Duval School Board, Vitti Address Strained Relationship With Each Other

Mar 8, 2016

The Board and Superintendent Vitti participate in moderated "board development meeting" at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Tuesday.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

The Duval County School Board and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti are working to move past personal differences.

On Tuesday the Board and Vitti participated in moderated "board development meeting" at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

 


Over the last few months, members have clashed with Vitti over drastic boundary changes and what some consider his lack of respect for them.

Moderator Cathy Mincberg, CEO of the Center for Reform of School Systems, started the meeting by going through self-evaluations the Board and Vitti completed. The first few pages addressed district goals and the implementation of policies.

Board member Scott Shine said he wasn’t happy with the efficiency of meetings, saying there’s often a lot of discussion but then no follow-up action.

Board Member Becki Couch said she’d like the data that's presented to members to be broken down into subcategories, like socioeconomic background and race, to give members a deeper understanding of students. She says often Board member Connie Hall requests that data, but it should be presented automatically and regularly.

As the evaluation wore on, the discussion became more personal. Three members answered that board members don’t treat each other, the superintendent and staff with respect in public. Four other members and Vitti said there’s only partial respect shown.

Members identified the following ways to address "problematic" behaviors:

  • Not needing to have the last word during disagreements
  • Working on trusting each other
  • Discussing personal differences one on one
  • Assuming good will from other members
  • Agreeing to disagree
  • Taking initiative to deescalate heated discussions

Mincberg says it’s on the Board to hold each other accountable for behavior improvements.

Most members agreed the board members lack trust with each other and Vitti. Couch said it might benefit the board to get to know each other better and Mincberg agreed. She says it’s easy for board members to misinterpret each other's intentions without a deeper relationship.

Board member Paula Wright says she’s open to improving her relationship with other members on a work level, but not necessarily anything deeper.  

Mincberg said the Board should work on identifying “common enemies,” such as a bad public perception, and work together to change it. She says the public views the Board as a whole, not as individuals.

As the meeting was concluding, Board member Cheryl Grymes said she still feels there's tension. Mincberg assured her it was OK, and the Board should move forward with addressing what they’ve agreed is problematic.

After the meeting, Vitti said it’s time to move past negativity.

“The Board’s overall commitment is to doing the work, to put aside differences, the past, even some distrust in order to continue to work together for the betterment of children,” he says.

He also says he’s moved past negative comments a board member sent about him to a district staffer last year.

Connie Hall texted the board auditor that Vitti should be fired and called him “special-ed in action.”

Vitti says, “There will always be an element of pain associated with the comments, but like I said, looking at the big picture, know that this work is difficult,” he says. “Even knowing that sometimes people make mistakes, and I think we can all testify to examples of making mistakes, and I’m going to assume the best, that if there was an opportunity to go back in time that some of those statements would not have been made, and we move forward.”

Vitti says he and Hall have worked on important initiatives together, including the mentorship program 5,000 Role Models, and the renaming of Forrest High School to Westside High. He says he’s ready to renew that collaboration.

The text messages weren’t directly addressed during Tuesday's meeting.