Today's School Board Elections.

August 14, 2012 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville's Stephen Dare looks back to the past and shares his opinion on what today's school board elections mean for the future of the Duval County Public School system.



The failures of the Duval County School Board, over the past twenty years have been abysmal and city changing. For many, home buying and renting decisions are based largely on the "assigned" neighborhood school. A failing education system goes much deeper than a high drop out rate. It directly impacts the prosperity and livability of the community. Not only is suburban sprawl exacerbated by families fleeing a Duval education but jobs and businesses migrate out of Duval---, following families who are "forced" to make a very easy decision to live near the best schools.

Why?

Education itself has been an inexplicably thorny issue in Duval County since the very first days of Consolidation as the city has struggled to balance the needs of the ignorant to enforce stupid ideological policy with the needs of the students and families who actually utilize the Public Schools of Jacksonville and Duval County.

For example, had it not been for widespread efforts of the part of the good old boy racist system to de-fund 'black' schools and transfer the money to 'white' schools in the fifties and sixties, the city would likely have never faced the humiliation of having our schools disaccredited and subject to federal busing.

By the time that disaccreditation happened, for twenty years the champions of racist political ideology had been at the helm of our school boards and city --- and much of the process of making decisions.  It seems inexplicable that this vitally important public infrastructure was actually guided by an attempt to segregate the races and transfer the bulk of the tax resources to schools in 'white' districts.

What exactly, one might ask, does race based ideology have to do with education?  

Where was the concern for educating all of the students of this city?  Its hard to explain, especially in light of todays incrementally more enlightened society, and yet here is the sad truth.  

The school boards prior to Consolidation did not care about this simple, vital commission.  They were more identified with politics than education. Racist political ideology  was all pervasive by the 1960s.  And the Schools were the front lines in a geographical battleground that pit race based districts and areas against one another.



Haydon Burns being sworn in as mayor of Jacksonville in 1949. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/19175

Like other cities across the old South, even our mayor, Haydon Burns weighed in to support segregation: In restaurants, bathrooms, at water fountains, and most importantly in the schools.

The result of putting politics above Education was catastrophic, and the city is still informed and guided by the fallout of that catastrophe.

In 1964 the days of Disaccreditation came and Duval County schools all lost their certification that children educated in Duval had been educated at all.  For a few years, graduates of Duval County were forced to face college admissions boards without a diploma from a recognized school system.

It triggered a massive exodus of children from families who could afford private school---for no other reason than the simple aspiration to be able to send one's children to college.

That pullout established a pattern amongst the middle class to upper middle class families that continues to this day. (More on this later on in the essay.)

Disaccreditation happened in 1964, and the school system wasnt fully accredited again until 1979. Fifteen years.

Further, the Federal mandate to desegregate the schools was ignored and skirted so blatantly that mandatory busing of students began in 1971.  It continued until 1999 (http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/052899/met_2a1MainD.html) with the dismissal of the 39 year old federal lawsuit against the school system.

Interesting, one might think, but what does this have to do with anything current.

Well there are three important things that directly bear on our current situation.  

1.  The direct harm that political ideology does to the educational process.
2.  The three generation disengagement from the public school system of many of Jacksonville's middle and upper middle class families.
3.  The Magnet School Programs.


The direct harm that political ideology does to the educational process.

Had politics not been guided by segregationist theory and ideology, the schools would have been equitable.  They weren't.  As a result over a third of our kids were educated under the worst possible circumstances with the easily anticipated results.

Forced desegregative busing then took kids from schools that were barely up to modern standards and placed them in schools that, literally, were crumbling down around their ears.  Forty years of neglect and underfunding then had to be updated.

Rather than let their children be the guinea pigs of an experiment called 'how to repair a criminally neglected school building that doesn't have enough textbooks while trying to educate students', many more of Jacksonville's middle class families withdrew their kids from public schools and began a legacy of privately educating their children.

Additionally, Jacksonville's 'low tax' ideology from Ed Ball's Porkchop Gang Era had left the schools pitifully underfunded.  Even the allegedly 'great' schools from the 1960s were being forced to hold constant bake sales and candy fundraisers in order to cover the basic costs of education.

This was ok in a wealthy neighborhood, with tons of extra money for the community to spare for the local fundraisers (you know, a dollar at a time), but pretty bleak for kids that came from a poor or working class neighborhood that didn't have a few thousand dollars of expendable income.

