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Bridge To Success Sees Mixed Results In First Year

Nina Geometrieva
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Teachers in Duval County’s scrutinized Bridge to Success program will get a four-figure reason to stick around next year.The district is offering teachers at the overage academies a $3,000 bump in their salaries in hopes of boosting the number of highly effective teachers in the high-need program.  

The program, aimed at helping overage middle and high school students graduate on time, came under fire earlier this year after several issues surfaced in the program ranging from missing  instructional materials to poor teacher recruitment and retention.

Duval School’s Superintendent Nikolai Vitti presented school board members with an update on the overage program Tuesday, which expanded to seven high schools and four middle schools for the first time this year. Originally, the overage services operated out of just two facilities: James Weldon Johnson Academic and Career Training Center; and Schools for the Future. With the expansion, the number of students served has grown from about 200 last year to 1,200 this year.

“Most principals will tell you, anecdotally, that not having the overage kids in the regular school environment made a difference in their schools,” Vitti said. “But we need to own the process of improving the satellite sites going into next year.”

Since the beginning of the year, the academies have seen some improvement in student grade point averages and decreases in disciplinary incidents.

In general, student GPAs at the main campus and satellite sites have increased by about half a point, district data shows.

Student discipline referrals dropped by about 42 percent last year at the main campus and by about 33 percent at the satellite sites, according to the district.

However, the number of absent students at the program's main campus also saw a marked increase this year with 27 percent of students absent for 20 or more days. That’s compared to 12 percent of students last year.

And while mid-year promotion among overage middle school students was relatively high — 72 percent of sixth-graders; 78 percent of seventh-graders; and 57 percent of eighth-graders — the number of high school students who advanced to the next grade or graduated by mid-year remained low.

According to the district numbers, about 16 percent of overage ninth-graders; 21 percent of 10th-graders; 23 percent of 11th-graders; and 13 percent of seniors were promoted mid-year. Those numbers were an improvement from the previous year when services for overage high school students operated solely out of Schools for the Future.

Vitti said the number of students promoted at the end of this school year will not be finalized until the end of summer school, but he expects it to be significantly more than last year.

However, Duval County School Board member Paula Wright, who oversees District 4 where many of the overage academies are located, said this year’s numbers still came up short of the board’s expectations.

“It wasn’t as successful as we thought," she said. "But it was the first year of spreading the students across the district, and because of the spread, I believe there were some gaps.”

One way Vitti hopes to close more gaps next year is by placing part-time social workers at each Bridge to Success site to assist students with their social and environmental needs. The added positions will be funded through federal Title I money.

“When we make certain that students have someone with whom they can touch with on a daily basis that assists them with where they are and assists them with the problems they are facing at home...I think that in 2014-15, we will see more progress,” Wright said.

Currently, Vitti said all 85 teachers in the program will qualify for the incentive he has proposed for next year.  

Wright said she believes it will take more emphasis on attracting the area’s most experienced instructors to see significant improvement.

“Bottom line is that we need to get seasoned, excited teachers who understand the population that they’re dealing with and understand that they must be strong academically,” she said. “They also must be willing and prepared to shoulder some of the social ills the students are going through."

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.