R.V. Daniels has served students in the Grand Park neighborhood since 1964. The Duval County Public Schools board moved to close the school following the 2024-25 academic year. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Duval consolidates 2 elementary schools, but gives parents extra year to prepare

Published on April 2, 2024 at 11:05 pm

R.V. Daniels Elementary in Northwest Jacksonville received a brief reprieve Tuesday night when the Duval County School Board voted to push back its consolidation with R.L. Brown Gifted and Talented Academy to after the 2024-25 academic year.

District staff had recommended the consolidation in February, pointing at how both schools have student enrollments well below their building’s capacity. District data show R.V. Daniels has a student population of 158 students but can seat as many as 422. R.L. Brown has 194 students in a facility with a capacity of 725. Both are choice schools that pull students from across the whole county.

Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.

Some R.V. Daniels parents are dismayed to see the district close it and combine it with the other dedicated magnet school in another majority-Black neighborhood. R.V. Daniels has served students in the Grand Park neighborhood since 1964. Meanwhile, R.L. Brown has been located on the Eastside since 1953.

Tuesday’s decision is part of district-wide cost-saving measures and will send R.V. Daniels students to a school on the other side of I-95. R.L. Brown will undergo renovations that are slated to be mostly completed by July 2025.

The board unanimously voted to delay consolidating the two magnet schools by a year, at the urging of board member Warren Jones, who wanted to give families more time to prepare.

Article continues below

Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.

“The concern by the parents was they were not given an opportunity to weigh in,” Jones said. “We had a meeting Tuesday and Thursday of last week. (Parents) had already sent emails upset they missed the school choice option because they didn’t find out about it until after February. The timing was all off…We should not treat them like we did in this case. Hopefully, we can amend the policy to ensure if, going forward, if we consolidate two magnet schools, we have a process where parents are involved.”

Board member Kelly Coker agreed, future consolidation discussions need to take place before the school choice lottery closes. During a March 27 policy meeting, board members discussed moving the school choice deadline to November from the end of February.

“I don’t like the moment we’re in,” Coker said. “This should have happened in the fall. (These are) parents who are magnet parents. They will go shopping.”

Before the vote Tuesday, board member Lori Hershey asked what the student body threshold is for schools to be able to break even on operating costs. In the case of R.L. Brown, district Chief Financial Officer Ron Fagan said, that number would be approximately 500 students. The combined student body of the two schools today would be 352.

Interim Superintendent Dana Kriznar said she’s confident the district can build capacity at R.L. Brown after the consolidation because there will be increased staff in art, music and physical education. 

Other schools could be next

R.L. Brown and R.V. Daniels are just two of the schools on the district’s list for potential consolidation. On Tuesday, the board also agreed to move forward on an analysis of six more elementary schools to determine whether they should be remodeled or demolished — Mount Herman Exceptional Student Center, Gregory Drive Elementary School, Normandy Village Elementary School, Hyde Grove Elementary School and John Stockton Elementary Schools and Jean Ribault Middle School.

And that’s in addition to a separate slate of schools that a consultant is recommending for closure. 

Kriznar said she was personally and professionally “heartbroken” at the number of schools the consulting firm suggested for closure: Atlantic Beach Elementary; Fort Caroline Elementary; Fishweir Elementary; West Riverside Elementary; San Mateo Elementary and Westside High School. But that list is a long way from final, Kriznar stressed Tuesday.

“This is not a final board plan,” Kriznar said. “In fact, it’s not a board plan at all. The board did not come up with it. the board has not endorsed it. It’s not even my recommended plan at this point. This is a plan an outside consultant (provided) at my request.”

Her five goals when reaching out to the consultant were:

  • Save operational and capital project dollars;
  • Maximize seats within the district;
  • Reduce maintenance backlogs;
  • Clean up school zone boundaries;
  • Establish feeder patterns that remain intact from elementary school to graduation.

And though she was heartbroken, “You can only kick the can so far down the road,” Kriznar told the board.

The school board will hold a follow-up conversation about its Master Facilities Plan on April 16. Board Chair Darryl Willie emphasized the importance of including the community in these discussions. 

‘Cost-saving efforts’

The closures are part of the district’s attempt to ensure more campuses have at least 85% capacity amid an educational environment where parents have more options than they did when many DCPS buildings were constructed.

Districtwide, traditional public schools in Duval County have witnessed a decline in enrollment since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. The percentage of white students has also declined during that time, while Black and Hispanic enrollment has increased to 59% for the 2023-24 academic year.

District officials have repeatedly told the school board they don’t know with certainty how many students are leaving for private schools, public charter schools or are homeschooled once they leave DCPS.

Nevertheless, during public comment during this academic year, some parents’ groups have chastised and even mocked the school district for losing its hegemony over students.

At a January board meeting, Moms For Liberty Duval County Chapter Chair Holli Dean told the board the district is losing students because “our children are not your children — parental rights matter.”

Nearly a third of Tuesday’s 31 public speakers mentioned the Master Facilities Plan in their remarks to the board. Vitaly Muzichuk was supportive of closing schools with less than 85% capacity, which he called a simple business decision.

“It doesn’t make sense to build new schools until we increase our capacity,” Muzichuk told the board. “This is a strategic pruning to set us up for better and newer facilities.”

Meanwhile, members from the Public School Defenders parents’ group, including Justin Kugler, championed measured consideration when consolidating schools.

“All of our kids deserve a system that works for all of them,” Kugler told the board. “We need you to fight for resources for all of our students, whether they live in [the] Northside, the Beaches or Mandarin and in all of our district.”

Disclosure: Jacksonville Today reporter Will Brown is the parent of a student at one of the schools consolidated by the school board on Tuesday.

Updated: This story was updated on April 3 to include the full list of schools being submitted for analysis.

author image Reporter email Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at author image Carter is a senior majoring in communication at the University of North Florida. He spent three years at Spinnaker, UNF's award-winning student-run media outlet, which was recognized among the best student newsrooms in the nation during his tenure as editor-in-chief. Carter's reporting has placed for multiple awards, and he generally covers news and education topics. He's also had bylines in the Jacksonville Business Journal.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.