The University of Florida recently joined a multi-organization, multi-year effort to turn around the state's lowest-ranked high school: Andrew Jackson High School.
Starting during the 2012-13 school year, this collaboration of UF's Lastinger Center, Duval County Public Schools, the Jaguars Foundation, Teach for America, United Way, City Year, Communities in Schools, Educational Directions, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Ready for Tomorrow and Bridge of Northeast Florida -- will aim to improve teaching and learning at Jackson, an F school on intervene status.
The organizations are meeting May 29 to brainstorm ideas and synthesize their plans.
"The whole purpose of this project is to increase success and introduce more of what the UF Lastinger Center is doing in non-high schools," said DCPS Deputy Superintendent Patricia Willis.
Through its master teacher initiative, the Lastinger Center provides on-the-job, onsite/online professional development to educators in Jacksonville's highest needs elementary and middle schools. The initiative's programs include a free UF master's degree to teachers who make a five-year commitment to their schools. It offers this opportunity at Jackson, which, like many vulnerable schools, struggles to hire and keep experienced faculty.
"We're inviting everyone who wishes to contribute to turning around Andrew Jackson High School to join us on a multi-year journey," Lastinger Director Don Pemberton said. "It's not going to be easy. It's not for the mild and meek. But it's an opportunity to make a real difference."
Besides providing comprehensive professional development to Jackson teachers and administrators that includes leadership and team building, Lastinger will also help boost student engagement and morale, mobilize the community to support the school, recruit UF volunteers, chronicle the transformation effort and assemble research and evaluation teams to measure the results.
"We will identify research-based strategies and share them widely with our partners," Pemberton said.
Brain drain to magnet and private schools often harms vulnerable schools, said UF Duval County Professor-in-Residence Crystal Timmons. Many high-achieving students opt out of attending lower-performing schools such as Jackson.
Out of 1,200 area students who could attend Jackson, only 800 have elected to do so.
"The community is losing a third of its students," said Jon Heymann, CEO of Communities in Schools and a DCPS School Board candidate. "They're voting with their feet."
To attract more high-achieving students, who receive opportunity scholarships to attend schools out of their zones, Jackson will offer the International Baccalaureate and leadership and entrepreneurship programs beginning this fall.
"If everyone's truly committed," Timmons said, "then there is no reason why this venture should not be successful and why the students should not be successful."
As part of the turnaround effort, social workers and other professionals will also be stationed at Jackson to meet the needs of students, teachers and families, Willis said.
"We think if we can get sustainable work in Jackson, we can spread that work and replicate it in other struggling schools," she said.