ONE by ONE Community Agreement: Top priorities for improving public education

ONE by ONE Community Agreement: Top priorities for improving public education

Participants strategize during the ONE by ONE Community Agreement Convention Jan. 5.

If you had to name the top four priorities for improving public education, what would they be? And would you be willing to work to ensure those priorities become a reality within Duval County’s public schools?

More than 170 diverse community members came together on Saturday, Jan. 5 to select those four top priorities. In the month since, nearly 1,500 more have “ratified” the priorities on an online petition and begun to put conversations into action.
The ONE by ONE Community Agreement Convention, sponsored by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and hosted by the Main Library Downtown, used data from 169 conversations held with nearly 1,700 people throughout the county over the past year as the starting point.

The four priorities were:

• Educate the whole child: Individualize instruction to meet the unique needs of each child; ensure art/music/counseling/vocational education opportunities; prepare students for a global world as a moral obligation.

• Great teachers and leaders: Focus on training of new and existing teachers and leaders; purposeful, focused and ongoing professional development; teachers and leaders need time to teach and train, without being taken away from their classes; recognize, respect and pay teachers as professionals.

• Policy and political reform: Need for autonomy, flexibility and local control; ensure transparency; use research and evidence-based practices; highly qualified, responsive and informed elected officials.

• Family and caregiver involvement: Increase two-way communication; ensure that schools are physically and emotionally accessible and welcoming of schools; educate and empower families and caregivers.

“I’m so excited to see the passion of the community behind these issues,” said Trey Csar, President of JPEF and Riverside resident. “This is not a situation where we have the luxury of just pointing at the school district and saying, ‘You fix the problems.’ This is a conversation where many diverse stakeholders say, ‘Here’s what we’re looking for and here’s what we’re willing to do to help make it happen in the community.’ I think that’s the major difference between this and some similar efforts in the past.”

Another difference might be that top city and school officials are involved in the process.
While no city officials attended the Jan. 5 convention, Education Commissioner Dr. Donnie Horner has participated in several JPEF committees and Horner and Mayor Alvin Brown have since added their signatures to the ONE by ONE Community Agreement ratification.
Present at the convention as invited “delegates” were current school board members Becki Couch (District 6) and San Marco’s Ashley Smith Juarez (District 3) and past District 3 representative W.C. Gentry, among others. Most notably in attendance was Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti, who told participants the level of civic involvement and civic engagement in Jacksonville is unprecedented and that he was committed to helping them move their vision forward.
“I commit as superintendent that the work that you’ve already done and are going to do today will be funneled and incorporated into the strategic plan,” Vitti said.

Smith Juarez echoed Vitti’s call to action.
“It was instructive that district officials were here with community members engaging on a horizontal platform,” she said. “This type of process with that kind of engagement calls public officials into action. And action is the key component so that this is not just a great conversation but then we go back to doing business as usual. As we go through the strategic planning process it’s important that we keep these priorities in mind as we look at the full vision of the district, and that we are intentional about how we
implement them.”

The first step in that direction was a formal report to the school board on Jan. 23 outlining the four priorities and a strategic plan for “moving from conversation to action.”

While Gentry voiced some skepticism of how easy it would be to get to some of the desired outcomes detailed in the plan without devoted resources – noting disappointment that “resources,” namely, money, was not among the final four priorities – he nonetheless enthusiastically endorsed the convention’s results and sees the broader vision present in the plan as one of the initiative’s strengths.
“In the past we’ve had a lot of community groups organized around specific issues as opposed to a large community commitment to a simple vision. This way, there is possibility for huge synergy,” he observed.

Csar sees maintaining this synergy as JPEF’s main role in the process.
“I’m over the moon that the community has stepped up and said we are part of the solutions. We [JPEF] provide the infrastructure to enable the community do what it’s always wanted to do, which is to have better schools.”

To sign the ONE by ONE Community Agreement ratification or read the report submitted to the school board, visit JPEF’s website at: http://jaxpef.org/

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

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