Duval County schools get new start

'First strategic plan, new budget, new organization, new focus on every child...'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than 120,000 students in Duval County are in class Monday for the first day of the 2013-2014 school year.

But this year won't be like the last one, according to Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who sat down with Channel 4's Tarik Minor to talk about his message to parents and students this school year.

Vitti said the changes put in place over last year have been solidified. So when students walk into the classroom, they can expect to see and feel a change for the better.

"I'm excited because I'm going to be in 1st grade, and be with the big stuff," said Leticia Leonard.

For Leornard, like thousands of other Duval County students, the day has finally arrived.

Vitti said parents should expect to notice some distinct changes, in the way teachers are preparing students for the future.

"We are going to do what the parents and I think the community have wanted a long time, and that's to go back and teach kids how to think and not how to take a test," Vitti said.

The first day of school marks the one-year anniversary as superintendent for Vitti, who said the district has moved their curriculum to instruction and inquiry-based problem solving. He said education this year is specifically aimed at developing the whole child. He points to expanded music and arts programs, after putting multiple plans in place.

"This is going to be the first full year with implementation of the first strategic plan, new budget, new organization, new vision to focus on every individual child to be in college or the work[force]," Vitti said.

The new budget has afforded new security measures as well to the tune of $24 million in Duval County. Adding an officer at every school in the district, and a dean of discipline at the middle and high school levels.

Vitti said his biggest challenge over the past year, has been keeping and recruiting students to Duval County, a task he's tackling head on.

"What I look to do is keep parents and teachers engaged in public education and bring them back," Vitti said. "That's not something that will happen throughout the year, but this year I want to showcase to parents what we have to offer in public education."

Superintendent, mayor visit schools, talk about changes

Vitti stopped by four schools Monday to celebrate the new year. His first stop was Raines High School to talk about the new programs it has.

"We have to move our high schools to post-secondary, especially our 11th- and 12th-graders," Vitti said. "And when I say post-secondary, I mean college and also the world of work."

That's why there are new courses to pick from at Raines. New this year, students will have a minimum of two electives added to their course load.

"It could spark an interest in their career or just broaden their horizons," Vitti said. "Not only is it happening at Raines, but all over the county."

A couple of new electives at the school are culinary and digital media courses.

"It's about what makes that individual tick so they find school relevant and engaging," Vitti said.

Raines also has a new principal. Vincent Hall graduated from school in 1990.

"Some of the principal changes I've made have been controversial in a way, and maybe the community needed to understand the rationale behind it," Vitti said.

Mayor Alvin Brown was there to support Vitti's changes.

"It's always important to diversify on how we reach our kids and teach our kids," Brown said.

The mayor spoke to the students to encourage them to stay in school and go to college.

"Only one in four over the age of 25 have a college degree, and I want us to go to 50 percent," he said.

After his Raines appearance, Vitti visited John E. Ford, R.V. Daniels and Northwestern Middle.