Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Duval County School Board Approves Plans To Reform Middle Schools

Cyd Hoskinson

After months of discussion, the Duval County School Board approved the plan to turnaround the district’s struggling middle schools.

Board members voted unanimously to approve the highly-touted middle school reform plan.

“A lot of times, the kids get lost in middle school so part of this is individualizing the kids, making them feel like someone really cares about them,” School Board Chairwoman Grymes said.  “It’s a tough time for kids. Middle school kids are very confused.”

Over the years, the district has seen student performance and enrollment in its traditional public middle schools wane.

The district ranks last in sixth grade math proficiency among Florida’s seven biggest districts. It also falls near the bottom in seventh-grade math and eighth-grade science.

A recent study by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund also found that about 67 percent of rising middle schoolers opt out of attending their neighborhood schools.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has spent months hammering out the districtwide plan to shift those numbers, with initiatives spanning from state-of-the-art facilities to revamped approaches to discipline.

“I’m excited to have it solidified,” Vitti said. “A lot of that work is already happening, and will continue to happen, going into next year.”

The comprehensive plan emphasizes themed-based education similar to the single-gender and military themes unveiled this year at Butler Leadership Academy and Joseph Stillwell. There is also greater emphasis on blended learning, that is, classroom lessons integrating the Internet and digital devices.

“We’re going to finally equip our students with the tools that they need to be competitive, educationally and in the workforce moving forward,” he said.

Other efforts include using grant money to install state of the art science labs at the lowest-scoring middle schools and placing a computer or laptop in the hands of every middle school student in the district.

The total cost of the effort amounts to more than $3.6 million, according to the district estimates.

Vitti’s middle school reform proposal also includes:

  • - A “Pre?Early College” offering advanced students an opportunity to earn a minimum of three high school credits and three college-level courses while in middle school. The program will be offered  at nine middle schools for the 2015?16 school year.
  • A reading coach at all middle schools and a math coach at schools with a low math proficiency.
  • A director in reading, mathematics, and science for middle school regions along with a team of content-based specialists to be assigned to schools to provide teachers with on-going support.
  • A “mental health first aid” model for classroom teachers in order to recognize early warning signs of mental illness and get students the help they need onsite or as quickly as possible from community partners.
  • More music, art and foreign language elective offerings as well as options linked to the school’s choice program.

Middle School Reform Plan

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.