Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Duval Partners, nobody seems to know what they are doing, what a mess

From the Times Unions editorial board

What a mess.

And the shame is that the students of the four intervene schools will be caught in it.

There are three issues that deserve our attention in connection with the new group likely to be in charge of Jacksonville's four intervene schools.

Don't rush

With just a few weeks left before a new school year, Duval Partners for Excellent Education cannot be ready to take on oversight of Jacksonville's four failing schools — probably the most difficult job in Jacksonville.

This needs to be treated like the preparation for any new school. Normally, a principal is given a year to prepare when a new school is constructed.

In this case, making changes in four failing schools is even more difficult than opening one new school.

Ed Pratt-Dannals, the superintendent of the Duval County Public Schools, has said he could not find a company with a proven track record of turning around schools in the shape of Raines, Ribault and Jackson high schools and North Shore K-8.

Rushing into this job is a prescription for failure.

Open up

Florida has a history of open government dating to the early 1900s.

So the decision of the Duval Partners board to continue to meet in secrecy is simply wrong — desperately wrong.

Duval Partners could make the case that they needed secrecy when they were in the organizational phase. Open, frank discussions were needed.

But that should have taken three meetings, maybe five. The group has now held about 10 meetings. What's worse, they are far beyond the organizational phase. They are actually interviewing management companies as well as candidates for executive director.

How could they do that in secret?

That point will be moot soon, since the School Board signed the Memorandum of Understanding yesterday and Duval Partners may sign it soon.

Once Duval Partners signs an agreement, the requirements of Florida's Sunshine Law take effect.

Is it coincidence that it has not been signed? It has certainly been convenient for Duval Partners.

This is no way to run a public agency.

When Chairman Cleve Warren promised to open the Duval Partners meetings during a meeting with the Times-Union editorial board, it was presumed that the meetings would be open to all, not just the Times-Union.

Instead, he offered a Times-Union reporter the chance to be present for a token 15 minutes, and when important business was being conducted, the reporter was asked to leave.

This is an outrage.

If this secrecy is legal, it is not right. All it does is lose credibility with the people. It makes the most difficult job in Jacksonville an impossible one.

But following the letter of the Sunshine Law is only part of the problem. The spirit of the law — openness, transparency — is key.

Remember the community

Left out of this entire process are the people the four intervene schools are meant to serve.

How many members of Duval Partners live in these school zones? Just a few.

Jacksonville citizens involved with these schools have been left behind, over and over again.

Their neighborhood schools have been turned into dedicated magnets for the more fortunate. Legacy high schools like Matthew Gilbert, the school Bob Hayes attended, have been turned into middle schools.

And now a shadowy group of citizens are making decisions on their behalf.

This is simply bad management that reminds us of a previous era when a few leaders made decisions for the unrepresented.

This may be the Jacksonville of a few decades ago, but it's not the Jacksonville that just elected a black mayor.

These are not faceless masses, they are people in the neighborhood to be educated by Raines, Ribault, Jackson and North Shore. They deserve to be involved in the decision-making process every step of the way.

What should be done

- Duval Partners ought to decline to take on this job before it is ready.

- The Duval County School Board ought to take every step, including court action, to prevent this hand-off to a group that is not ready to do it properly.

- Jacksonville's new mayor needs to get engaged personally.

- And the community itself needs to get involved in what looks like a disaster in the making. Anyone who believes in participative government needs to join the effort.

Let's grant that the volunteers of Duval Partners want to do the right thing. But serious mistakes have been made.

This mess cannot stand.


No comments:

Post a Comment