District 4 Candidate Paula Wright
Please Note: All information, photos, video and survey answers are provided from the candidate.
Candidate, District 4
Bio: “Together we can and must fight for justice for our children and protect them from draconian tax cuts and budget choices that threaten their survival, education and preparation for the future. If they are not ready for tomorrow, neither is America.” — Marian Wright Edelman
Preparing students for college, career, and life is the vision of the Duval County School Board and among the strongest held beliefs shared by Paula D. Wright, elected in 2010 to serve the students, families and communities throughout District 4.
“If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much,” said Marian Wright Edelman. While Paula D. Wright stands at only 5’5 inches, her commitment to our youth is giant, as evidenced by the 25 years of dedicated service she’s provided to public education in the community for which she was educated. Prior to being elected to the Duval County School Board, she served as a teacher, an administrator, and adjunct instructor for over 30 years. “When our schools succeed our children succeed, and when our children succeed, Our community thrives.” A thriving community encompasses a partnership. That partnership must include the collaborative efforts of students, parents, teachers, corporate entities, and community leaders all with the common goal of ensuring that today’s student becomes a viable part of our community and its future. Thus we must prepare students for college and the workplace. A thriving community also has all of the building blocks in place to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. We can’t build the future on just hopes and dreams, we must be proactive in our foundational as well as our comprehensive endeavors to ensure the availability of a quality education to all students and to maximize their potential growth.
Though elected by districts, school board members represent all students, and most importantly Duval County Public Schools. That’s why, she has worked to ensure that students in District 4 improve academically, socially, and emotionally. Results. In 2010, District 4 high school grades were: 2As, 3Ds & 1F today they are 3As, 2Bs & 1C, the graduation rate increased from 58% to 72%, and the African-American graduation rate increased from 63% to 67%. Paula is proud to compare what was so badly needed when elected in 2010 to the accomplishments today. The job is not complete. There is a lot more work to do, and she is willing, able, and qualified to continue the journey.
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?
Board Policy 2.14 states: “The Board shall annually conduct the formal, written summative performance evaluation of the Superintendent within forty-five (45) days after receipt of the Duval County Public Schools’ accountability data and scores, using the Superintendent Evaluation Instrument. This requires that Duval County School Board commits to an ongoing process of evaluating the Superintendent’s performance throughout the year with frequent honest discussions between Board members and the Superintendent regarding the performance of the school district.” As a Board Member I have a duty to follow the above stated policy. The policy further outlines that the Board, after sharing directly with the Superintendent in a publicly held meeting, will then post each Member’s evaluation. However, assessing the Strategic Plan, which is a part of the Superintendent’s evaluation, cannot/should not be done by merely looking at the Strategic Plan and sharing one’s opinion. The academic progress of our students is the most pressing issue before the Board, and I fear that responses without in-depth knowledge of the benchmarks, targets, and on-going conversations with the Superintendent specifically about the Plan will not serve the Board or the Superintendent justly.
Finally, there is a perception that the core values and the goals and strategies have been effectively implemented because initiatives have been developed and accomplished. But the real success of the implementation of the strategic plan will be in the progress of the initiatives in meeting the benchmarks set by the Board. When this is done with fidelity, then our core values, our vision, and our mission will be met.
3. Please describe how you would differentiate between the governance responsibility of the school board and the management role of the superintendent.
Governance (Board) sets the vision for the School District, and translates the vision into policy, and management (Superintendent) makes the decisions for implementing the policies. Governance relates to providing the right direction and leadership. The governing body has only the role to oversee the functioning of the management, and it has no role in management. The Board sets policy and the Superintendent carry it out by managing the day to day operations. The Board must use policy as its voice when convened or not. It is the Board’s role to establish the direction and organizational structure of our school district through our legislative act of adopting policies.
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?
The primary role of a board member is to fulfill a mission that requires us to provide educational excellence in every school, every classroom, every student, every day. EVERY SCHOOL. As a result of our mission, I cannot conceive of a situation where the interests of a specific district might conflict with what is best for the entire school system. I believe in our core value that “we are a community of individuals who share a collective responsibility to achieve our common mission,” and we achieve that common mission by welcoming differences to be expressed. Differences are a part of accepting diversity- and diversity includes divergent ideas, thoughts, actions, and needs. Diversity brings hope and cultivates the dreams of people of every walks of life. This sharing of ideas and needs will lead to a stronger and better educational system, because the needs of all students will be placed on the table. When all needs are known, then and only then will we be able to see our mission of providing “educational excellence in every school, in every school, in every classroom, for every student, every day,” become a reality.
