Community Voices Concern About Proposed Raines, Ribault Consolidations
Historic but outdated and deteriorating Raines and Ribault high schools would be consolidated with their feeder schools unless the Duval County School Board rejects a contentious recommendation in the district’s proposed $1.95 billionmaster facilities plan to replace, repair and renovate the district’s aging schools.
WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union reports the board got its first look at the whole plan — developed by outside consultants — Tuesday during a half-day workshop.
Board members discussed the response from parents, neighborhood residents, community leaders and business people to the potential scenarios involving the potential closure and consolidation of some schools.
Superintendent Diana Greene emphasized the plan is still a work in progress.
Changes are expected as the district has more community meetings in May and takes other steps to gather additional input from parents, residents and community leaders. District leaders are taking another look at potential consolidation initially recommended for Raines and Ribault, as well as five other schools that have drawn concern from residents and the negative public feedback so far.
“Our goal for this facilities master plan is to create an environment that students, whether we’re consolidating, are going to walk into a facility that is not only aesthetically pleasing but has all the upgrades and all the 21st-century learning models available to them,” Greene said.
Greene also said “these plans are not perfect, but I don’t know that we will ever get to perfection.”
The board likely won’t vote on the final plan until August. But unless the district secures an additional funding source to pay for the projects, they can’t go forward.
Raines and Ribault are among several schools in Districts 4 and 5 on the Northside represented by School Board member Darryl Willie and Vice Chairman Warren Jones that are recommended for replacement, renovation or repairs.
Willie said the schools in those two districts have been neglected for many years despite frequent past promises of improvements. He asked if there was a way the board could ensure District 4 and 5 schools got the promised resources first.
Greene advocates having an independent citizens committee monitor the funding and plan to ensure the resources go where intended for the purpose specified.
As initially proposed, Raines would be replaced with a sixth- through 12th-grade school consolidating Northwestern Middle School. Northwestern would be converted to an elementary school consolidating Carver, Woodson and Payne elementary schools.
Ribault High also would be replaced with a sixth- through 12th-grade school consolidating Ribault Middle School.
Because Tuesday was a workshop, public comment wasn’t allowed. However, community pushback against some aspects of the proposal already has taken root.
Monday night the board got a preview of some residents’ opposition during the public comment section of its regular meeting although the proposal wasn’t on the agenda. Seven of the 10 people who spoke publicly were Raines or Ribault graduates who criticized changing those schools.
“The decision to consolidate this educational citadel without the prior input and buy-in from the community, especially its alumni, has caused strong concerns to surface regarding the overall academic vitality and student safety at the school,” said W. Earl Kitchings, president of the William M. Raines High School National Alumni Association.
Kitchings said the plan lacks the necessary consideration for Raines, Ribault and other schools that serve the majority of communities in North Jacksonville. Those schools continue to provide legacies and historical values to the communities they serve, he said.
“We the William Raines National Alumni Association strongly reject the idea of consolidation or merging of our alma mater in any manner or form into a sixth- to 12th-grade school,” Kitchings said. “We will not stand idly by without having our voices heard, concerns addressed and until all possible solutions are considered and exhausted.”
A longer version of this story that includes additional community reaction and information about future planning meetings is available at Jacksonville.com.