This left the schools in a poor position to repair more than half of the schools that were mostly unfunded during the Haydon Burns/Porkchop Gang era of racist segregation ideology.


Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Had the schools simply approached their jobs as a mission to educate kids, no matter where they were, and spent the appropriate money to do so, what would the result have been?

Would we have spent as much money having to repair ruined structures, replacing old school books, and losing the cumulative effect of children from families with high motivation for education within the school system itself?

The three generation disengagement from the public school system of many of Jacksonville's middle and upper middle class families.

Starting with disaccreditation, the flight of families from the public school system has been alarming.

The statistics actually are pretty shocking and reflect a epidemic sized disengagement from the Public School system.  

Only 25% of households in Duval County have a direct enrollment connection to the public schools.

Considering the fact that one hundred percent of us pay property taxes to the school board, the level of apathy on this issue is breathtaking, but consider this.  Duval County has a couple of odd metrics for a city of our demographic profile.  

1,  Despite being the country's, thirteenth largest city in terms of population, we only have the 21st largest public school enrollment.  

2.  We rank 27th in studies relating to child well being ( http://www.coj.net/departments/childrens-commission/docs/full_report_2011_0324_final.aspx ).  

3.  We also have a higher proportion of lower income family enrollment compared to higher income family enrollment than any comparable school system in the country.

This reflects some pretty nasty negative realities, all of which reflect a lack of confidence in our public school system on the part of families that value education enough to pay for it.  Without the presence of that percentage of education driven students in the student populations, there are fewer peer resources and behavioral modifiers.

It also means that the bake sale motivated parents are fewer when it comes down to the old Education by Bake Sale method.

Theoretically this should work out better per student right?  After all, those families which choose to privately educate or self educate their children still have to pay taxes, right?  And now those taxes can be spent on fewer children, right?  Well not really.  Florida has led the way to divert all of that money into private and christian schools.  ( http://www.stepupforstudents.org/Portals/0/Resources/Documents/Published-Commentary/12.01.05 Doug Tuthill column in Sentinel.pdf )

Furthermore this exodus from public schools----directly as a result of using the schools as a battlefront for political ideology (segregationist philosophy at the time)----has gone on for three generations as a result of a feedback process.  We keep 'up segregating', to coin a phrase.  The best and brightest students from the most education driven families are increasingly segregated from the general school population.

Families that can afford to privately educate their children feel forced to do so because of poor school performance, lack of facilities, and discipline.

Of the remaining students, in order to overcome the 39 year Federal Desegregation Order, they are increasingly being placed in magnet schools based on their own performance abilities.

Magnet Schools

One of the main structural components of the Duval County School System is its Magnet School Program.

Perhaps it is the longest lasting legacy of the days of racist control of our school boards during the Porkchop Gang era inasmuch as it was developed as the solution to the Federal Desegregation Order of 1971.

The federal lawsuit found that despite the order to desegregate the schools, only about 150 actual students had actually crossed the color lines to go to a school of a 'different color'.  Every single case was an african american child who had enrolled in a 'white' school.  There were literally no cases of a european american child enrolling in a 'black' school.

The feds ordered mandatory busing, and whole neighborhoods of schools were bused every day to much further away schools to desegregate the populations.

Socially, this process proved to be a success in the long term, and the improvement in racial relations in the modern era owes a lot to the days of desegregation.

Educationally, it was chimerical at the time, as it raised racial tensions, was profoundly more expensive in terms of more transportation, and forced the majority of the city to actually ponder the appalling physical conditions of the 'black' schools.

Enter Stanton High School.


1953 aerial view of Durkeeville's Stanton High School under construction from the Robert E. Fisher Collection. Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/166693

Stanton High School was a 'black' high school.  It was located in a 'black' district in a 'black' neighborhood.  It was chosen as the site for a 'magnet' school based around academic excellence that would also be a preparatory college academy.  More importantly it was a strategy for repackaging the busing of 'white' students to 'black' schools that complied with the federal order without compromising the educational experience for the students.

It was also in appalling physical condition and surrounded by abandoned and run down properties.

So the school board and the highly motivated educators and parents involved in the development of Stanton did what the school board should have done in the very beginning.  They began a massive renovation project of the old school.  They cherry picked some of the best educators in the teachers union.  They thoughtfully developed a curriculum that would be attractive to anyone looking to prepare their child for a college education and academic excellence.  In short they created an actual alternative to private schooling. within the context of both the mandatory busing order and the public school system.

