District 4 Candidate Darryl Willie
Please Note: All information, photos, video and survey answers are provided from the candidate.
Candidate, District 4
Bio: For over a decade, Darryl has worked passionately on behalf of students. He comes from a family of educators, and deeply understands the value of public education. As an elementary school teacher, college administrator and instructor, and non-profit leader, Darryl has the experience to produce results for Duval Schools. With experience as a second grade teacher and also as a college instructor, Darryl knows what it takes to get our students to and through college.
In his current role, Darryl recruits, selects and develops teachers for over 35 schools in Duval County with the Teach For America Program. Darryl works together with DCPS staff, Principals, Veteran Teachers, Duval Teachers United and other invaluable community and school based stakeholders. Darryl will build on those positive relationships and collaborative spirit to drive students forward.
With experience on local and University boards, Darryl has seen the power of good governance to bring accountability and results. Darryl knows that moving our schools forward will take all of us working together, which is why he spends his time volunteering in the community with Achievers for Life as a mentor at Ribault Middle School, Special Olympics of North East Florida, Urban Education Symposium, Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc and the 100 Black Men of Jacksonville.
Darryl’s leadership has made a mark in Jacksonville; he was recognized as a Jacksonville Non-Profit Emerging Leader and made the Jacksonville Business Journal Top 40 Under 40.
Darryl is married to Erica Willie, who works in software sales. Darryl and Erica first met at church when they were young. They reconnected at church years later and have been together ever since. Much like Darryl, Erica is deeply involved in the community, she is an active member of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and serves as a board member for the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus. Darryl and Erica own a home in North Jacksonville, and have a 3-month-old named Angelina.
1. If you had to give the Duval County Public Schools a grade, how would you rate its current performance at educating
High-performing students? A B C D F
Average students? A B C D F
At-risk students? A B C D F
Duval County Public Schools has a strategic plan approved by the school board in April 2013 that guides the day-to-day management and activities of the superintendent. A copy of the strategic plan can be accessed at http://www.duvalschools.org/Page/11436. When referencing the strategic plan, please cite the strategy number and title.
2. In what respects do you think Duval County Public Schools is doing well in its strategic plan? In what areas of the plan do you think Duval County Public Schools needs to improve significantly?
When I think about the strategic plan at a high level, the district is doing well by having a plan in place and tracking progress to that plan. The district is also performing well with developing the whole child; there have been initiatives such as adding art teachers back at schools that show strides in this area. With the addition of Deans of Discipline at our schools, the environments at our schools are now safer throughout the district. Another positive area is the level of budget transparency the district has provided. With a few clicks we can see the budget as well as answers to other financial questions. One of the areas of improvement would be engagement of parents but more specifically “hard to reach” and “hard to engage” parents. There have been strides in this area with Parent Academy and other initiatives but we are still missing a large population of the parents that we need to reach. An additional area of growth would be in developing great educators and leaders. We have to become obsessed with talent at the district level and make intentional strides to gain and retain our most talented staff and teachers. The QEA incentive will help us do this but we need to have a robust strategic hiring plan that identifies and cultivates talent and talent pipelines.
3. Please describe how you would differentiate between the governance responsibility of the school board and the management role of the superintendent.
The major difference between the Superintendent’s role and the Board’s role is the direct vs. indirect involvement. The Superintendent and the Cabinet are responsible for the day to day operations and implementation of the strategic plan.The Board’s role is more indirect and high level but is directly correlated to how the system runs on a daily basis. School Board members are responsible for the governance of policies that connect to the day to day operation of the District. In order for School Board members to understand how policies or lack of policies affect teachers, students and staff, board members must be present in their schools and have regular touch points with those directly connected to the policies. I will have a 180 day plan that includes these touch points as well as my district specific priorities. This plan will allow me to carry out the role with great success.
4. At times school board members may encounter a situation where the interests of their specific district might conflict with what is best for the entire school system. What is your philosophy on this issue, and what would you do if confronted with such a situation?
