Conversation with Dr. Vitti: Springfield Schools

Date: 2/18/16, 6pm

Location: Wells Fargo Community Learning Center (1601 N. Main Street)

Dr. Vitti, Superintendent of the Duval County Public Schools, called the community meeting to discuss his new proposal for school boundary changes, which would impact Springfield area schools. Dr. Vitti began the meeting by stating he believes the changes would greatly benefit the community, and then went into details.

RL Brown, John Love, Longbranch and Andrew Robinson Elementary Schools, all in and around the greater Springfield and urban core area, are all suffering from the same issues, Dr. Vitti described: poor performance, lack of community support, under utilized space. The boundary change proposal would convert RL Brown Elementary into a dedicated academic magnet school (K-5), and the Springfield historic district, as well as other neighborhoods in the area, would be within it's enrollment boundaries. Meaning, Springfield children would recieve priority to enroll in the RL Brown magnet elementary school, instead of the typical application process for magnet schools. In effect, a magnet school would be the Springfield neighborhood elementary school. Dr. Vitti stated that the children currently attending RL Brown would be placed at one of the other area elementary schools, which would also be gaining resources and have a change of focus. Dr. Vitti acknowledged the efforts in recent years of Springfield historic district residents in advocating for a Springfield neighborhood elementary school, and how many Springfield families currently choose to enroll their children in magnet or private schools outside of the area. It would probably only be a couple of years time before a charter school opened in the area to meet desires of residents, Dr. Vitti remarked. If that were to happen, resources would be taken from the public school system, thus this boundary change proposal is seen as a way to keep people and resources invested in their local community public schools. Dr. Vitti also mentioned that he does believe Andrew Robinson Elementary is moving in a positive direction, making improvements, but acknowledged the positive changes would probably not occur quickly enough to attract many Springfield families.

The second part of the proposal targets Andrew Jackson High School to be converted into a technology and sports medicine magnet. Unlike RL Brown Elementary, which would be converted into a magnet all at once, Andrew Jackson High School would phase into a magnet school over 4 years, incoming freshman class by incoming freshman class. Dr. Vitti explained that Jackson is losing more students than it is gaining, and most parents in the surrounding area are choosing to enroll their children in other schools. Thus, the proposal would be an effort to attract more local students back to the school, as well as others from around the county. Dr. Vitti described how Jackson has too little support from it's surronding neighborhoods and alumni currently, and so if the proposal is approved, some new non-magnet freshman students would be directed to Raines or Ribault High Schools, instead of Jackson, which have much more community support, stronger alumni connections and are currently underutilized. 

The proposal for converting RL Brown and Andrew Jackson will be voted on by the Duval County School Board on April 5th, 2016 and if approved, would be implemented in Fall 2016. Local Springfield children could be enrolled in RL Brown Elementary School (now an academic magnet, in this case) via special transfer at that time. Dr. Vitti cited Kirby Smith Middle School as an example of a highly successful Springfield area magnet school, and stated how, hypothetically, a Springfield child could move from RL Brown Elementary, to Kirby Smith Middle School, to Andrew Jackson High School all within the magnet school path, all within a few miles from one another. There are too few resources to make immediate & large improvements to every school with significant problems in the area, Dr. Vitti remarked, but the proposal would give many parents in the area what they desire, keeping them in the public school system, greatly improving the schools, and thus the community.

Dr. Vitti urged the public to express their views on this proposal by (1) emailing the Duval County School Board. The Springfield representative is Ms. Paula Wright, but all could be contacted (2) Attend the community meetings at RL Brown and Andrew Jackson in the coming weeks to learn more details and express your views (3) Attend the Duval County School Board meeting on April 5th, 2016, where a vote will be taken to approve or reject the plan.

No one criticized the proposal or spoke against it, while half a dozen individuals spoke in favor of it. Other issues briefly discussed at the end of the meeting were: school uniforms, how to measure success of the student & school, recent DCPS accomplishments, and Dr. Vitti's approach to conflicts on the Duval County School Board.

About 40 guests were in attendance, including local media. Meeting ended at 7:15pm.


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