Soon afterwards, Mary Frances Whittaker, after three years of struggling opened the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in another traditionally 'black' school--Douglas Anderson.

Paxon College Prep followed, and the stratagem was so successful that it led to the creation of 'magnet tracks' within the larger high schools.

The problem with the prep schools and the arts school was that the schools turned into majority 'white' schools in all 'black' neighborhoods.  The magnet 'track' was created so that only a percentage of the enrollments would be from out of area students.  That way a racially desegregated campus was created.

As a result, "white" enrollment soared in 'black' neighborhoods.

It led to the mandate to change from the old 'junior high' (7th, 8th, and 9th) and 'senior high' (10th, 11th, and 12th) school divisions to "Middle School" (6-8) and High School (Freshman through Senior) in order to accommodate a full term for a student within the magnet programs.

The programs were so successful that U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges dismissed Jacksonville's 39-year-old school desegregation case, saying the public schools are being run without racial discrimination ''to the maximum extent possible.'' in 1999, and the exultant reporting that the dark days, at long last were over, by Charlie Patton of the Times Union: http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/030900/enc_S0309pat.html

The legacy of these shenanigans and the relatively inspired solutions lead to a few inescapable conclusions.

1.  The desire to educate children not political ideology should guide the School Board.  Ideology is expensive and the goals are at best dubious. It is highly unlikely that future generations will share the passions of the times. Usually quite the opposite.

2.  The solution was to do what should have been done in the first place.  Rebuild and properly maintain the 'problem' schools.  Find and recruit the best teachers available.  Thoughtfully program curriculum with the best possible education as a goal.  These things weren't rocket science, but it took a federal lawsuit and spreading the self created misery in order to properly motivate change.

3.  It is paramount to re engage the generations of families who opted out of public education as a result of our self inflicted wounds.


Lackawanna made the national news in 1964, when the New York Times reported the bombing of Donal Godfrey's home by the Ku Klux Klan.  Six at the time, Godfrey was the first black student to attend the previously all white Lackawanna Elementary School (Public School Number Ten).  Dating back to 1890, the old elementery school closed in 1993.  Today, it serves as a teacher supply depot for the Duval County School Board.  The school is located on Lenox Avenue, one block west of McDuff Avenue.


The Current State of Affairs

Once again there is a groundwater change going on in our society that promises to restructure the way we do things on a daily basis.  Much in the same way that social changes and technology were changing the world in the 1960s, Civil rights, social media, communications, and changing economic patterns are transforming the world around us.

And once again, our educational system has been frozen on the ground, more interested in fighting ideological battles based on politics than it is in adapting to change and making the necessary reforms to itself that are demanded by the new ground game.

it has been twenty seven years since the last real reform to our school system has been undertaken---that being the implementation of the Magnet School Program.

When Herb Sang and Stan Jordan presided over the launch of the Magnet School concept and Era, there were no cell phones.  There was no internet.  There was no such thing as streaming video online.  Corporations had computers, but people didn't.  The laptop hadn't been introduced to americans yet.  There were no kindles, iPads, tablets, or online books.

The first Blockbuster video store had just opened in Texas.

The Cold War was still going on.

Since then the science of genomics, immunology, complexity, and nanotechnology have been invented.  Jacksonville has been designated a spaceport.

And yet we are still resting on the laurels of how we overcame federal busing and a desegregation lawsuit.


The old Norwood Elementery School was completed in 1926 and served the community for 82 years, before closing in 2008.  According to the US Census Bureau, the neighborhood surrounding the school has continued its free fall in population decline, losing 7.2% of its population since 2000.  Is there a correlation between economically stabilizing communities like Norwood and the proper utilization of public school property?  Or is the public school system and its fiscal situation an island unto itself?

There has been much discussion about closing schools in order to save the public school system funds in the short term.  However, have we truly considered the overall cost to the taxpayer and community concerning the negative economic impact of shutting down schools in already distressed neighborhoods?  In Detroit that hasn't worked out so well. Considering the majority of schools on the list are located in the Northside and Arlington, what does it say about the future economic viability of what should be some of Jacksonville's most fiscally sustainable neighborhoods?



Time for an Overhaul?

So now we are presented with the possibility created by an election year fluke in which 4 of the seven school board seats are up for election.

Four is a simple majority of the board, and that is enough to create a real change in direction.

These seats are won by the hundreds, not the thousands of voters, and we have the ability to jump start the process.

The four seats are from districts 1, 3, 5, and 7.