The more relevant question is how, as a board member, do I help to create synergy -which is the interaction of multiple elements in a system to produce an effect different from or greater than the sum of their individual effects- among board members? I am humbled by the honor of serving District 4 residents as their elected representative, and I will always seek the opinions and desires of my constituents and represent them by voicing their concerns, ideas, and desires for systemic academic success for all students. But I am also keenly aware that I, too, serve Duval County. Board Policy 2.15, dictates “the need to provide quality service to constituents, the Duval County School Board and Superintendent will together put into place a system for tracking and responding to constituent inquiries.” As an elected official, my role is to share all of the information, not just to my constituents but to the superintendent and my colleagues as well, so that the discussion is all-inclusive of facts, figures, and ideas. In 2010, I inherited three of the four Intervene schools facing closure by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE): William M. Raines (District 5), Jean Ribault, Andrew Jackson High Schools, and North Shore Elementary. It was my and the community’s belief then and now that closing neighborhood schools would lead to destruction of that community, and closing four schools in same community was not what was best for the school district. Instead we should focus on ensuring that quality teachers, rigorous and necessary resources were in place. It turned out the community was right. This was the most difficult decision I’ve been faced with during my tenure, but I believed it was the right decision not just for District 4 but for DCPS because it served the greater good of our District because of standing for our students, our District, and our community, not one school was closed. Please remember that the headlines will read Duval County Public Schools. Perhaps more focus should be on the fact that all board members represent Duval County Public Schools?
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?
See answer to number 2.
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?
Although there have been budget cuts in the prior years due to decreased revenues, funding the schools has always been a priority for the district. Additionally, there are many mandates that we are required to meet whether they are funded or not. In order to meet these mandates with decreased revenues, we have previously had to make cuts in all areas – do more with less. Because schools are the priority (class size requirement, instructional requirements, etc.), non-school areas such as maintenance, payroll, accounts payable, etc. have had to also cut their budgets; however, their workload has not really changed. This past school year the Superintendent was able to place additional positions at the schools because of prudent fiscal planning in prior years. Should additional resources become available, the non-school areas should be analyzed to determine which previous staffing/budget cuts could be restored.
If revenues continue to be flat or decline, the district would have to take a serious look at all aspects of the entity in light of the strategic plan. We would have to determine what initiatives are funded and how do they meet the goals of the strategic plan. They we would have to prioritize the funded initiatives and then determine what is required to be funded, what should be funded, and what is nice to be funded. This would have to be a collaborative effort led by the Board directing the Superintendent and including essential stakeholders such as employees and students.
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.)?
Raising any type of taxes is certainly a revenue source that the school district could pursue but it is generally an unpopular option with most taxpayers. Unless the school district is seen by taxpayers as fiscally responsible, fiscally transparent, and educationally excellent, most taxpayers would not approve a tax increase of any kind. This would also be true of a general obligation bond issue. As a district, we must improve the public’s perception regarding this area in order to pursue these types of revenue sources. Until public perception improves, the district could pursue additional public and private grants in order to fund specific Board-approved initiatives. While the Superintendent has pursued funding from private organizations such as Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Quality Education for All, and The Community Foundation, the Board should determine which initiatives should be funded and be provided information as to which public and private grants the district would be eligible to pursue.
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?
I would continue to accompany community members (5-7) to visit schools throughout the District, meet with student focus groups, return to meeting with the principals in District 4 quarterly, and sponsor a quarterly meeting with the PTSA and SAC chairs. These initiatives give prospective as to how the students, parents, administrators, and community view our schools and will allow us to better understand, monitor, and adapt to ensure that academic progress is the focus of all involved. This process has allowed the greater community to learn more about available resources, and it strengthens the focus of creating a better education system quicker. In addition, I would use the Parent Academy to provide the type of workshops and trainings that are needed or requested from the group meetings. These groups will also serve sounding board to share about existing and new programs. Finally, I would seek to strengthen PTSA and SACS as the foundational voices of the schools and communities they serve.
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?
External Partners are our most valuable asset. They demonstrate that love is truly an action word because they give of themselves as mentors and donors and supporters. They help us meet the needs of the whole child and to reach out to the families. We must continue to strengthen the relationships, applaud them, and most importantly work closely with them to ensure alignment school by school and student by student. The alignment of a partner’s program and the needs of the school and its students affords all involved to maximize their fullest potential.
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?
It is a state policy, and my view of the Florida Standards are outweighed by how effectively can we help our students view the assessment as positively as possible. What we know is this: The students will take the test this school year but, the students/schools will not be held to the assessment scores; however, the State will still assign a school grade. Fast forward. Focus on preparing students and teachers and informing parents about the Florida Standards. For instance, the Northwest Friends of Jacksonville along with Dr. Vitti are sponsoring an informational session to learn about the Florida Standards on Saturday, July 19 at 10 am at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church. Elementary implementation has been in place since the 2011-12 school year, so the K-2 teachers have had more information/training, but the upper elementary teachers and secondary teachers have not. No group has had adequate training, preparation or exposure. So the focus must be on educating and training. The District began a gradual shift from lecture style classrooms to more interactive learning models with emphasis on developing critical thinking and problem solving skills in 2010-11 with the kindergartners, but how well the implementation has been is determined by the superintendent. However, the effectiveness of the implementation will be determined, unfortunately, by the school grade.
