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Duval Schools Help Assistant Principals Adopt More Hands-On Role

Lindsey Kilbride

Assistant principals are playing a more hands-on role than ever before. Across the country, schools’ second-in-command are coming out of the office and into classrooms more often.

For Duval County teachers who want to move into the new role, a training program is offering that opportunity.


Erica Little-Bartley was one of Duval’s first to complete the program. Bartley is assistant principal at Garden City Elementary on Jacksonville’s Northside.

As she walked through her school’s halls on Thursday morning, she greeted students by name. She says learning all of them is her goal.

“I’m at about 80 percent,” she says.

It’s Bartley’s second year as an assistant principal. Before that, she was a teacher for six years, until she went through a principals’ academy at Columbia University.

“You’re talking about putting two years of work into two summers,” she says.

Duval County Public Schools uses private donations from the Quality Education for All Fund to put teachers through the Columbia program. With housing and tuition covered, teachers spend two summers at the college in New York with an internship in between. At the end, they have a master’s degree in education leadership.

“I really wanted to impact something other than the four walls of my classroom,” Bartley says.

Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says assistant principals are having a greater effect on schools, because instead of focusing on managerial tasks — “discipline or ordering of books, making sure the buses arrive on time” — now they’re spending their time “actually being in classrooms to help teachers reflect on their practice in order to improve their strategies to include student achievement.”

On Thursday at Garden City Elementary, Bartley was getting ready for a meeting about a new fifth-grade science program, but just as she was headed out of her office, a student’s older brothers came by to talk about a bullying incident.

Bartley says this is typical of her days: Lots of interaction with teachers, parents and kids, much of it unscheduled.

After about 10 minutes, she was back on schedule, meeting with the science teacher.

Students had just taken a mid-year test, the teacher said. Looking over data, Bartley noticed a lot of them missed a question about water cycles, and she said it was something she’d look at further.

“We just purchased a new blended-learning program for science to help improve with familiarity with science,” she says. “We’re noticing a lot of them are proficient, but we’re still on the cusp.”

Bartley says this is one of her favorite parts of being an assistant principal.

“I really enjoy digging through the data, seeing how students have improved and setting the next steps and then going from there,” she says.

Garden City Elementary is considered a transformation school, one that historically has not performed well. Bartley says that’s why she cares about coaching teachers.

“I’m very passionate because those are the type of schools that I attended when I was in school, and I remember those teachers who went above and beyond and those administrators who went above and beyond for me,” Bartley says.

She says she wants to move up to a principal position one day. And Duval also has a program for that.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.