I must have two layers of advocacy. The first layer being the students in district 4 because I hope to be voted in by the community within district 4. The second layer is the entire school district. For this reason each situation must be handled on a case by case basis. We must keep our focus on student success and we must maintain and sustain positive working relationships throughout.If confronted with this issue I will seek first to understand the perspective of those involved and connected. I will keep a student centered foundation when thinking about the issues. After talking with constituents and stakeholders from district 4, I would determine if the decision is in the best interest of my specific district. Before situations arise I would work and meet periodically with other board members to ensure they know the priorities of my district. I would seek the same information from them. This proactive approach will lead to me being able to share my thoughts freely and stand up for the critical issues of my district. I would fight for the students, parents and teachers of my district but I would balance that with the concerns of the county as a whole. I would also not let one vote hinder my relationship with other board members. One board member can not pass any initiative or issue alone.For this reason,it will be imperative to maintain positive working relationships with other members. Even if we disagree on certain issues/initiatives I see the value and importance in maintaining the relationship for future votes.
5. The Duval County School Board appointed Superintendent Nikolai Vitti in November 2012. Please review the school board’s evaluation instrument at http://ow.ly/yignz. What areas would you highlight where the superintendent is excelling? Where is improvement needed?
Based on the evaluation instrument the Superintendent is excelling in a number of areas including, maintaining a high visible profile since taking on the seat. He has inserted himself into the fabric of our community and is seen as the education leader in Jacksonville. Through his community forums and collaborations with organizations like JPEF he has allowed the community to interact and have multiple opportunities to give feedback. The Superintendent understands what is at stake with our local education system and has prioritized expanding relationships with outside agencies and asserts his leadership in troubled areas of the school district. A pro and a con is the amount of time and energy devoted to the job by the Superintendent. While he spends countless hours working for our kids, the work of the district can not be done solely by the Superintendent. As a board it is important to assist in creating avenues, fostering relationships and building bridges in our communities. In addition, there have been strides in providing a clear set of strategies for parents/community to support the district, this is an area where he could improve communication strategies. We need to ensure the balance between supporting and challenging the Superintendent to increase student success and community connections. I am one that understands the value of challenging but also sees the critical value in supporting him to push us forward.
Financial Resources and Budgeting
The Duval County School Board is responsible for adopting an annual budget. The most recent final budget can be viewed at http://duvalschools.org/Page/9540 and a recent presentation of the proposed 2014-15 budget can be viewed at http://www.slideshare.net/JaxPEF/042514-dcps-budget-preso.
6. What specific areas of the district budget would you prioritize, particularly if additional resources became available? If revenues continue to be flat or decline, what specific areas would you recommend reducing first?
The budget has many levels and layers. The budget is divided by line item but many of the line items are interconnected. As I think about prioritizing the budget I would focus on Teacher Development and Technology. Teachers hold the most important staff position within our district. We need to continue to allocate resources for their development to increase their skills in the classroom. Technology is another worthy and worthwhile investment. We have seen some improvements in the level of technology in our schools but we can provide more. The landscape around technology is always changing so as a district we must stay up to date and up to speed. There is an intersection between technology and teacher development so we need to ensure we are providing development around the use of technology for our teachers. We can not continue to invest in the technology and not properly train our teachers on how to use the technology. I have also seen the motivating power of the arts in my students and the students I see in our schools, so I would ensure we continue to fund the arts and art education.If certain areas begin to decline I would take a look at some of the contracts the district holds with outside groups or organizations. We have to ensure that the contracts we have are assisting in developing students. I would take a long term view of these contacts and set metrics and measures to hold our partners accountable to results.
7. To ensure the district has adequate fiscal resources and avoids budget shortfalls in the future, what, if any, revenue sources should the school district pursue and on what timetable (e.g. increased local property or sales taxes, statewide tax increases, etc.)?
As a district we should always be seeking other avenues and streams of revenue to provide for our students. I would be in support of seeking public funds such as a bond for specific purposes for our students. There has been a precedent set around the country around bonds and general obligation funds and we should use the next year to do research the effectiveness and the utilization of the monies. This would give the district, as well as the board, time to get the community on board with the initiative if it launches.
Community, Parent and External Relationships
8. What would you do to improve communication and strengthen your relationships between the schools and parents and community members, especially when a new program or policy is being introduced?
We live in a world where information is at our fingertips and we as a school district must ensure we are putting out information the way society is receiving it. The district has done a good job with establishing a presence on social media. This needs to be something board members take on as well. It is not enough to just have information available, information must be intentionally pushed out to constituents and stakeholders. Most parents have cell phones and other technology, I would like to see us explore innovative options where the district sends push notifications to individual cell phones. We could also build out relationships with local media outlets to cover all of the policy decisions as well as the other important topics from the district.