School Board District 1

Martha Barrett vs Cheryl Grymes

Jake Godbold has come out swinging for Martha Barrett, and for good reason.  Martha has been one of the most universally liked and popular public figures in jacksonville for twenty years.  She is a warm, magnanimous, well intentioned person with a lot of friends, and she is the incumbent.

She is facing off against Cheryl Grymes, who is also a former board member.

It would be impossible to make a recommendation based on who is the nicest or most affable person.  But the Times Union got it right in regards to this race. ( http://jacksonville.com/opinion/editorials/2012-08-10/story/duval-school-board-grymes-assertive-experienced ) Martha has been there for 3 consecutive terms and hasn't done a damn thing except get re elected. The School Board needs action and boldness, and lovely as she is, Martha is not the person to be able to supply this.  Cheryl on the other hand is driven, has remained proactive in education and is committed to meaningful reform.  This election is a no brainer.  

If you want to help the city, vote for Cheryl.


School Board District 3

This race the field of excellence narrows down to two very motivated and dynamic women, Suzanne Jenkins and Ashley Juarez Smith.

Suzanne was one of the original posters on our old metjax website, and was an openminded thoughtful representative for downtown during her terms on the City Council. She can think outside of the box and has experienced almost every twist and turn of politics that Jacksonville has to throw at you.  

She sponsored and passed the relaxation of downtown parking regulations championed by this publication and has a maverick character that allows her to fight for an unpopular issue until people can at least put aside their preconceptions.  She would make a very strong School Board Candidate.

Ashley Smith Juarez is incredibly bright, well funded, experienced and passionate.  She has energy, comes without any political baggage, is not interested in the kind of score keeping that mars so many of the local politicians.  She is a true believer in technology and the need for reform.

Ashley Smith Juarez is a newcomer with a tremendous backround in education and no hidden land mines in the political landscape.  In the upcoming struggle to reform the school system, its going to be about teamwork and the ability to play excellently with others, qualities for which Ashley is noted.

Both candidates would make amazing School Boardmembers, but Smith-Juarez should get the nod by an inch.


School Board District 5

In this district, the times union called Connie Hall 'safe' ( http://jacksonville.com/opinion/editorials/2012-08-10/story/pervalia-gaines-mcintosh-good-choice-new-era-school-board ) on grounds of her status as a veteran in the district.   Her competition is Pervalia Gaines McIntosh, who has a habit of saying really common sense things, quite often in public.

Balanced by that is Chris Guerrieri, an impassioned blogger and educator whose criticisms and watchdog role in the school board is literally too valuable to consider compromising by electing him to the office.  Also he trolled one of his opposition candidates discussion threads, which isn't a great indicator of being able to work well with others--a necessary  skill if we are actually looking at concerted change and reform.

Pervalia is an enticing choice, but Hall's 'safety' is also her strength, and for good reason.  She is for reform, including technology implementation, and she will provide confidence and continuity over the next four years.


School Board District 7

Once again we agree with the Times Union on the two best candidates ( http://jacksonville.com/opinion/editorials/2012-08-10/story/jon-heymann-idea-candidate-school-board )   The rest of the others are a colorful mix, including a tea party ideologue, but none of them seem to have much chance of winning.   (in two cases, this is probably for the best)

However on balance, Corree Cuff has shown a willingness to work for the public, go out and get the votes, listen carefully to her constituents.  She participated in live discussion with MetroJacksonville.com readers, she is for reform, and she is a hardcore believer in children's well being and walkable communities.

Heyman's campaign on the other hand returned no information regarding his platform.  Also, he appears to be too intricately involved as a vendor and his business relationship as a private enterprise with the School Board is just a little too close for cricket.

Corree Cuff would be another young, inspired, passionate team player, and has the extra benefit of not relying on school board money for her livelihood.


Summation

Lets face it, things have to change.

Its time to update, to reform, to move the district beyond the flawed past.  It is time to reinvent.

We will never find our way to empowered, green campuses peopled with healthy children being instructed by some of the worlds greatest minds via webclassting that graduate well informed creative productive disciplined students ready to change the world for the better if we continue doing things the way we have been.

We are spending too money where we shouldn't, not enough where we should, for too little results in the name of too much ideology.

We have to move forward, and its time to put a team in place that can actually make that happen.

Cheryl Grymes, Corree Cuff, Connie Hall and Ashley Smith Juarez (and in the alternative Suzanne Jenkins) would be a good  start.

Editorial by Stephen Dare