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Duval County School Superintendent Diana Greene got what could only be described as a tongue-lashing when she appeared before the State Board of Education May 22.

Greene was explaining her plans to turn around two failing schools, Lake Forest Elementary School and Northwestern Middle School. The plans include changing Northwestern to an elementary school and consolidating Lake Forest with a higher performing elementary schools.

But several of the board members urged her to make a bold leadership move and turn the schools over to IDEA Academy schools, a non-profit charter school organization that has had a good record in other states.

In Duval, 21 schools have D or F grades.

The district has had failing schools for 40 years, even though schools only have been graded for the past 20 years.

The School Board has done little of substance except to shuffle personnel and conjure up new programs that are long on rhetoric and short on results.

One reason is that the powerful teacher union bosses fight any attempt at meaningful reform.

The main remedy union bosses offer is to throw even larger bundles of cash at the schools, making adults better off but doing nothing for the kids.

Greene, who has been on the job 10 months, said she was not opposed to charter schools but thought her plans would turn around the failing schools.

Members of the state board clearly were not convinced.

They also heard Department of Education staff say that the local school district has not been doing things it was supposed to do in the “turnaround” process failing schools are under, such as meeting with DOE staff members.

“I think Duval County has established it is not capable of a district-managed turnaround,” board member Tom Grady said. “I think we should revoke all approvals we have given for district-managed turnaround.”

“I don’t share the optimism of my board members,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. He asked why the district would not take 10 schools and give them to IDEA Academy.

“Why not give half the kids to IDEA and you keep half and let’s see the results? Are we afraid of that competition?”

Greene said she had 40 charter schools in her district and was not afraid of the competition.

Corcoran said typically the failing schools are raised to C grades for a year then slip back.

“We’ve got to have results for these kids. Northwestern has been a failing school for 15 years,” he said.

“That’s not wrong, that’s criminal,” he said.

“Why don’t we go aggressively in another direction?”

Greene indicated she would not oppose IDEA if it applied and went through the process.

Chairman Marva Johnson also seemed to support giving the IDEA schools an opportunity in Duval.

Board member Michael Olenick made an emotional statement about the plight of students trapped in failing schools, whose future is being lost.  He called the statistics for Duval “dismal” and said he could not understand why Greene wasn’t being bolder.

“I would be begging IDEA schools with their record to come into our community,” Joe York said.

He suggested that Greene continue to talk to the Jacksonville Civic Council which has shown an interest in school reform.

There is another factor that was touched on briefly at the meeting.

Currently, the school district has proposed a vote of the taxpayers on spending $1.95 billion to build and renovate schools.

If more charter schools were allowed to operate it could save millions of dollars because local taxpayers don’t pay for charter school buildings.

IDEA schools will have 97 schools in operation this year with about 60,000 students, and it says 100 percent of graduates have been accepted to college.

More than 295,000 students attend charter schools in Florida and a recent study showed more have an A grade than the public schools.

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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida.  He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union.  He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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