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Duval Superintendent Says District Will Build Up Teachers

Cyd Hoskinson

Duval School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says the district is narrowing the achievement gap between white and black students, but needs to work on retaining teachers.

Vitti delivered his State of the Schools address at Atlantic Coast High School Friday morning.

He said too many first- and second-year teachers are quitting, so this year the district will focus on developing teachers.

“The days of just thinking of teachers as just interchangeable parts has to move on because we do not have a lineup of teachers waiting and ready to go into the classroom, so even if that teacher is struggling or just below average, we have to as an organization figure out how we’re going to bring that teacher up,” he said.

Amidst a national teacher shortage, the district recruited 717 teachers last year from outside the county.

At the same time, many of the district’s students are not reading on grade level. Last year, Duval students ranked last in reading on the Florida State Assessment out of the seven largest Florida districts in grades taking state assessments.

On the other hand, Duval students are improving in math and excelling in biology. He said Duval is doing the best out of the largest Florida district to narrow the achievement gap between white and black students.

School grades are also improving.

“For the first time in a long time Raines, Ribault and Jackson are all at least a C,” Vitti said.

Vitti also pointed out the district has improved its graduation rate from last of the largest districts to fourth, and number one for African-Americans. And moving forward, the district is offering all juniors the SAT and ACT tests for free.

He also lauded the district’s embracing of school choice to keep students in public, non-charter schools.

“We’re involved in the process of bringing our parents back,” he said. “Instead of blaming people; instead of blaming the legislature for charter schools, we now have gotten to a point to say ‘if that’s that’s the way it’s going to be then we’re just going to beat them.’ ”

This comes after he received pushback for converting many neighborhood schools into dedicated magnets for the upcoming school year. Some school board members voted against the changes.

Vitti said 40 percent of Duval parents are using school choice, whether that’s for magnet programs or charters.