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Back to school: 20 things Duval County parents, students need to know

More than 129,000 students will head back to class on Monday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As more than 129,000 students get ready to start the 2019-2020 school year on Monday in Duval County. District officials have 20 things they believe will help guide students and parents through the process. Some are changes that have taken effect for this school year, along with other important information to help the first day go smoothly.

1. Closer to an A than ever: Propelled by a record-breaking graduation rate and learning gains made by students in math and reading, Duval County Public Schools is entering the 2019-20 school year closer to being an A-rated school district than it has ever been. The district leaped six overall points from last year and landed less than one percentage point away from an A.  Overall, 42 schools increased at least one letter grade, and 62 percent of D and F schools improved their grades this year. Highlights among schools include: 

a. Fletcher High School: B to an A. 

b. Jacksonville Beach Elementary: Has maintained an A since 2000 and is the second-highest performing elementary school in the state. 

c. Hyde Park Elementary: F to a C. 

d. Mayport Middle School: B to an A. 

e. Ortega Elementary: C to an A.

f.  Ribault Middle School: D to a C.

g.  Robert E. Lee High School: C to a B. 

h. Samuel Wolfson High School: B to an A.

i.  St. Clair Evans Elementary: D to a B.

j.  Venetia Elementary:  C to an A. 

2. Every student will have access to a mental health therapist:  Addressing the mental and emotional wellness of our students is foundational to our mission, and we’ve been able to expand key initiatives like Full Service Schools and Youth Mental Health First Aid thanks to increased funding. At the state level, approximately $2.7 million has been provided through a Mental Health Assistance Allocation made possible by Senate Bill 7026 (also known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act). Through this increased funding -- and combined with funding from the Kids Hope Alliance and United Way - the district will be able to ensure that every student has access to a mental health therapist; all educators will be able to receive training in Youth Mental Health First Aid; and social-emotional learning will continue to be embedded in instruction. Learn more by viewing the district’s 2019-20 Mental Health Assistance Allocation plan.

3. Early release days are now once a month: This past June, the School Board approved an updated 2019-20 school calendar. One of the changes to the 2019-20 calendar year is fewer early release days. There will now be one early release day a month, amounting to 10 early release days for the year. Students will be dismissed an hour and 45 minutes earlier than the school’s standard dismissal time. This is another change from previous years, in which students were dismissed 75 minutes earlier than standard dismissal times. The reason behind this change was to assist parents who had difficulty making transportation arrangements for early dismissal times, and to provide more time for educators to participate in professional learning. You can view the updated calendar, as well as a list of important school dates and the report card schedule here.

4. “Wellness Wednesdays” initiative to address mental/emotional wellness: Beginning this school year, the district will hold “Wellness Wednesdays” once a month on its early release day for all elementary, middle and high schools. Each classroom will engage in a 30-minute instructional session on a mental/emotional wellness topic. District physical health and mental health specialists are crafting the lesson plans and customizing them for every grade band. Additionally, both educators and parents will be provided with mental health literacy and resource information. The “Wellness Wednesdays” initiative builds on the state’s recent requirement for all 6-12 grade students to receive mental health instruction.

5. New visitor check-in procedures: Parents and visitors will notice a change coming into district schools this year. As an increased safety measure, schools have been equipped with ID readers that will check each visitor’s ID against a background check, place their name in a visitor’s database, and print out a visitation badge with the individual's name and purpose of visit. We ask for parents to be patient as this procedure is implemented and standardized district-wide over the next few weeks. Note that this is a change in the technological and badging check-in procedure. The procedure streamlines the check-in process across the district and provides school and district leaders the ability to know who is on their campus at all times. What has not changed is the standard visitation procedures that are outlined in Board Policies 9.60 and 9.61. The policy outlines that visitors must report to the principal/front office, identify themselves with proper identification, explain the purpose of their visit and request permission to enter campus. No one is permitted access to the campus, classrooms or students without proper authorization. 

6. Jackson/Wolfson now fully dedicated magnets; will have new hours: Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, both Andrew Jackson and Samuel Wolfson High School, will have new school hours: 8:10 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. Previously, they followed standard high school hours: 7:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. The change is because both of these schools are now fully dedicated magnet schools. Magnet programs offered by Andrew Jackson High School of Advanced Technology include cybersecurity, gaming and animation, exercise and biomechanics, and computer systems and information technology. Magnet programs offered by Samuel Wolfson School for Advanced Studies and Leadership include an international baccalaureate program and leadership magnet program. The process to begin converting the two schools began in 2015-16. Read more about it.

7. Early College Teaching program: This year, Westside and First Coast High Schools will both debut an Early College Teacher Academy.  In addition to creating a pipeline of educators to help fill teacher vacancies, it will also give students in the program an opportunity to earn an Associate degree and high school diploma at the same time.  

8. School District continues School Safety Assistant program: With significant support from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), the district is continuing its School Safety Assistant (SSA) program. The aim is to staff every elementary school with a highly-trained School Safety Assistant. Secondary schools are staffed with Duval County School Police Safety Officers. JSO officers will provide support in both elementary and secondary schools as needed.

