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District Discusses School Boundary Changes With Community

A plan by the Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to change magnet designations for five schools has been met with mixed reactions this week. WJCT went to one of the community meetings where the plan was vetted.

Credit Rhema Thompson
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti speaks with a student at Butler Young Men's and Young Women's Leadership Academy.

On Tuesday, Vitti spoke to parents and teachers at Butler Young Men and Women's Leadership Academy, one of the schools at the center of the changes. The struggling F school was recently transformed into the district's first gender-based traditional public school.

Under Vitti's plan, that school along with Terry Parker High School, Seabreeze Elementary, Joseph Stilwell Academy, Justina Road Elementary and Sandalwood High will become dedicated magnets.

"The definition would mean no natural boundaries - the natural boundary meaning the neighborhood connected to the school where students can automatically enroll and be a part of the school," he said.

The plan to adjust the boundaries of the school would allow students from outside the neighborhood to attend by entering a lottery. Overall, the change would shift some students to 12 other nearby schools. In Butler's case, some students would shift to Northwestern, Ribault and Highlands Middle Schools. But Vitti says neighborhood students would still get priority at Butler.

Permanently changing Butler's designation would also protect the school from closure should it receive another low grade this year. The school has received two consecutive F's in the last two years putting it in jeopardy under Florida statute. Changing the school to a magnet would allow the school to improve at its own pace, Vitti said.

The designation would also allow students like Butler seventh-grader Cornelia Roberts who lives outside the school zone to continue at the school. That's what her mother Pamela Roberts is hoping for.

"Our neighborhood school is Highlands but we want her for the path of her education to be a leader," she said.

But others like education advocate Bradford Hall worry the changes could eventually push the low-income neighborhood students out as wealthier students move in. As of now, Butler does not require students to meet a certain GPA, attendance or behavior requirement to attend the school, but as the school becomes more competitive, that could change, Hall said.

"Students who were coming down the pipeline in elementary schools, if they're looking forward to coming to this school, there's a possibility that they won't be able to get in, and that's not fair," he said.

Vitti's recommendations also include moving the year-old GRASP Academy for dyslexic students from R.L. Brown Elementary to larger, underutilized  Justina Road Elementary. Students currently attending Justina would move to Lake Lucina, Fort Caroline, Arlington Heights, Arlington or Merrill Road. The plan will go before the Duval County School Board for approval in February.

The district has hosted five community meetings in all. The Duval County School Board will hold a public hearing on the recommended changes Jan. 12, before voting on the measure in February. 

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter at @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.