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Duval School Board Changes Principal Pay, Expands Middle School Gifted Services

Lindsey Kilbride

The Duval County School Board approved measures Monday, including salary schedules and a  bus contract.

Gifted and ESE

The school board approved an annually updated Exceptional Education and Gifted Plan. It covers everything from services for gifted to autistic to disabled students.

The board has been workshopping the plan for a couple months.

A major sticking point was adequate gifted teaching in middle schools. The board and Vitti often refer to middle school as one of the district's biggest problems with parents choosing to leave traditional public schools in sixth grade. District data shows 243 gifted middle schoolers left for charter schools and 119 for home schooling last year.

Last year, out of 24 middle schools, six offered some level of gifted services and five magnets offered full gifted classes.

The Board had rejected proposals to have kids bussed or assigned to different schools for gifted education. Instead, this year, every Duval middle school will have gifted instruction offered at its school.

Credit Duval County Public Schools
The Duval County School District will phase in added gifted instruction in middle schools over the next few years.

If no teacher at a school has a gifted endorsement, meaning they haven’t taken the five courses required for gifted teachers, one will begin pursuing an endorsement this year while teaching one core content to sixth graders.

If a school doesn’t have at least 23 gifted students, the remaining seats will be filled with non-gifted, but high performing students.

The district is also working to narrow the racial gap for gifted students and students labeled as having an emotional and behavioral disorder.

Last year, 44 percent of district students were African-American and 36 percent were white, yet far more white students were labeled “gifted.” That meant about 950 black students were gifted, compared with 3,300 white students.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said normally kids are identified as gifted because their parents take them to get tested or a teacher refers them. This year, all second graders are getting tested. The district has also been using state guidelines called “Plan B” that allow students on the free and reduced lunch program to qualify as gifted with a slightly lower score.

Board member Paula Wright said she thinks the plan should specifically address the widening in proficiency gaps in subgroups. Data given to board members showed, while students were improving in areas like reading, the gaps between white and black students were widening. Wright said she wanted specific targets set to address that.

Vitti said he thinks the plan does use strategies to address those concerns, although the data isn’t specifically referenced. He said he’s willing to work on defining targets.

Subgroup data will be workshopped at Tuesday’s meeting.

Principal Pay

The school board approved a new salary schedule for Duval’s principals, paying them more for  leading schools with a larger enrollment, as well as students performing below grade level.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said at a previous board workshop, those schools are the hardest to staff and the new pay scale would create a greater incentive for stronger principals to go to those schools.

Before, experience was the main indicator for increasing principal pay.

For example, under this plan, if a principal is leading a school with 40 percent of students performing below grade level, they will receive $7,000 on top of base pay.

Vitti added principals are incentivized to improve student performance by awarding pay increases based on factors including reading and math scores, and enrollment numbers.

Once a school improves enough, if the current principal leaves and a new principal begins, they will start at a lower pay tier.

And principals with 16 years or more experience will receive an extra $5,000.

School Buses

The Duval County School Board renewed the district’s contract with Birnie Bus Service Inc. by a vote of 4-2, despite the bus services lawyer asking them not to.

Birnie, a private bus contractor, transports students on Duval’s westside.

Company attorney Rich Kelly, who represents hundreds of independent school bus contractors, asked the board to wait a month before renewing Birnie’s contract. He said circumstances have changed, including 50 new buses being required since it initially started doing businesses with the district in 2012.

“To put that in perspective it costs about $5 million to buy 50 school buses and that’s before you find a place to park them, facilities to maintain them and drivers to drive them,” Kelly said.

He also said licensing requirements have changed, causing a driver shortage.

Kelly wanted to renegotiate pricing, but board members proceeded anyway.

Vitti said the vendor agreed to a contract and an amount, and he is holding it to the original deal.

Among large Florida districts, Duval pays one of the lowest costs per mile for school transportation.


During the “Superintendent’s Report” at Monday’s meeting, Vitti presented a new way parents can learn more about individual Duval schools, via online dashboards.

He said the dashboards, which display data online, will be viewable next week and will give parents and students a broader view of schools outside of school grades. 

“School grades are the indicator looked at the most, but we know there are many data points that go deeper than school grades,” Vitti said.

Credit Duval County Public Schools
The Duval County School District will let parents view an online dashboard of information from individual schools.

The district asked stakeholder groups to identify areas parents might want data for before sending their children to a school. Those areas included:

Student achievement, including iReady and Achieve 3000 scores, state test scores, graduation and dropout rates

School culture, including the results of surveys taken by parents, students and teachers.

Educator quality, including teacher performance scores using the Value Added Model and  percentage of teachers teaching in areas they went to school for or trained in.

Budget, including how the district budget is broken down on a school-level.

The dashboards will be viewable on the Duval Schools website next week.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.