Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a gathering of concerned parents and organizations Wednesday morning about changes he instituted this year, including adding deans of discipline and extending the school day.
Vitti told those attending a Family Support Services of North Florida breakfast he implemented many new strategies the district this year, and he gave a report card of what's working and what's not.
Deans of discipline are supposed to get one-on-one with the troublemaker and dig deeper instead of the past method of going straight to sending a child home, suspending or even arresting. The dean will now make an analysis of why the decision was made to act out.
"What transforms the lives of children and changes their behavior is when they have a connection to an adult," Vitti said.
The student will serve in-school suspensions in a room away from other students with a certified teacher. That teacher and dean will then work with the student.
Another new aspect of the school year is the district has added 30 minutes to each school day, which allows two periods added to a student's schedule. That way if they are taking remedial classes, they don't have to miss out on music, art and other electives. The goal is to keep students from dropping out.
"Children are sometimes more excited about elective classes, and those classes often guide their thinking about what careers they want to go into after high school," Vitti said.
Those are just a couple of new strategies for making Duval County schools better, but Vitti says there is more to come.
One of those goals for next year is to reach out for grants and make room in the budget for technology.
"I still believe that we need one-to-one devices for our kids," Vitti said. "We're going to see that in some of our high-poverty schools in January."
With a lot of work left to do, Vitti reminded parents that there are more than 160 schools in the county and more than 8,000 teachers. He said the school system improvement will take time.