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William M. Raines High School
Carla Roberts Jones, a Valiant Viking, 6/30/10
|From: Anthony Rodgers
Date: Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 7:44 PM
Subject: FW: carla Roberts-Jones
This is a Valiant Vikings
Good Morning everyone:
On yesterday I had an opportunity to speak to Det. Roberts-Jones (Carla). She was excited to speak with me and is in great spirits. Carla wants everyone to know that her spirits are high and that she is doing well considering her current situation. In her words, “To God be the glory!” Anyone who has been an active member over the last 10 years or so should know that Carla served on our board of directors for a number of years and is always willing to work for the organization whenever called upon. Currently Carla has exhausted all of her leave and is unable to return to work immediately. We all know that once leave is exhausted, it can effect benefits (i.e. insurance). I am asking that every member of our organization evaluate your leave bank. If you are in a position to donate any hours no matter how great or small, please do so. We stand on the principles of brotherhood and in times like these we are asked to “walk the walk”. If you need a donation bank, email Lucy Holman or contact me and I will see that you receive one. In closing I will say that Carla is accepting calls. If you have her number and would like to send her a text or call and leave a message, please do so. We need to encourage one another in love and brotherhood. Thanks for your attention.
They were mirror images — two Jacksonville high schools built months apart in nearly identical brick buildings.
Both quickly became college-minded academic powerhouses, drawing from reservoirs of strong parental and community support.
That was a generation ago.
Raines is a failing school, where just over half the students graduate.
Its once solidly working-class Northwest side neighborhood has dissolved into a morass of poverty and violence, turning the campus into a secure island where lockers are off-limits and backpacks are see-through to expose guns and other contraband.
With only 7 percent of sophomores reading at grade level or higher, the school must provide so many intensive-reading classes there’s little time left for electives to inspire future artists or scholars. The school where 2,200 once attended is now teaching fewer than a thousand.
Thirty miles away, at Fletcher, the story hasn’t changed much since
The Neptune Beach school is thriving — packed with students led by experienced teachers, many of whom have taught both parent and child.
That there are differences between Raines and Fletcher, two neighborhood schools, isn’t surprising. What troubles community leaders and educators is the fact that the gap has become so vast, epitomizing disparities between schools in low-income areas and those in wealthier, more stable neighborhoods.
Some believe ineffective teachers are to blame for Duval’s educational woes. Others cite bad policies from the state or district, or inadequate funding.
Then there are those who believe it all starts in the home.
“Schools can only work with what they have,” said Linda Lanier, head of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission. “There’s already an achievement gap before the children put their first foot in the kindergarten door.”
Poverty is a factor, but it isn’t an excuse for failing schools, said Trey Csar, president of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, a nonprofit working to improve student achievement.
“We are where we are, not because of poverty, but because of our lack of response to poverty,” Csar said. “If we wait until the day that there are no more poor kids to decide that’s the day that we’re going to have great education, we’ll never get there.”
Duval County Public Schools — a district of 123,000 students and 166 schools — has more than its share of daunting challenges. Among them:
The state has said it will force the district to close four of its failing schools — including Raines — if students don’t show dramatic improvement within four years.
District leaders have changed principals this year in many of the struggling schools, brought in new teachers and tapped limited funding to provide more tutoring, Saturday classes and other resources.
But the problems reach far beyond school buildings.
Tens of thousands of Duval students live in poverty. Many come from broken homes, or no home at all. About 2,800 of the district’s kids are either homeless or in foster care.
School Board member Betty Burney, a Raines graduate, said her education in Northwest side public schools prepared her to excel in college and graduate school. She says she didn’t lack for anything.
“I pray that every child has that, and every child should be able to say that,” Burney said. “But every child can’t say that, and that’s what’s sad.”
Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said teacher quality and parental involvement are key factors in improving schools. So is dealing with poverty and building community support.
“I don’t think that we can completely overcome those issues of
poverty, but I also don’t think that’s an excuse for not having
dramatic increases in our academic achievement,” Pratt-Dannals said.
“We can’t wait for all of those support systems to have an impact
before we do what we need to do.”
It’s five weeks before the end of the school year, and Raines’ new principal has summoned all juniors to the auditorium.
