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Alma Powell Talks About Upcoming Jax GradNation Summit (UPDATED 10:30 AM)


The woman heading a national campaign to curb student dropout rates and boost graduation numbers will be sharing her message in Jacksonville next week.

Alma J. Powell, wife of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and chairwoman of youth advocacy group America’s Promise Alliance, will provide the opening remarks at Jacksonville’s first GradNation Community Summit.

The conference, sponsored by America's Promise Alliance, is aimed at increasing graduation rates in cities across the nation to 90 percent by 2020. Right now, about 72 percent of Duval County students graduate from high school.

“We decided in the interest of taking care of all of our children, this is one of the most important things we could do,” Powell said Thursday. “So we engaged in raising awareness...and got people to start talking about this.”

Jacksonville was selected as one of 100 cities across the country to host the education summit last fall. Last year, 14 such summits were held nationwide, and this year, the group plans to hold a total of 25, Powell said.

According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the nation’s current high school graduation rate is nearly 80 percent, “a far cry” from when the group first began examining the issue in 2002, Powell said.

“We have to understand that educating these children and preparing them for the 21st century is the most important issue that faces our nation,” she said. “So we’re proud to be in Jacksonville and what they are doing.”

Mayor Alvin Brown said the conference will center on four key areas.

“We’re going to focus on the African-American achievement; early childhood education; literacy on grade level reading; and mentoring and middle school support,” he said.

The event will include a  panel discussion on graduation moderated by Florida Times-Union editor Frank Denton featuring State Board of Education Chair Gary Chartrand, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti, and former Duval County School Board Chair Betty Burney among others.

While America’s Promise Alliance took part in a 2010 dropout prevention conference in the city, this will be the second education summit to take place under Brown.

Last year, Brown held a summit featuring a keynote speech by Bill Cosby with the goal of enhancing parental involvement in education and raising $2 million towards the mayor’s newly established Education Trust.

Following that conference, 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.

Brown also launched several education initiatives, including an expansion of the city’s middle school mentorship and youth summer jobs programs as well as establishing a Youth Advisory Council composed of 50 high school juniors and seniors.

As of March 27, his office said there is about $13,000 in the Trust Fund. That does not include about $85,000 in total donations from sponsors including the Alliance, PGA Tour, Florida Blue and Scholastic Books pledged for this year’s summit. More money is also expected to result from a VIP luncheon for sponsors next week, said office spokesman Dave DeCamp.

Multiple requests to Brown’s Office for the estimated cost of this year’s summit were not answered in time for publication.

A spokeswoman from Powell’s office said she does not accept payment for speaking engagements and her travel expenses were paid through private funds.

The summit is scheduled to take place April 4 at the Main Library in Downtown Jacksonville.

To register for the event, visit

UPDATE: The Mayor's Office reported Friday morning that the total cost of the summit is estimated at $22,000 for this year.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.