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UPDATE: Mayor Brown Announces New Education Partnership

Rhema Thompson

  A new partnership to boost graduation numbers and curb dropout rates in the Jacksonville kicks off this Spring.

  The city is one of 100 across the nation selected to host a GradNation Community Summit this April.  The graduation-focused summit is sponsored by the Colin and Alma Powell foundation "America's Promise Alliance" and aims to increase graduation rates in school districts to 90 percent by 2020.

Currently, Duval County's graduation rate is just over 72 percent.

"In Jacksonville, we've made a lot of progress in recent years," Mayor Alvin Brown said at a press conference Monday afternoon. "Our graduation rates are up, however, we need to continue to work together to keep that momentum."

Brown was joined by Jacksonville Education Commissioner AnnmarieKent-Willette, Duval County School Board Chair Becki Couch, and several other community partner representatives and officials at City Hall for the announcement.

"The fact that we have been selected by America's Promise shows that they believe in us," said Kent-Willette. "They recognize the work that we're doing here, that we have made progress and that we have more work to do."

Alma Powell, the Alliance’s co-chair, will be in Jacksonville for the summit which will center on four key areas.

"The summit will feature workshops on early childhood education; literacy and on-grade level reading; mentoring support for at-risk middle school students and increasing achievement among African-American males," Brown said.

Other keynote speakers of the event will include Howard Stevenson, professor of education and Aficana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and Robert Balfanz, director of Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

This year's conference will be the second education summit to take place during the mayor's tenure.

In 2010, prior to Brown's appointment, America's Promise took part in a dropout prevention summit in the city.

The Alliance selected Jacksonville to host the 2014 GradNation Summit in the fall, Brown said.  It has since donated $15,000 dollars to the mayor’s Education Trust Fund, started up for last year’s summit to fund various education initiatives in the city.

Last year's education summit, featuring keynote speaker Bill Cosby, focused on increasing parental involvement in local schools with a goal of raising $2 million.

Ultimately, Duval County Public Schools raised $600,000 for the district's Parent Academy, and the mayor's Education Trust received a $25,000 donation from local law firm Farah & Farah.

According to the Mayor's Office, there is currently about $33,000 in the Trust Fund, adding that the amount does not account for additional donations that have been pledged.

Locally, Siemens and PGA Tour are contributing a total of $15,000 to this year’s summit, and Florida Blue has offered a $25,000 contribution and an additional $25,000 matching grant.

The funds raised will go toward local initiatives, such as the mayor's Youth Initiative announced last month.

In advance of the conference this year, Brown will also honor 50 teachers from local public, private and charter schools for excellence in the classroom.

The all-day summit will take place April 4 in the Jacksonville Public Library's Main Branch and is expected to see about 400 participants.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.