Four Duval County public schools were recently named “Schools of Excellence” by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), bringing the total number of district schools with the state designation to 31.
“Schools of Excellence”, an initiative started in 2016 under Florida House Bill 7069, provides high performing schools more flexibility and autonomy over their operation.
The FLDOE on Oct. 31 recognized the following schools as “Schools of Excellence”:
- New Berlin Elementary School
- Seaside Community Charter School
- Sandalwood High School
- Duval Charter School at Flagler Center
Chets Creek Elementary School on the South Side was named a “School of Excellence” last year. Susan Phillips, the school’s principal, said she now has more discretion over how she runs her school, since receiving the distinction.
“Having the new the opportunity to pick the right people to be in the right places and have that autonomy with doing some things different with budgeting and all of those things,” she said. “And having that guaranteed is really important.”
The principals at a “School of Excellence” are given more say in hiring, personnel and budget decisions.
Chets Creek is the largest elementary school in Jacksonville, with a diverse 1,300 students and a growing Hispanic population. Phillip said she is delighted to have more leeway, especially when it comes to hiring.
“Having this distinction has afforded me the opportunity to be able to put the exact right people in the exact right places,” she said.
That has meant bringing in a bilingual dean, in the place a second assistant principal, she said.
Being a “School of Excellence” has also made it possible to hire a full-time media specialist, where most schools only have a part-timer.
“We elected to use discretionary funds that we have available each year to pay for the other half of media and we felt like that investment was hugely important for our students,” she said.
About five years ago, the state went from school-based budgeting to a district school allocation model, according to Philips. This limited the opportunity for schools to make decisions that were school specific and, in some ways, the “School of Excellence” distinction gives that back.
Other benefits include being able to bypass state mandated minimum daily or weekly reading requirements, determine start and end times for the school day, and calculate class size on schoolwide average as opposed to a classroom count. Phillips said she hasn’t had a need for these.
Teachers at “Schools of Excellence” can substitute one year of employment for 20 in service points.
In the first year of the program, 27 Duval County public schools were chosen for the award. The district has a total of 136 public schools.
In order to gain the distinction, a schools must rank in the 80th percentile or higher for schools in the same grade grouping for at least 2 of the last 3 years and receive a grade of “A” or “B” in 3 of the past 4 years.
Related: 2018 Florida School Grades Database
Traditional and public charter schools can qualify for the award. Once a school is chosen, it remains a “School of Excellence” for three years, so long as it is in good academic standing. The school may choose to renew the distinction after the third year.
Schools that receive a “C” or below lose the designation.
So far, the FLDOE has named 385 elementary schools, 127 middle schools, 104 high schools, and 102 combination schools as “Schools of Excellence.”