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Smart policy led to Florida schools progress, Chartrand tells JU PPI education policy forum

Leadership, strategic planning and budgeting were topics brought to light during “Education Policy: Why it Matters,” a forum hosted Tuesday, Feb. 11, by the JU Public Policy Institute.

Nikolai Vitti and State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand led a JU PPI Education Forum discussion in front of a crowd of about 150 people at the Jacksonville University Davis College of Business.

Chartrand, who has been in his post almost a year, said he came to JU because Florida’s 2.7 million students need the attention that places like the JU PPI are paying to public policy. He said Florida has made a turnaround with five policy initiatives: early literacy, no social promotion, school choice, accountability and effective teaching.

“Policy does matter,” he said. “It starts with leadership, and that leadership starts with the executive branch that has to make education a top priority.”

JU PPI Director Rick Mullaney, who moderated the discussion, said education policy is important to the country.

How do we give every child, how do we give every person in this country an opportunity for a better future, economically and otherwise?” he asked. “The answer to that is education.”

Chartrand said during the past 10-14 years the high school graduation rate in Florida have risen from 50 percent to nearly 80 percent.

“If you go back 10 years, Florida was 30th of the 41 states that took part in the National Assessment Educational Progress reports, but this past year, Florida was sixth of 50 states,” he said. “That’s pretty significant.”

Vitti said he has acclimated four goals into the Duval school system to ensure there can be more charter schools and a better system added to the county.

The goals are to develop great leaders and great educators, to engage the community, to be more efficient and effective with resources and to develop the whole child.

The first goal is being reached by revamping the curriculum and training more than 500 teachers over the summer. The second goal is being addressed by developing a parent academy to engage 900 parents on issues from how to teach literacy in the home to graduation rates to how to create a better environment in the home for discipline.

For the third goal, a zero-based budgeting process was created. Vitti said $7 million was moved from the district level back to schools to put music, art and physical education teachers back into the schools.

The fourth goal, to develop the whole child, is being addressed by placing a graduation coach at every high school and expanding dual language at the elementary level.

Chartrand said that in accordance with these goals, teachers are just as important to the classroom.

“The most effective component for student achievement is certainly all of these policies, but most important is effective teaching,” Chartrand said. “Nothing trumps effective teaching in the classroom.”

Vitti agreed with Chartrand’s point, but also said Duval schools are different from others.

“I think what’s different about Duval County public schools is that we still have the heart and passion, but we function with a sense of urgency and a bottom-line perspective when it comes to student achievement,” he said.

The passion, urgency and developments taking place in Duval County schools and in Florida are bringing education to a new level in Florida, Chartrand noted.

Vitti said his goal is to modernize Duval county schools from a technological perspective and that it will be important for the future of Duval County.

He said it was time to embrace changes in the classroom so children can learn better, so that these good numbers of graduation rates and literacy rates can keep going up.

“At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that every child should have access and be exposed to the highest level of education standards.”