Some teachers and parents are divided over a new way to improve reading scores in struggling Duval County elementary schools.
The state has mandated that the bottom 300 schools in Florida add an extra hour of reading instruction to the school day. In Duval County, that put 41 schools on the state's list, and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and the School Board have added 11 more.
The idea is to give children more time to learn how to read at grade level, but for some teachers and parents who lay out their schedules by the school day, the extra hour throws everything off.
Craig Garner's wife is a teacher, and he said he and his wife know other teachers who want to leave the district over this.
“It puts the parents that have kids right on track at a disadvantage,” Garner said. “I think that it's good for the kids to have the opportunity to have that extra hour of enrichment; however, I do really feel that they should have given the teachers and parents more notice and allowed the teachers and parents to opt out their kids who feel that they're on the right track."
He said childcare is another major issue for his family. With one child now spending an extra hour at school, it throws off his family's planned out school day.
“My wife's a teacher and she has to go for the extra hour and also my son, (but) my daughter gets out an hour earlier because she's in pre-K. She's not in first grade yet,” Garner said. “Now we're scrambling to find out what we're going to do for the extra hour of childcare.”
Vitti (pictured) said the district has a plan for teachers who can't work the extra hour.
“We're working with our teachers union right now, like we have before on these similar type of extended day opportunities,” Vitti said. “We usually create an opt out so that teachers can remain at the school with the extended hour, but (others) who cannot stay for the extra hour, then they simply don't teach that and then we recruit other teachers to teach that extra hour.”
Several parents told News4Jax they think the added hour could benefit students by keeping them out of trouble and making them focus more on academics, and it could also benefit parents by giving them more time to accomplish things during the day.
Vitti said of the 11 schools he and the board added to the program, only two have voiced strong opposition. One of those is Holiday Hill Elementary School in Glynlea, where parents have said it's the school district's fault the school has performed poorly in recent years, and they don't feel their kids should be punished.
Holiday Hill Elementary received a D grade last year, but parents said that has little to do with the quality of instruction at their school and more to do with inconsistent leadership.
Holiday Hill has had five principals in the last four years.
“(The D grade) was not as high of a concern as maybe people would think it should be,” said Holiday Hill parent Shannon Kubisiak. “I am in those classrooms all of the time. I'm a very active, very involved parent. And I know my son was not receiving a D eduction. There are phenomenal teachers here. … I don't think the score of D was a true reflection of our school."
Kubisiak and Gregg Keefer, another Holiday Hill parent, have started a petition to have Holiday Hill removed from the extra hour program list.
“I don't think Holiday Hill should be on this list, because I don't think our problem was a lack of instruction,” Kubisiak said. “Our problem has been a revolving door of leadership in the past.”
Keefer echoed that sentiment.
“We don't see this as a solution to what's going on in our school,” Keefer said. “We're not a number. We're not a letter. What is happening in this school is a lack of consistent leadership, and we're finally, we feel like, getting that, and we don't need this obstacle to that taking place.”
Vitti acknowledged the turnover with principals has affected Holiday Hill, but he said there's more to it than that.
“The reality is the school has been a D or should have been a D the past two years, and we're trying to provide the school with as much support as possible,” Vitti said. “Although there are parents that are not happy with the idea of extending the hour, there are other parents that think that this is a good opportunity for their students that are below grade level or that want their school to improve in general.”
There is a PTA meeting on this issue at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Holiday Hill Elementary School, and Vitti plans on being there.