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Superintendent Vitti cannot serve two masters (rough draft)

On Saturday Education Matters reported that district partner the Jacksonville Public Education Fund was pushing a symposium on charter schools to the districts kids, specifically those on the north and west sides of town. Let me repeat that in case I gave the wrong impression, the district wasn’t pushing it but its partner JPEF was, this is the same JPEF that will be putting on the Teacher of the Year ceremonies in a couple weeks and manages the Quality Education for All funds and puts on various other activities.

I and many others was outraged by this. If you run a business and one of your contractors was trying to steer your customers to another business then you would probably stop doing business with that contractor. However since this is Duval JPEF might get a bonus.

Education activist Bradford Hall wrote the super a letter and the super replied and I have included that below.

Here is the thing, even if we take everything that the super wrote at face value it does not matter because the super cannot serve two masters. He cannot continue to approve charter schools that even he says have a poor chance of being successful and that as a group either under perform or are set up in neighborhoods that already have successful schools and then say look I am doing all I can to bring kids back from charter schools.

He has to decide whether he wants to be the super of our public school system or if he wants to privatize the district which I and many others think is his true agenda. This death by a thousand cuts is hurting so many.

Now say I am wrong, say he thinks he can serve Chartrand and the charter school operators and the district’s schools, teachers and students how after all that he is done doesn’t he get how wrong that is. We will be spending millions extra next year and beyond on magnet conversions and transportation, money that we desperately need elsewhere.

And I don’t know about you but I want a junk yard dog who is going to fight for our district, not one that says, it’s okay that our partners actively undermine us and who is okay with the privatizing of our schools.

I will let you decide. Bellow is his response to Bradford hall's letter.

Mr. Hall,

Friday’s activities did not include charter recruitment activities. As you lightly referred to in your email and seem to know based on your experience with the Annual Education Symposium, engagement with students in the school district has been taking place with community members involved with the Symposium for over six years, well before my superintendency.  These activities are focused on building the civic capacity of our students and have had nothing to do with charter schools. In fact, the feedback from community members regarding the thoughtfulness and maturity of our students was outstanding. However, to repeat, the activities did not include direct or indirect recruitment of our students to charter schools.

As far as your other questions are concerned, I think my desire and strategies to compete with charter schools is well established.  You have attended countless board meetings, workshop presentations, panel discussions, and community meetings or can review TU articles and TV interviews where this has been articulated or shared. To name a few strategies to combat charter growth: we have expanded internal district choice to limit charter enrollment; empowered principals and district staff with first-time developed and reviewed student enrollment data to retain and recruit students; developed new schools, themes, and programs to compete with charters; developed a marketing plan and strategy; expanded the Choice Expo to all schools, not just magnets to encourage parent exposure to all schools; and created a new and separate district position to recruit parents from charter and private schools as part of the Choice Office. 

Perhaps we disagree regarding the acceptance that some charter schools are well established and welcomed by parents as too friendly to charters but I believe a counter perspective belies the reality of parent demand. You may not like KIPP or Tiger Academy; however, parents with children on the Northside do. If they did not, then they would not send their children to those schools nor would there be a waiting list.  I also know you would simply recommend that we break the law and deny most, if not all, charter applications.   This strategy is a waste of resources and also denies parents the opportunity to select schools they feel are best for their children. We have denied charter applications or caused applications to be withdrawn before denial votes by raising the bar of expectations for applications. Not all charter schools are weak or evil and not all charter schools are strong. Therefore, a balanced approach is necessary.

To address your other questions, the solution to improve low-performance is not only based on boundary changes and school redesigns. You are well aware of the unprecedented investment in retaining and recruiting stronger teachers for Northside schools; expanding technology investment; increasing PreK, art, music, elective, and dual enrollment offerings; and providing more school based positions to work with students who are below grade level in reading through interventionists and coaches. All of this including principal changes to strengthen instructional leadership and a research based district office model (DTO) to directly support schools and build the capacity of leaders and teachers.

I have been repeating since 2012-13 that our district and the state were experiencing a significant rise in D and F schools due to previously changed standards and more importantly, cut scores that define proficiency. From 2011 to 2014, the number of D and F schools in the state increased by 260% from 156 to 562.  the district increased by 119% from 21 to 46. From 2012 to 2014, the number of D and F schools in the state increased by 125% from 249 to 562.  The district increased by 109% from 22 to 46. 

I have explained a number of times that schools are facing or will face state sanctions. I repeated that the community has not dealt with this reality due to hold harmless grades. I stated this to explain principal changes, school redesign, and boundary changes over the past two years. And, to be clear, “Priority Schools” are not newly defined low performing schools facing possible state sanction. Their performance prior to 2013-14 led to their designation. The strategies stated above have and will allow schools to avoid state sanctions. However, we cannot sustain the attempt to directly support a number of schools often in the same feeder pattern that face the same challenges of low performance, low enrollment, low utilization, and low or below residency growth rates.

Programs that have been strengthened or added on the Northside since my arrival to address charter enrollment growth and improve performance include:

·         Aviation Programs at Ribault Senior and Middle School
·         Cybersecurity Early College Program at Jackson
·         Strengthening the Visual and Performing Arts Program at Raines
·         Pitsco Labs at Highlands, Northwestern, Ribault, YMLA/YWLA, and Gilbert
·         Strengthening the Montessori Program at John Ford
·         Pre-Early College at  Ribault and Gilbert
·         QEA programs (unprecedented incentives for principals and teachers, Jacksonville Teacher Residency, Summer Principal Academy)
·         Expansion of City Year

We do need to expand these types of programs and marketing but that cannot happen without scaling back on the overfunding and district support of multiple schools facing the same challenges. We should overfund some schools but we cannot continue to do so across multiple schools facing the same challenges. This has been done for years and does not work.

Please review the most recent board approved QEA plan, Literacy plan, and the near 10 other plans that outline the strategies to address and improve performance, including African-American performance. No, we do not have a specific, written plan outlining separate strategies and interventions for African-American students or males. However, before our district creates one, please share with me a large urban school district plan that has been created outside of Duval County where African-American performance (or male performance) is stronger in graduation rates or NAEP performance (i.e. a national assessment that is equal in standard and assessment quality and rigor).  In other words, creating a plan for the sake of creating a plan does little for impact. I would like to see a plan that was developed and has yielded results stronger than our district.


1 comment:

  1. I wanted to to take a moment to clarify for both you and your readers that the 8th Annual Urban Education Symposium (UES) held last weekend was not a Jacksonville Public Education Fund event. In some of your recent posts, the Symposium appears to be characterized as an event primarily put on or sponsored by JPEF.

    This is not only an inaccurate representation of JPEF’s role in the event but also a disservice to the Jacksonville Community Engagement Group (CEG), who have been putting on this event since before JPEF existed.

    While the UES is not a JPEF event, we are among a number of community organizations involved with supporting the Community Engagement Group’s efforts to bring the symposium together every year, primarily through providing a written data update that goes into the event’s program booklet. We promoted the event on our calendar (as you highlighted in a previous post) the same way we do for any relevant education event in Jacksonville.

    We continue to provide that service because we have a deep commitment to improving racial equity in our city’s education system, and believe that the CEG has been instrumental in keeping the challenges facing Jacksonville’s young black men front and center in the public discussion. As I said at our ONE by ONE Convention a few weeks ago, we know our city can’t succeed until all of our children succeed, and CEG’s focus on young black men is vital to this goal.

    For more information on the sponsors of this year’s UES and steering committee members, I encourage you to visit their website at