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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Vitti picks none of the above for John E. Ford

Originally he tapped Jacqueline Byrd to replace LaTonya Parker at John E. Ford K-8. That didn’t last long as Byrd left the district and the super decided to go with district admin Mary Mikels.  Well friends according to someone close to the situation, Mikels is now out, heading to yet a different elementary school but instead of going back with Parker the district has chosen Paula Renfro another district admin, though she does have Montessori experience, to lead the school.

Below is a letter that the superintendent sent to the John E. Ford community.

Dear John E. Ford Community:
I sincerely thank you for attending the Community Meeting hosted on Thursday by Board member Wright. The discussion allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the long-term and immediate challenges and opportunities facing John E. Ford and the admiration you hold for principal Parker.
There were particular themes and concerns consistently expressed that include 1) a critical need to improve the quality of implementation of the Montessori program 2) dissatisfaction with the recommended removal of Ms. Parker and replacement with leader without Montessori training or experience 3) continual principal changes at the school leading to turnover of teachers and 4) need for additional resources to support students and train teachers in Montessori implementation.
I greatly considered and reflected on each of your comments, frustrations, and suggestions. In addition, I met with Ms. Parker the morning following our meeting to hear her thoughts and reflection of the year, specific needs, and plan of action for improvement.
While I enjoyed my conversation with Ms. Parker and can clearly see the strength of her interpersonal skills, I remain convinced that her lack of experience as principal along with an unclear plan of action prohibit her from building the model Montessori program that we all want for John E. Ford students.
As a result, I have given considerable thought to the needs expressed and overwhelming concerns about the quality of Ford's Montessori program. Consequently, I am recommending a leader who not only has the instructional leadership to raise FCAT scores that dropped in multiple areas and grade levels, but the experience to build a model program.
I am convinced that John E. Ford can be a state and national model for Montessori implementation due to its rich blend of magnet and community students, involved parents, and committed teachers. However, to reach that goal, we must continue the collaboration, commitment and passion demonstrated during last week's meeting. Ms. Paula Renfro is a veteran leader with 14 years of experience as a principal and a deep understanding of the Montessori program, urban schools, and student achievement. Ms. Renfro spearheaded the development of the Axson Elementary Montessori program, and most recently served as an Executive Director within the former cluster configuration. She is our most experienced and proven administrator in Montessori programming with an urban core background.
Ms. Parker will remain at Garden City Elementary as principal so she can hone and develop her leadership skills in a stable and small school setting, an environment I am convinced will contribute to her success. Ms. Mickel will replace Ms. Renfro at Kernan Elementary.
In addition, I have communicated to our Human Resources Services department that new Teach for America (TFA) teachers not be assigned to Ford thereby reducing potential for increased turnover. We will engage our Teachers' Union on establishing a long-term plan for teacher placement at the school due to the training investment, and commit to additional Montessori training and resources that support teachers and students to raise student achievement.
I thank you again for your commitment to John E. Ford program and especially children. Together I know we will improve John E. Ford and build the program and students we all imagine it can be.
Nikolai P. Vitti, Ed.D.
Duval County Public Schools

It seems to me that the super met somewhere in the middle. He still replaced Parker but went with an admin who has Montessori experience. A member of the PTA wrote me, We would still prefer Mrs  Parker, but at this point, I think we're resigned to it.


  1. Chris, it only gets worse! Mary Michael was replaced as principal last Friday by Paula Renfore. Four principals in less than 3 weeks! Again, a sign that this administration is flying by the seat of it's pants!

  2. Sounds a lot like the old "Who's on first?" comedy routine. Except this is not funny! While I wish the new principal only the best, I wonder how all this turnover (principals and teachers) is, has been and will affect the students of this school. Good to see parents involved. I do wonder at the arrogance of this superintendent in some of his decisions though.

  3. John E. Ford's new principal is Paula Renfro, former principal of J. Allen Axson Montessori School. She is a leader in every sense of the word. She stays connected to the classroom, she cultivates and builds up her teachers. She is accessible to students, parents and teachers. She has high expectations for her students. She knows her students by name, knows how they learn, and which classroom would be the best fit for them. She is proactive and is not afraid to respond to issues before they become big problems. She keeps parents informed with weekly emails. She has vision and led Axson professionally for many years. She was and is greatly loved. I am very sorry for the Principal musical chairs game going on currently, but John E. Ford, you got a great one. And if you don't want her, we'll take her back.