9. Conditions for children outside the classroom such as crime, homelessness, lack of parent involvement or other factors can affect a student’s academic achievement. There are a number of external organizations that interact with and work to support Duval County Public Schools to help reduce the impact of these issues. What do you see as the ideal role/relationship between the school district and these efforts so that children are prepared to succeed?
Our school district should be responsible for being the clearing house for these organizations that interact with the district. This is a huge opportunity to build partnerships and create an environment where everyone can utilize their expertise. As we look at the initiatives being poured into our schools we need to make sure we are getting the most out of the services. We also need to make sure we are not duplicating services. We should be focused on maximizing the impact of all of the services and the district can and should be responsible for monitoring the impact.
Major Policy Issues
10. In the 2014-15 school year, schools across the state will implement new English language arts and mathematics standards called the Florida Standards. These standards are closely aligned with Common Core State Standards adopted by states throughout the country. What is your view of the new Florida Standards? How well do you feel that the new standards have been implemented in Duval County Public Schools and communicated to teachers and parents?
I think the new Florida standards and how they align with the Common Core standards are a positive move for our state, but it’s easy to see why stakeholders are confused or skeptical after how they’ve been politicized and implemented in such a fractured way here. As a proud military brat I was bounced from state to state and I wonder if we have students like myself here in Jacksonville facing similar situations. It’s important for all students and their parents to be held to similar standards across state lines so they can compare and compete with students from here in the community to around the world. I also believe these standards set our students up for success on the next level. If students are going off to college they need to know and should have the confidence that if they graduated they should be able to hold their own at various institutes of higher education. That’s what Common standards help us to do.
It’s also essential that we ensure that while the new Florida standards and Common Core are “what” our students need to learn, that the “how” students get there will be the responsibility of the schools and teachers who are held accountable for achieving these standards. Remember, the federal government isn’t mandating these standards or how they’re used. If high-performing teachers and schools are given autonomy, they can be empowered to achieve.
In the past, the district has done well on implementing some levels of standards but not others. The lower grades have been through a more extensive training as opposed to the upper grades. We will go through some bumps as we implement the new state standards but as we incorporate these standards into our daily practice we will see the benefits of the initiative.
11. To measure the student performance against the Florida Standards, the state will replace the FCAT 2.0 with a new standardized assessment in spring 2015. In addition, the state Legislature has approved a revised school grading formula to go into effect that spring. What are the biggest challenges of the new system? How should the district respond to the changes?
The biggest challenge with the new changes to the grading system is adapting to and learning the new system. Since the state has kept the overall A-through-F structure and streamlined some of the complex factors used in the grading formula, what’s most important is ensuring knowledge of those changes at the administrative as well as the school and student level. The Department of Education has changed the test and grading system at a higher frequency in the past few years. Now that we know there will be a new system in place, it gives us an opportunity to be proactive about how and when we roll out the education around the system. I would recommend we get representatives from various levels to serve as ambassadors to the new system and assessment. We could use a “train the trainer” method to train a select group that is responsible for marketing and training other staff and students about the new system. If we stay in front of this and build positive energy around the change we will see success.
12. What is your view of the discipline-related initiatives that the district has undertaken in the last year? What is the role of the school board in ensuring a positive school climate and culture throughout the district?
There have been some major initiatives the district has undertaken. Some of the major changes included the implementation of the Dean of Discipline in each of our schools and the roll out of the code of conduct. These were positive moves that were well received and beneficial at most schools. As with every initiative, there were pieces that could be improved. Many of the Deans of Discipline spent much of their time doing administrative work or handling behavior issues. While this is important, I believe a portion of their time should be spent building relationships with a larger population of the student body. This would allow them to be seen as the “culture curator” of the school, one that creates and fosters the positive culture — not just handles behavior problems.
“Every student, every classroom, every day.” We must live up to these words and the only way we do this is by ensuring the policies we have in place are aiding in the creation of these positive environments. It is the job of the board to be present in our schools to ensure the letter and spirit of our policies is being carried out.
13. Duval County has a complex school choice environment: There are numerous magnet schools and new public school models such as single-gender classrooms and K-6 elementary schools, as well as 9,000 students attending charter schools in Duval County. What is your view of the current school choice environment and how does it impact student achievement? How should the district respond to the impact of charter expansion?
