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School board chair's letter confirms she asked superintendent to leave

City Council, Duval County School Board to hold joint meeting Wednesday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The chairman of the Duval County School Board confirms in a letter released Tuesday that she asked Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to "use your talents elsewhere."

"The current results and the future projections do not meet my expectations of a superintendent," Ashley Smith Juarez wrote to Vitti. "You have not come forward with a plan to accelerate improvement, nor have you incorporated the recent suggestions of the board. When we last spoke, you told me, again, that you could do no better for children. With regret that we were at impasse, I privately, professionally and with no malice, asked that you use your talents elsewhere."

The school board will hold a joint meeting with the Jacksonville City Council at noon Wednesday.

Smith Juarez has also called a special meeting at 10:30 a.m. Friday "to deliberate a path forward that is best for children."

READ: Ashley Smith Juarez open letter to superintendent

Vitti said Tuesday he has no plans to resign.

"I'm at peace. I feel that I worked extremely hard and creating significant results here in the district. I think the community, for the most part, recognizes the work has happened and the progress that has been made," Vitti said. "I'm going to use a bad sports analogy: that I've left everything on the field as far as leading this district and I'm optimistic and hopeful I can continue doing that work and we can work through some of the challenges that exist between myself and the board, whether through mediation or just talking to one another privately or openly."

Vitti also said he's optimistic about the future. 

"I look forward to continuing to work with her and the board," Vitti said. "I want to remain the superintendent. This work is difficult, challenging, but also rewarding. I think we've done some of the work and there's much more work to be done and I want to be part of that process."

District 2 board member Scott Shine said the board is being asked to fire Vitti. 

"I am not in agreement with a lot of things about the situation. The first thing is, the superintendent's evaluation just a week ago indicated that he was an effective superintendent. The statistics around his performance in the last year are very good. In fact, the initiatives he's put in place, they are working," Shine said. 

Most people News4Jax has contacted over the past two days, including board members, potential board members and parents, said they don’t feel now is the time to consider changing superintendents.

Under Vitti, Duval County Public Schools saw the district's highest graduation rate in history, especially among African-Americans and English-language learners. The district has also given students more options for extracurricular activities.

Shine said he first learned of Smith Juarez asking Vitti to resign Sept. 13. He said he was shocked and not in agreement. 

"I'm also very concerned about a member of the board acting unilaterally to effectively terminate the superintendent without the full vote of the board. Our policies indicate that's not appropriate for a board member to try to take that action," Shine said.

Shine said it's also inappropriate for Smith Juarez to ask for the special meeting just months before two new members join the school board. 

Warren Jones was elected last month to School Board District 5. 

"It would be more fitting and appropriate to make this type of decision after new members have come on board, and as a newly elected board member, he needs time to consider and work with the superintendent to form an opinion," Jones said.

Lori Hershey and Barbara Toscano are in a November runoff for the District 7 seat on the school board.

Hershey said the decision whether Vitti should stay or go should not be made until after the election. 

"Any decision regarding the superintendent's contract should be delayed until the new board members join in November," Hershey said. "I believe the dynamics of the board will change. Then, I also think that we need to be certain that we're looking at what's in the best interest of the students, as well as long-term strategic goals of the schools."

Toscano said the tension concerns her.

"I think we need to refocus on the students of Duval and teachers and make sure that we're serving to the best of our abilities," Toscano said. "Not acting emotionally or irrationally, but logically pursuing what needs to happen for our district and our city."

Terminating a superintendent whom the board has rated as effective because of a personality conflict would bring severe consequences, Shine said. He has filed a request with the board secretary to change Friday's emergency meeting to a workshop, so there could be no call for a vote. He also said the time of the meeting is inconvenient because many people will be at work and school, which isn't fair because the public should be able to attend. 

"Once we terminate the superintendent, we're going to have bigger problems to deal with. That's going to send a shock wave through the school district," Shine said. "I think it's going to hurt academic achievement."