is the administrative clerk, James Jacobs.

“I would say I’m the greeter or gatekeeper of the building,” Jacobs said.

In this lobby there are framed photos of the school board members and the superintendent. Guests won’t see Jacobs’ photo anywhere, but he’s been changing the perception of the school district since he started working the job in October.

Before then, Jacobs was working as a concierge at an apartment complex. Even then he stood out and was discovered by his next employer, Nikolai Vitti, the Duval County Superintendent. Vitti saw something in Jacobs’ demeanor that he knew the school board could use.

“In conversations with the board one of our areas of focus is improved customer service and I think there’s no better way to do that than the person who’s greeting individuals,” Vitti said.

Vitti brought Jacobs on and since, Vitti's expectations have been exceeded.

“[Jacobs] has an uncanny ability to connect with all people, Vitti said. "I wish I could replicate his approach in 160 schools in each of our departments district-wide.”

And when Jacobs is asked about that approach, he says it’s all in the way he treats people.

“What I try to do it to talk softer to them, to get them to hear me also, but before that, let them know I am listening,” said Jacobs, “I care about your concern and I want to solve this issue that you have.”

On a recent Tuesday parents rushed in and out of the school board building. Their goal — get everything in order for their child’s upcoming school year, and many were impressed by Jacobs’ service.

One parent said Jacobs was extremely friendly and knew exactly what information she needed. Another parent who had three children tagging along in her shadow, said he was funny and her kids enjoyed Jacobs’ jokes.

It’s his calm tone, paired with a giant smile and a genuine interest in each person that Vitti said has shifted visitors’ perceptions of the school board.

The proof is in the numbers. Jacobs has received the highest customer service ratings on the school board’s kiosk scoring system.

Vitti says Jacobs is just a positive person.

“When they see James smile I think it automatically makes them feel in a place of comfort and I think that’s where it starts,” Viiti said.

Jacobs said all the credit goes to his mother. He said she instilled in him an appreciation for his health and the attitude to cherish each day and just be happy.

“It’s important to smile every day,” Jacobs said. “It’s important to appreciate the day for what it’s worth.”

Jacobs’ positivity is contagious. Superintendent Vitti said sometimes relaxing and stepping outside of the superintendent role is hard to do, but not with Jacobs.

I always appreciate leaving late and he’s still usually here and he’s always considerate of where I am personally,” Vitti said. “James and I can connect as James and Nikolai, not James-superintendent, and I appreciate that more than people know.

Many people said Jacobs seems like he never has a bad day and so he responded with a laugh,

“A bad day I guess is relative to the person, because every day that I wake up and I can hit the floor with my own two feet, that’s a good day.”

These are just a few of the ways James Jacobs is a human resource.

You can follow Lindsey Kilbride on Twitter@LindsKilbride

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.