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UPDATE: Duval School Board Approves $1 Per Month EWC Lease

Lindsey Kilbride

Updated 10:45 p.m.

The Duval County School Board approved leasing a building to Edward Waters College, with an option for the college to purchase the property.

The former James Weldon Johnson Academic and Career Training Center approved Edward Waters taking over the vacant building for classroom space at Tuesday’s meeting.

The deal allows the college to lease the building for $1 a month or buy it for just $10. Some board members had voiced concerns the price is too low, while Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the deal was a win-win because Duval wouldn’t be liable for maintenance costs and it’s a good thing to do for the college.

There is also a stipulation in the deed or lease that the land cannot be used for anything other than college and community programs. It can’t be turned into a charter school.

Board member Paula Wright said she supports the lease agreement because,as part of the deal, EWC will allow the school district to use classroom space in the building to help students who received a Certificate of Completion, instead of a high school diploma.

High school students who earn completion certificates pass their classes, but fail the Florida State Assessment.

“I’m excited because this is the first time we have a  place where we can say ‘yes you’re working on your high school diploma, this is where you can go,’ ” Wright said. “We’ll have someone to help them immediately.”

EWC will offer space for a “re-engagement center," which means students with completiton certificates will be offered SAT and ACT classes in evening so they earn a high enough score to earn a high school diploma.  

Meanwhile some board members were concerned abouta plan to address literacy deficiencies in the district. Board members Connie Hall, Becki Couch and Paula Wright voted against the plan, while Cheryl Grymes, Scott Shine and board chair Ashley Smith Juarez voted for the plan. And with just six members remaining after Jason Fischer's resignation, the chair’s vote broke a tie -- a rule the board is trying to change.

Hall said she wasn’t okay with the plan because it didn’t go far enough. She said the district needs national experts to come in.

“There is a very serious literacy issue in our district.” she said. “It’s always been there. When do we get to the point that we really crack the code?”

The data shows in many grades around 50 percent of students are reading below grade level.

The board also voted to extend speech language services to Duval students who go to the GRASP Academy for dyslexic students and the new Oak Hill Center for autistic students through a partnership with Jacksonville University.

Last year the district was short on speech language pathologists and partnered with JU in January.

JU speech pathologist interns already provide services at GRASP for up to 35 hours a week. Tuesday’s vote will also extend services to Oak Hill and give both schools summer programs.

The board held off on voting on a plan Exceptional Student Education and gifted students.

Last year, 11 middle schools offered gifted instruction, either full or part-time. The new plan would place at least a part-time gifted instruction in all 24 schools. Giftedspecialists would also travel to middle schools that have low numbers of gifted students.

The plan was deferred for a month because some board members wanted more full-time instruction on the north and west side. The plan would not only expand gifted programming, but also address racial gaps for students identified as gifted, and identified as having a emotional and behavioral disorder.

The plan also requires all second graders be screened for the gifted designation beginning next year.

Although the plan was deferred, it doesn’t mean services proposed in the plan won’t be provided to students.

The board also approved turnaround plans for low-performing schools.

Editor's note: Story updated to reflect voting outcomes for an Edward Waters College lease agreement, speech language pathologist services, the 2016-17 gifted plan and turnaround plans.

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.