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First Coast Connect

Vitti On Forrest High, Common Core And The Human Rights Ordinance

Sammy Mack
State Impact Florida

Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti appeared on First Coast Connect Monday morning with guest host Karen Feagins. He weighed in on several local and statewide education issues and discussed his support for expanding Jacksonville's Human Rights Ordinance to cover the LGBT community.


Last month the Duval County School Board voted to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest High School.

The school was named for the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Vitti said he will recommend at Tuesday night's school board meeting that the school be named Westside Senior High.

The new name is based on the surveys from students, faculty, alumni and community members. He said those at the school are looking to move forward

"They wanted clarity one way or the other whether the name was going to change or not and what it would be so they could focus on what matters most, which is raising student achievement," he said.


The Department of Education will provide an update to legislators in Tallahassee this week, and the transition to the Common Core Standards will be a major part of the discussion.

Florida will fully adopt the standards to be used in every classroom this Fall.

Vitti wants the state to suspend school and district grading during the transition year.

He said since 2014-15 will be the first year using the new standards, it wouldn’t be accurate to compare next year’s school performance to this 2013-14 results.

"What I'm advocating for is let 14-15 be the baseline year," he said. "Publish all scores so everyone knows how our kids are doing. Don't link anything to accountability in 14-15 because it's a new system and then implement everything as far as accountability in 15-16."


Vitti said he supports the expansion of of the Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville to include members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community

His wife, Rachel has joined the “We Are Straight Allies” campaign for a local human rights ordinance.

On the organization’s website, she says she felt compelled to act because 50 years ago her relationship with her husband would have been considered illegitimate. She is black, and he is white.

Rachel Vitti’s activism was featured in a recent story in the Florida Times-Union, and Superintendent Vitti said he supports her work on the campaign and the issue itself.

"I have not been asked to speak out about the issue," he said. "I think Rachel is doing a great job representing us. But for any callers or if the question is-- I support it. I think as she’s quoted in the newspaper it’s the right thing to do, so why are we talking about it?"

In 2012, the Jacksonville City Council declined to expand protection in the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community.


The Florida Board of Education extended a controversial rule this year that protects schools that do poorly. No school can fall more than one letter grade no matter how the school actually performs. Vitti was asked if the grading system in Florida is still credible.

"I think you can put weight on that grade at the high school level because we haven't had over the last four years as much change when it comes to the high school grades," he said. "I think we do have to be skeptical at the elementary and middle school level because of the hold harmless."


Parents and students in Duval County trying to decide which school to attend will have an opportunity to shop around this weekend at the School Choice Expo.

The event used to be known as Magnet Mania, but  Vitti said this year all schools-- not just magnet schools-- will have a booth at the event.

"I think our magnet schools are certainly one of the strengths of our school system and certainly allows us to compete with not only with private schools but other schools throughout the area-- even with St. Johns," he said.

"But one thing that I don’t see enough is the story told our traditional public schools and our traditional boundary feeder patterns."

Teachers, principals and students from traditional schools, magnets, career academies and charter schools will be available to talk to parents and students about their programs.

The School Choice Expo is Saturday, January 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

Karen found her home in public broadcasting after working for several years as a commercial television reporter. She joinedWJCTin 2005 as the host of 89.9 FM’s Morning Edition and has held many different roles at the station in both radio and television. She has written and produced documentaries includingBeluthahatchee: The Legacy of Stetson Kennedy and Jacksonville Beach: Against the Tide and directed the oral history project, Voices of the First Coast.