Duval County schools and the Florida School Boards Association are hosting six community feedback sessions, starting next week, for families to weigh in on the search for a new superintendent.
The community meetings will be held at schools across Duval County on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the last two weeks of August. Most of the meetings will have both an in-person and online option.
The district also plans to open an online survey for feedback later this week. It will be posted on the district’s superintendent search web page.
The Florida School Boards Association, which Duval Schools hired for $35,000 as an outside consultant in the superintendent search, will moderate the community feedback meetings. Director Andrea Messina recommended that School Board members not participate in these meetings to avoid the appearance of swaying the outcome.
However, school board members did share their thoughts on top priorities during a meeting in July.
Board Vice Chair Cindy Pearson says competition is a key consideration in searching for the district's next leader.
"Whether we like it or not, we're in a highly competitive environment where we have to really compete for each student," Pearson told the school boards association in July, noting the rising number of students choosing charter and state-subsidized private schools. "We need somebody who knows how to compete because that's the climate that we're in."
Board member Darryl Willie says the next superintendent needs to have a clear vision for how to recruit and retain teachers in the district, which has been struggling with a teacher shortage that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"At the end of the day, the only way to get those literacy rates is to have high-quality leaders," Willie said. "We have so much transition happening, a lot of new schools, a lot of opportunities for teachers. So that leader is going to need to focus in on how do we retain the folks who are here, and then pull in some folks."
School Board member April Carney emphasized wanting to beef up specialized programming at neighborhood schools, in part because of the high transportation cost of bringing students across town to the district's best magnet schools.
"Is there a way for us to start drawing parents and children back to their neighborhood school by adding more programs inside of those schools?" Carney asked. "Bringing magnet-like programs into our neighborhood schools so that, No. 1, we can cut down on our transportation costs, and No. 2, we can provide more options for our families so that they stick with their neighborhood schools."
School Board Chair Kelly Coker has focused on literacy as one of the biggest priorities for the upcoming school year and for the superintendent search.
"Proficiency in reading is probably the area that needs to be at the core focus," Coker said. "There's the simple reality that we continue to underperform in comparison to like districts when you look at the big seven, we continue to be at the bottom of it, and that's something that's got to be dealt with and addressed."
Parents and community members will get the chance to share their own priorities during community meetings and the online survey. A draft version of the survey presented to the School Board in July asks community members to pick 25 statements of 154 priorities for the next superintendent, with options like "holds self and others accountable" and "familiarity with the school district and community." The survey also asks open-ended questions about the strengths and challenges of the district.
Jacksonville Today is compiling a series of stories exploring big issues the district’s next superintendent will face. The series includes these earlier articles: Duval school district braces for 50% uptick in private school vouchers this year and Duval considers cutting magnet school bus routes, other cost-saving options.
What do you think is the most pressing challenge facing Duval County Public Schools? Email reporter Claire Heddles at email@example.com.