Education Policy Forum at JU Public Policy Institute

February 7, 2014

JU Public Policy Institute is continuing to engage and inform the community on major policy issues facing our region. This Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Institute is hosting Nikolai Vitti, Ed.d, Superintendent, Duval County Public Schools and Gary Chartrand, Chair, Florida State Board of Education.

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,

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:

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.

Article by Stephen Dare

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