Until every school is providing high quality education across the county, school choice is necessary. As a new parent, I contemplate where our schools will be in 4 years and what type of school my child will attend with her classmates. Many parents that want to send their child to a high quality public school are forced to choose their neighborhood/zoned school that may not be up to their standards. Choice is great but unfortunately some families in this city have better choices than others in our current environment.
I believe we have to think about the ever-changing way in which children learn. We live in a society that specializes in specialization. It’s important that the traditional public schools make bold moves and capitalize on their specialities. The response to charter school expansion is to create environments within our established schools that give students and parents the specialized curriculum and activities they yearn for. We already have some gems in district 4, we need to do even more to market their unique qualities. I would like all of district 4 schools be the choice schools of students and parents of Duval County.
14. Over the past couple of years, Duval County Public Schools have expanded opportunities for families to enroll their children in Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten programs at select elementary schools. What role do you feel the Public School system should play in promoting and expanding quality pre-kindergarten programs within public school?
Studies show that 80 percent of a childs brain function happens between 0-5 years old. I think it’s in the public schools’ best interest to promote and expand pre-k and early childhood education. Since DCPS will receive the majority of the students from these pre-k environments, we should be involved. I don’t think it is the sole responsibility of the district to own early childhood education. As a school district we have to partner with agencies that specialize in this arena. Groups like the Children’s Commission and the Early Learning Coalition have been working in this area for decades. We need to have open dialogue with these groups as well as Lutheran Childrens services to create more options and opportunities for our early learners.
15. Duval County Public Schools has grouped Raines, Ribault and Jackson high schools and 33 feeder pattern elementary and middle schools under a new Duval Transformation Office. These schools will benefit from the Quality Education for All Fund, a philanthropic investment of $50 million of private funding. The goal of this effort is to improve the pipeline of great teachers and leaders in Duval County Public Schools, especially at the 36 Transformation schools. Do you support these efforts? In your view, what else should the district do to support the high-needs schools within the Transformation region?
I fully support the QEA initiatives. In order to see our schools move forward at a faster rate we must make bold moves. The QEA initiative is a bold move in the right direction. With increased dedication of funds and staffing into these 36 schools we should be able to see improvements in a more timely manner. This initiative is wonderful example of public private partnerships and aligns directly with the strategic plan. What we must do now is come up with an even longer term strategy on how to maintain these efforts. We should be looking at existing structures and projects happening in these schools to make sure they are benefiting students. The district should also be preparing to illuminate the successes of these schools and build mechanisms for best practice sharing amongst the schools. Lastly, we must get all board members involved in these schools to ensure there is continued buy in from all parts of the city.
16. Career and technical education is an important component of the school district’s programming. In your opinion, what should be Duval County Public Schools’ biggest focus when it comes to career and technical education?
Our mission is to educate our students to provide them with increased opportunities in life. We have to focus on partnerships and connections that will lead to these opportunities. If we are training our students and they have no pipeline to employment we are setting them up to fail. The district has made strides in industry certification but we need to utilize local connections to ensure we have direct avenues for our graduates. We need to build out partnerships with FSCJ and even local entities such as the Northeast Florida Builders Association that have programs and apprenticeships that prepare students for careers in the trades. As we build these partnerships we need to disseminate information to our students seeking opportunities. We must realize that our obligation to our students does not end when they graduate high school.
17. What is your view of the role of technology in preparing Duval County students for the future? Should Duval County Public Schools increase the use of technology in classrooms, and if so, how should it be funded? How big of a priority should it be?
I have worked and lived around the country and the one constant is the increased use of technology in schools and our society. If we are going to prepare our students for college and careers of the 21st century we need to need to stay up to date with the technologies. Technology needs to be used in our schools and classrooms on a daily basis. We have to create technology-rich environments for our students to interact with on a daily basis. This means providing the tools and the training to make this a reality.
We should pay for technology improvements and addition through public and private funds. We must continue to allocate money for technology in our general operating budget and lobby the state for increased funds. We should also build partnerships with companies, organizations and individuals to connect them with schools. These partnerships could continue to fully fund or partially fund technology projects within our schools.
18. If you have children, what type of school do/did they attend?
(mark all that apply)
I have children but they are not school age yet. They will be attending public school.