9. School Bus hotline runs through Aug. 23: This school year, more than 850  buses will transport approximately 47,000 students on more than 3,600 trips every day. The buses travel approximately 10 million miles annually and have an on-time arrival rate of 98 percent.  Duval is also ranked No.1 in the state of Florida for having the newest fleet. If parents have questions about their child’s bus stop or route, they can contact the Transportation Call Center: (904) 381-RIDE (7433). The hotline will be accepting calls through Aug. 23,  Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.  Visit the Transportation web page to look up fall bus routes and times, view safety tips and procedures for bus riders and review a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

10. Parents must complete a Kindergarten Dismissal form:  If a parent has a kindergartner who will be riding the bus for the first time, they must complete the Kindergarten Dismissal form and return it to their child’s school before the first day of school. This letter is a must. It provides instructions to the bus drivers on how you want your kindergartner dropped off after school. Bus drivers are not able to transport any kindergartners for whom they DO NOT have a copy of this form. 

11. Free breakfast at every school; free lunch at 126 schools: The district is continuing in its policy to offer free breakfast at all schools through participation in two federal programs: The Universal Free Breakfast program and the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program (also known as the National School Lunch Program).  In addition to free breakfast, students who attend one of the district’s 126 CEP schools also receive a free lunch; no forms are applications needed. More information about the districts school meal’s programs is available here.

12. Free and Reduced Lunch applications available in early August: For students who do not attend a CEP school (see above) and would like to submit a Free and Reduced Lunch application, visit the Food Services webpage. The application will be available in early August. There will be an English and Spanish online application as well as a printable version. 

13. Free Afterschool meals at 63 schools: New this year, the district is participating in the federal Afterschool Meals Program. Through this program, 63 schools will be able to provide free meals and snacks to students in participating afterschool programs. The list of schools is available here. 

14.  Athletic trainers on track to be in all high schools through Project 17: Five years ago, a major goal was set: Put full-time certified athletic trainers in each of the district’s 17 high schools by 2020. Now in its fifth year, the Project 17 initiative is right on target as they bring the final two schools  Atlantic Coast and Fletcher High Schools into the program. Project 17, a collaboration between DCPS, Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program, Jacksonville University and other community partners provides a pathway for athletic trainer candidates to receive training and certification, and then be placed full-time in a district high school. Certified athletic trainers are licensed health care providers who are highly trained in the prevention and recognition of sports-related injury. They work together with our coaches and volunteer doctors to make our DCPS sports a safe experience for our student-athletes. Fifteen other high schools have either completed or are in the process of completing the program. 

15. Parent Academy attendance exceeds 10,000: For its sixth year in a row, the Parent Academy exceeded its attendance goal by welcoming over 10,000 participants at various courses and events in 2018-19.  Since its inception in 2013, the Parent Academy, which provides hundreds of free courses throughout the year on topics ranging from “How to support middle school math students” to “Mastering the job interview,” has continued to grow. It has impacted the lives of over 40,000 parents and caregivers, inducted more than 30 Parent Academy leaders, and held its first Parent Leadership Symposium last school year.  The free courses are offered in schools, libraries, community centers and faith-based institutions throughout the city.  View the new fall 2019 Parent Academy Catalog online or by picking up a catalog at your local library or area school.  

16. Eight schools to each receive between $15,000 - $20,000 in Project Lead the Way grants - Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Duval County Public Schools is getting a $125,000 boost thanks to grants from the non-profit STEM education provider, Project Lead the Way (PLTW). The grants are going toward eight schools to enhance STEM and CTE education by providing educators access to hands-on and interactive curriculum, activities, projects and materials. Schools receiving the grants are: 

a.   Highlands Middle ($15,000)
b.   Kernan Middle ($15,000) 
c.   Lake Shore Middle ($15,000) 
d.   Oceanway Middle ($15,000) 
e.   Stilwell Middle ($15,000) 
f.    J.E.B. Stuart Middle ($15,000) 
g.   Twin Lakes Academy Middle ($15,000) 
h.   Terry Parker High School ($20,000)

17.  Carter G. Woodson to be first elementary school with 5000 Role Models program: For over five years, the 5000 Role Models of Excellence initiative has been connecting young men in Duval middle and high schools with adult mentors, and providing educational and cultural experiences like college tours, etiquette workshops and career building training. This year, for the first time in the program’s history, the program will be piloted at an elementary school, Carter G. Woodson. The elementary school will be among 16 middle and high schools that currently offer the program. The aim of the program is to connect minority male youth with positive, adult role models and help students navigate their post-secondary success plan. For more information on the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project click this link

18. Join the Million Father March on Aug. 12: Fathers, father figures and male role models are invited to participate in the nationwide Million Father March on Aug. 12 by bringing their child to school and remaining involved throughout the year. Use #MillionFatherMarch and tag @Duvalschools on social media. Also, don’t forget to mark your calendars for the Florida Department of Education’s Dad Take Your Child to School Day on Wednesday, Sept. 25. 
19. Back2School Bash is on Saturday: Free backpacks, school supplies and community resources will be available at the district’s annual Back2School Bash. The event takes place on Saturday from 9 a.m.to noon at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds.

20. Download the DCPS mobile app: Parents and families can stay up to date with events, activities and important matters with their child’s school by downloading the free Duval County Public Schools mobile app. Once downloaded, select “Follow Schools” and select the schools you want to follow.