Alachua County, Florida Superintendent Owen Roberts announced a plan to restructure three elementary schools. Two are struggling schools that have received funding to extend school days, add teachers, and add tutors. The schools still struggle, and they are under enrolled. Part of the problem is due to students who leave for charters and private schools in hopes of improving access to better schools. Unfortunately, those options make little difference for those students either. So, what do you do when conventional wisdom does not help? Nationally, the U.S. Department of Education has turned to Achievement Districts that operate as charter schools. Teachers and principals are replaced. Structured teaching and learning methods are introduced including strict discipline policies. These approaches result in high student and teacher turnover and not much else. A few students may thrive at the expense of many.
Dr. Roberts is trying a different approach. He will repurpose the three schools that are located in low income areas and are not showing adequate achievement gains. Duval elementary will become an early learning center serving preK, Head Start, and kindergarten. Duval’s students will move to Rawlings, another area elementary school. It will become a fine arts magnet school. Metcalf Elementary, a more diverse school in the area, will become a global education magnet emphasizing foreign languages, study of other cultures and social responsibility. The current Head Start Center will revert to a medical and support services center. Transportation will be provided to the magnet schools.
This is a bold approach to solving an intractable problem. Schools will serve a broader range of students from diverse racial/ethnic and economic backgrounds. Teachers will be reassigned, not dismissed. It makes financial sense. It shows that public schools are responsive and better equipped to provide access to high quality academic experiences for children without destroying the sense of community.
Restructuring schools is only one segment of an ambitious plan to revitalize all schools. For an overview of the plan, see the December article in the Gainesville Sun. A Parent Academy is proposed. A serious budget review of priorities has been done. More is in the offing.