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Superintendent Outlines Plan to Aid F Schools

Ohanian Commen: I'm bothered by the implication that no solid teaching has gone up to now, that super teachers can move in and get the job done. I think to solve the problem it's more critical to raise the salaries of students' families than the salaries of teachers. Instead of having cars cruising the streets for truants, why not make the classes so enticing students want to be there? Test prep won't do it. And I won't mention abrogating teacher contracts.

Solid teaching and regular check-ups on student attendance and learning make up the foundation of Duval County schools Superintendent John Fryer's multimillion-dollar plan to turn around the county's worst-performing schools.

The School Board will consider the plan at its meeting Tuesday.

The plan, which would cost $6.3 million to $8.6 million, covers those schools with at least two failing grades from the state in four years: Raines and Ribault high schools and Eugene Butler, Matthew Gilbert and Ribault middle schools. Faculty from charter school Horizons Unlimited would be included in training opportunities but left out of other, more-costly programs.

The School Board already has declared a "state of emergency" at all schools with at least two failing grades in four years. State education officials had directed local districts to make the declaration.

The move means the district can void its contract with the union to shuffle teaching staffs and offer qualified teachers bonuses to work in troubled schools.

Fryer said the school system is working with Duval Teachers United on restructuring the schools.

"I'm very satisfied that it's a very strong plan to work toward improving those schools, and there may be some other elements we add in the near future," Fryer said Friday. "...Together we'll have as strong a plan as anybody in the state to handle those low-performing schools."

The NAACP, which offered its own plan for failing schools Monday, gave Fryer's plan a thumbs-up, said Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville branch of the civil rights organization.

Fryer's plan incorporates 16 of the 25 recommendations from the group.

Plan highlights

An action plan released Friday by Duval County schools Superintendent John Fryer covers everything from programs to teacher engagement and parental involvement in dealing with schools considered chronically failing. Highlights of the plan include:

Develop and implement an incentive/performance pay plan to attract highly qualified teachers to the challenged schools.

Place highly qualified, experienced administrators in challenged schools.

Provide additional Supplemental Academic Instruction funding to support intervention programs, need for substitutes, instructional materials and pay for teacher training.

Incorporate African-American studies as a part of author/genre studies.

Hire additional truancy staff (12).

Acquire and utilize six vehicles to transport students who are truant.

Utilize social workers at full-service schools to assist families/students who need services.

Implement and coordinate parental involvement programs to strengthen parent accountability and engagement.

Provide part-time hourly pay for all teachers who return to school in July for training. (Ten days for Ribault High School; five days for staff at the other five schools)

Provide on-demand workshops targeting specific mathematics areas based on assessment results, teacher/principal requests.

Administer FCAT-like benchmark tests in August and December to monitor students' progress in mastering both Reading and Mathematics Sunshine State Standards.

Facilitate the donation of computers to churches and families of students in the schools, as well as software to access FCAT Explorer.

Open media centers after regular school hours beginning Aug. 9 to enable students and parents to access computers and reference materials. Monitor attendance/usage to determine effectiveness and discontinue if the resources are under-utilized.

Work collaboratively with the mayor's office and other community agencies to improve and enrich neighborhoods.

"No question we had a voice in it," Rumlin said. "We voiced our concerns, and those concerns were heard. We will continue to have dialogue."

School staff had the day off Friday, and several principals contacted earlier in the week to discuss the proposal did not return calls seeking comment.

The 11 categories have 43 action items and involve specific instructions for teachers, parents and students. But it's still a work in progress. One category, student incentives, does not have any initiatives and instead says "TBA."

Teacher preparation gets the most attention in the plan. The initiatives include summer training and part-time pay for teachers at struggling schools, training reading coaches and installing full- and part-time teachers to support math programs. In some cases, the plan requires pre-drawn curriculum guides and lesson plans to make sure teachers stay on track.

Teachers would be eligible for thousands of dollars in bonuses simply for signing up to work at the troubled schools.

The plan outlines a role for students. Struggling students would have greater access to remediation in math courses, while talented students would be able to take advanced courses in core subjects. Students to would take tests in August and December to measure their progress before the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which usually is administered in March.

The school system also would spend more money to keep students in class. Fryer called for hiring 12 additional truancy staff members and obtaining six vehicles to cruise the streets for skipping students.

A student who is absent more than 21 days is practically "guaranteed" to fail the FCAT and school courses, Fryer said.

When several students are absent that often, it affects the entire school. At Gilbert, 30 percent of students were absent more than 21 days last year; at Raines, the figure was 24 percent. Paxon, which received its first F this year, had 30 percent of its students absent at least 21 days.

"You have these high truancy rates, and we just can't put up with that," Fryer said. "You can't be responsible for educating children who aren't there."

Fryer suggested his staff meet with parents quarterly to discuss overall school progress. Parents also would learn how to schedule conferences with teachers and interpret report cards.

Fryer also unveiled a proposal to offer cash bonuses to teachers and administrators at chronically failing schools. Teachers would be eligible for signing bonuses of up to $3,000 and assistant and vice principals would be eligible for $1,000 simply for working at the school. They would receive performance bonuses potentially worth thousands of dollars more based on students' performance on the FCAT.

"We realized that we need superstars in these schools if we're going to achieve what we need to do with the tremendous difficulties these students have," Fryer said. "They [students] have the capability to move to higher levels, and we need to move them to highest levels as soon as possible."

The school system would not pay performance bonuses if the school earns another failing grade, and employees who sign up for the program would have to commit to stay at the school for four years.

The price tag for Fryer's plan depends on how much the school system pays in bonuses. Some money will come from the federal government, some will come from supplemental instruction money already set aside for low-performing schools, and the rest will come from the school system's operating budget.

The school system likely will have to divert money from its reserves to foot the bill, Fryer said. He promised nothing would be cut from elsewhere in the budget to pay for the plan.

Last year, Fryer said, the School Board spent $1.6 million for special programs at its first two-time failing school, Ribault High, from its $1.3 billion budget.

Absent are any references to Fryer's personal responsibility for the success of the plan, a prominent part of the NAACP's recommendations. The NAACP wanted Fryer's salary and contract tied to the performance of failing schools. Fryer is in the middle of a three-year contract with the School Board.

The NAACP's recommendations also called for a significant role for churches, but Fryer's plan calls only for donation of computers to churches for FCAT tutoring.

School officials, the NAACP and other community organizations will meet July 19 to discuss ways they can help students.


— Beth Kormanik
Florida Times-Union


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