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?
Some of the biggest challenges with the new grading system include students must write short and extended answers to some questions, complete the writing prompt on a computer, and some questions will have the possibility of two answers. For example instead of A, B, C, or D choices some answers could be A&D. The Superintendent plans to respond to these challenges by modifying the district assessment to include short and extended written responses, to provide a computer based writing program for students to respond to writing prompts on computer and to enhance their keyboarding skills, and to ensure that students increase their ability analytical and comprehensive skills through rigorous curriculum and targeted instruction.
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?
The Board is charged with ensuring that all students receive a quality education; inherently in that charge is an environment conducive for teaching and learning per Board Policy 3.41. I supported the Superintendent’s recommendation to provide Deans in secondary schools, increasing the number of mentors, revising the Student Code of Conduct, and providing parents, students, teachers, and community stakeholders more access to surveys. This provides opportunity to more quickly improve the address safety concerns and/or perceptions and to improve the culture within schools to improve the academic performance of our students.
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?
The District’s choice options for all students have been greatly enhanced by first realigning of the feeder patterns for all schools. The realignment assures continuity of themes as well as expectations of rigorous academic outcomes from all students every day. Adding a “choice” theme to all schools affords each school within every community to re-brand itself and connect to themes that excites and ignites its particular community. The District should respond to the charter school expansion the very same way that charter schools have responded to the District- compete. But we should compete for students not against charter schools. The academic/magnet themes that now connect our schools by feeder-patterns, the single gender Leadership Schools at Eugene J. Butler Middle and the Joseph Stilwell Military Academy of Leadership requires parents to opt-in not opt-out. Marketing the Early College, AICE, Dual-Enrollment programs, our performing arts powerhouses, our award winning Culinary Programs at our Career Academies, and services we offer to ESE and ELL students are unmatched. In addition, I think the District should always work with charter schools because we need every student in Duval County to be prepared to enter college and/or the workplace upon graduation from high school.
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?
Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) is a critical time to prepare some of our youngest and talented for academic success. Like every educational initiative or opportunity, there is a place for it. Expansion should not be considered for every school. The District’s VPK student assessments scores came recently, and they were 94% or above for Kindergarten ready. For years, we have known that too many students come academically challenged for Kindergarten. If the District can step up and help our youngest to the tune of 94% or better proficiency- I believe our community welcomes the effort and our parents appreciates the cognitive growth of their children.
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?
First, I am so very appreciative that private donors would donate $50 million dollars to support the educational pathways of children most of them will never see or meet. This is a testament to the type of city we live in and the type of people who love this great community. I wholeheartedly support this effort. With the focus on quality teachers, rigorous curriculum, the wireless capability, one-to-one devices, relevant resources, and enough funding to meet the financial costs of the QEA Initiative for three years, these are needed ingredients to produce high level students who are prepared academically, socially, and emotionally to become productive citizens. The challenge is ensuring that the teachers are committed to the academic progress of every student. The missing piece is to have a parental/guardian and a community stakeholder’s assessment team to prepare these members to support and encourage the students, teachers, and administrators. Parents/guardian and community stakeholders must be on the ground level of this type of initiative if students are to receive a holistic education – where the academic, social, and emotional needs are met to ensure that students are provided the wraparound services needed to create a solid foundation for their success.
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?
The District’s vision is to inspire and prepare every student for success in college or a career, and life. To that end, we must create as many paths for our students as possible. But in creating those paths, we must make certain that students, parents/guardians understand how to maneuver our system to determine which path is best for each student. The District’s focus is to coordinate college level work with a career focus by connecting with the Chamber of Commerce, the Unions, our medical community, colleges and universities, and our entrepreneurs, to know what job related skills are needed to align our academies with the needs of the job markets.
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?
In preparing students for the future, technology is not a panacea, but it is a necessary tool. Our digital natives must be presented with a balanced approach of infusing technology into the instructional process in the classroom. The tool must be age appropriate and must be led by teachers who are professionally developed to use technological tools to enhance the instructional process in the classroom effectively. Technology must be age appropriate in order to ensure academic learning and progress. The data associated with the use of technology must be used to guide not just instruction but advancement of each student and teacher. Two years ago with the QZAB bond, the District was able to use $32 million dollars to dedicate to the increase of technology. Another QZAB bond is being sought for another dedicated pocket of dollars for technology. This is one way that I support increasing technology in the classroom.
18. If you have children, what type of school do/did they attend?
(mark all that apply)