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Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund's one on one conference review, part 1

By Greg Sampson

One X One Conference 2016

As the day began, 500 were announced in attendance. The One X One conference, staged by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, kicked off around 9:15 AM with two enthusiastic emcees who had difficulty getting the attendees to get into their seats for the 9:00 AM starting time. But things soon got underway.

This is the first of several posts on the conference. In this one, I will try to be a good reporter and describe the events and what took place without analysis or opinion in the morning. In succeeding posts, I will offer my analysis and describe the breakout sessions in the afternoon.

Our local high schools were on display for particular strengths. Three culinary programs offered a complimentary breakfast: Terry Parker, Frank Peterson, and Raines. They had a competition that was judged by the head chef at the hotel. Terry Parker won and received a small trophy. Westside High presented the colors with their drumline for the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance.

During this time, event organizers tried to get attending students to sit at every table. Each tab le was facilitated by a City Year volunteer. At my table, the CYV got up and corralled two young men who attend the Butler Leadership Academy to join us. Other than that, the only other person at my table was a man who managed a nonprofit service agency providing afterschool services on the Westside. (As I looked around the room, I saw that most tables were not filled. Including the students, we only had 5 out of 10 seats filled at my table. The attendees were assigned to tables by the organizers. )

As the program began, we were welcomed by the Chair of the JPEF Board of Directors. During his brief intro, he cited the increase in the DCPS graduation rate of more than 20% in 6 years. This was the only accomplishment he mentioned.

Mia Jones, state legislator for District 14 in the Florida House, performed the invocation. She begged the indulgence of those present so she could go off her assigned role and thank a retired teacher in the room who had been influential in her life. Then she said, “I was thinking about what I should say as I drove back from Tallahassee last night after being in committee meetings all day. Public Education is really under assault.”

Trey Csar, President of JPEF, congratulated DCPS for achieving the highest graduation rate for African-Americans in 2015. (A lot of congratulations went on during this time: applaud this, applaud that person, high level backslapping needed the attendees to slap their hands together repeatedly, applaud yourselves …)

The theme of this year’s One by One, the fourth JPEF has organized, was equity. Not equality, but equity in that education should meet the needs of every individual student at a level of high quality. Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, UNF, gave the keynote address, which focused on her research into the the career of W.E.B. Dubois, whose name she pronounced correctly, the staff member from Lenny Curry’s office who introduced her, did not—going with the standard French pronunciation of Du-Bwah, rather than the actual pronunciation of Du-boys, to show how persons of color have been overlooked for their achievements.

Then Dr. Vitti took the stage. He mentioned there was a friendly bet going on in the room whether he could stay within his time limit. (If you have ever been to a Vitti event, you will know that he will will take the microphone, a sip of water from a bottle handed to him, and talk for hours non-stop without taking a breath.)

Dr. Vitti recognized the district administrators and principals who were in the room. Then he acknowledged that they supported the real people who made it work in the classroom and asked teachers to stand up. There were around 20 of us.

The slide show began. Dr. Vitti acknowledged with a laugh that everyone knows he always has a slide show. The slides documented the progress and achievement of the District with data:

·         Increase in graduation rate, which is now closing in on the state average
·         Increase in total number of graduates, which means we aren’t achieving an increase in rate by manipulating numbers
·         Bridge to Success, the drop-back-in program increasing its success rate to 29% from 4%
·         First among urban districts for African-American grad rate
·         First among urban districts for English Language Learner grad rate
·         Rose to fifth out of the seven urban districts for Economically Disadvantaged grad rate (ED is determined by who is on the federal free or reduced lunch program, in which the price of their school meals is subsidized.)
·         Increase of 20 percentage points in the grad rate for students with disabilities (what most of us have traditionally called special education)
·         College readiness increase
·         Number of dual enrollment courses up to 10,229 from 6,871 when he arrived
·         Industry certifications earned by students increased
·         Scholarship dollars awarded to students up to $81 million from $31 million
·         NAEP results
·         Projected school grades
·         DTO teacher quality and investment in technology for those schools
·         Suspensions down, even for Hispanic and African-American students, and the gap in the rate of suspensions for such students vs. white students has narrowed
·         Restorative Justice programs handled 2000 cases
·         Increase in VPK reading and math achievement (measured by testing)
·         Increase in the diversity of school administrators

Dr. Vitti spoke about the challenge of individualizing/personalizing the education experience for each student versus the old way of the factory model in the classroom. He appealed to us to support school choice in differentiating the offerings of Duval County’s public schools to compete in the marketplace with the alternatives.

Following his presentation, Dr. Vitti sat on stage with a panel comprised of a parent, a student, and a community member, run by the head of the United Way of NE Florida.

I’m at 980 words, so I’ll break and post this. Part Two will follow. I don’t want to shortchange you from the panel interaction for fear exceeding the tolerance of blog readers for sheer number of words.

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