New Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene sat down with WJCT News on her first day on the job.
Greene comes to Duval County from Manatee County where she had been superintendent since 2015. Prior to that she was a deputy superintendent in Manatee County and held in various roles with Marion County’s school district. Greene began her career teaching in Duval County for about a year in 1985.
Here is a summarized version of Greene's interview:
[Interim] superintendent [Patricia Willis] is going to be here for a little bit to help with the transition. Can you tell me about how you foresee that process going? What are some of the things you really want to learn from her?
“The things that I really need to learn from her are what decisions have been made prior to my arriving. Closing out the year is a two-part phase -- closing out the year and being prepared for the next school year. A lot of things have already been done prior to July 1 and I just need to spend a lot of time with her to understand what has been done so that I can move those, whether they’re issues or projects, forward and try to maintain consistency. Even though change is going to happen, my No. 1 goal is to do it with everyone with collaboration.”
From what you know so far, what areas of the Duval County Public Schools district need the most improvement?
“I don’t think what I know right now is enough information to make that determination. What are the areas that need the most improvement? But there are general areas it would matter what district I’m in. Academics is always going to be something that we can always improve. Ensuring safety and security of our students, making sure that our employees are safe in their locations at work. Those are things that are happening not only in Duval, but across the country and we want to continue to focus on those same issues so that our students, when they come to school, they know that they’re in a safe environment, when our teachers come to work, they’re in a safe environment and that the No. 1 priority is doing what’s best for students to ensure their success.”
After the school board voted to start negotiating a contract with you, they said right away something that really impressed them was your ability to convince voters to approve a millage increase for new schools. But one board member, [Becki Couch] said she personally thinks it’s going to take time to gain community trust to do something like that [in Duval]. What do you foresee as steps in doing that?
“I think any passing of a referendum requires a coalition of involved and engaged citizens in the process and stepping in on July 2, being my first official day, I need to again get to know people, introduce myself to the community... It does take time. It takes time to understand what are the issues? And 1) will a referendum help solve those issues? My first role is to No. 1 get to know everyone, but No. 2, identify what are our issues? What are the areas that we need more support and more resources, then share that information with the [school] board and together with the board develops a plan of how we can attack those issues.”
Will you share a little about how it was successful in Manatee. What steps did you have to take to ensure [the referendum passed]?
“We had to work through the community trusting a school board. Five years ago the school district was financially in a dark place and we worked hard to get our finances in a place that showed the community that we have that part of the workings of the school district, not only under control but it was in a great space and it was on the right path.”
“We had to develop relationships with other government agencies, institutions, nonprofits, parents. We had to develop those relationships with them to let them see the school district. We took the stance that our school district is a reflection of our community and we believe we live in a great community, therefore we have a great school district, you just don’t know it yet. We started opening our doors, letting people into our schools, whether it was from video vignettes of seeing what’s happening in our classrooms, to new ways of volunteering in our schools...We kept saying, ‘we are a part of this community and if we think this community is great, then we need to also make this a great school district. That probably was the No. 1 strategy we used to bring people together to engage them in the conversation to see what we were doing.”
What are your thoughts on the district’s plan for hiring armed school safety assistants to comply with the new state law? A criticism from people is about about the pay of $12.50 an hour. Your thoughts?
“Duval is handling it very similar to Manatee. Our No. 1 desire would be to have safety resource officers in all of our schools, however the funding is not enough to ensure that we could have SROs in every school and Manatee went to hiring safety guardians for all of the elementary schools. This our next best option to ensuring that all of the students in Duval County will be safe and that the process should not stop.”
“We should not say ‘well, we’ve done this, so now it’s over.’ We will need to review it, evaluate it, not only yearly, but I believe every six months we should go back and decide, can we, if the funding is there, add additional SROs or maybe we find the safety assistants, that is the best route and we make decisions about ‘OK, now we need to improve their salaries.’ A number of issues need to be reviewed constantly to ensure that we’re doing the very best job for our students and our employee’s safety on those campuses.”
Now that the state allows less time and fewer options for districts to improve D and F schools, starting this fall two schools will be run by an outsider operating company. And this upcoming year at least three more schools will have to make Cs or could face the same fate. Talk to me about turning around schools. What’s your experience in doing that? What are some methods that you find, work?
“In my former district we had 11 D schools last year and now we’re down to six. I know that turning around schools that are struggling is challenging. But what we have found is the No. 1 strategy is giving them support and ensuring that whatever roadblocks that may be present at a particular school, it’s our job to try to remove those roadblocks as much as possible and ensure that they have the support in resources as well as human capital. No. 3, it’s all about monitoring...Monitoring is key to ensuring active engagement between the district and the schools and active engagement with the community that, that school serves to ensure that we are removing as many of the road blocks form that school not being successful.”
Now we’ve talked about a couple state mandates. What sorts of issues are you interested in advocating for or against this upcoming session?
"I’m always advocating -- allow us the time. Many times change happens very quickly. Allow us the time to implement what you’ve requested. Allow us the opportunity to really educate our students. There is so much more to an education than a test score. We need to ensure we can offer our students the arts, physical education, making sure we can make education about the student and not about whatever special interest is going on at the particular time."