Quiet down, George Maxey told the 175 students in the red-and-gray seats. This is important.
Eliciting some groans, he reminded them that the new rules — no lockers, no high heels, no baggy shorts … — would stay in effect next year. Then Maxey started selling the 11th-graders on “dual enrollment” — a college head start program.
“We have all of this free stuff here, but not enough people taking advantage,” he told the students.
That’s the message Maxey is preaching, the one he knows they need to hear: They’re capable of so much more.
When Andrew Robinson walked the halls in 1965 as the school’s first principal, he expected his students to give their all. And then he’d say, “Next time we’ll be better.”
He motivated, rather than mandated, say his former students who still speak of him with respect.
The school was state-of-the-art, from air-conditioned rooms to science labs with the latest equipment. Four years later, the school became accredited — part of a return to grace for the district’s high schools, all of which had been stripped of their accreditation years before due to insufficient funding and other problems.
Raines graduated some of the best and brightest in the ’60s and ’70s. They went on to heal, teach, defend and lead. Notable alums include state Rep. Mia Jones and NFL star Brian Dawkins.
It’s hard to pinpoint when Raines’ decline began.
Burney believes it started in 1980 with the creation of the district’s first magnet school — Stanton College Preparatory. As a tool to help the district with desegregation, magnets started pulling some of the smartest kids from the school she loves.
Many good teachers were pulled from Raines and other nearby schools to make faculties at all schools more racially balanced.
Another factor was integration, as prospering black families, finally able to buy homes in nicer neighborhoods, gradually moved away.
“So what does that leave in the neighborhood around the school? Poverty,” said Cleve Warren , a Raines graduate and Jacksonville business leader.
“That’s what happened to Raines.”
This year, about 1,200 neighborhood teens chose to go to other high schools, and Raines enrollment has sagged to 960. All but 10 are black; three out of four are from low-income families.
Gibson sent his oldest daughter to Raines, but by the end of the ’90s, the family reluctantly had to make a change. He sent his youngest daughter to higher-rated Stanton.
But, the problems at Raines didn’t start at Raines.
And those schools are getting kids from elementaries who are already lagging behind their peers in less troubled neighborhoods.
With failing scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test comes a mandate from the state for students to be in intensive reading or math classes, or both. That’s in addition to whichever math or reading class they must take each year to graduate. It leaves little time for extras at Raines.
It’s become a perpetuating problem: The school isn’t able to offer many innovative and inspiring classes, such as pottery or ROTC, because there aren’t enough students to fill them.
The band — once a shining star at Raines — has dwindled to about half its former size.
Shavon’ta Floyd, 17, has been in intensive reading through most of middle school and now at Raines – finishing her first year of high school. Held back twice in elementary school, she can read but does poorly on tests that focus on comprehension.
Floyd wishes she was learning Spanish or playing with the band. But before she can take many electives, she must pass the FCAT.
Teacher Marques Reynolds’ class is filled with students like Floyd; struggling students he knows are bright. Many have a tough time understanding what they read, made more difficult by limited personal experiences.
“When you can’t visualize it, it becomes harder to become connected to it,” Reynolds said.
With the threat of a state-ordered closure looming, Maxey has shaken things up, bringing 16 teachers with him. Of his 91 teachers, seven are in their first year. Only 14 have 15 or more years of experience.
The teachers are supported by four guidance counselors who spend much of their time helping children deal with gritty issues. Domestic violence.
Run-ins with the law. Parents who can’t afford the rent. Suicidal thoughts.
Mary Anderson keeps her office stocked with cereal bars for the students who come to school hungry. For the girls lacking proper nutrition, the counselor brings healthy lunches.
Her job doesn’t end when the last bell rings. She recently ran into a former student, 21-year-old Auirelle Bryant, at the movie theater where the woman worked.
Bryant wants to be a nurse and believes the certificate of completion she received in 2007 won’t be enough. So Anderson invited her to return to the school for tutoring to prepare her for the ACT college entrance exam. That’s where Bryant spends Thursday mornings now.
When she arrives at Raines, she sees mostly empty hallways, because students are quickly sent to their classrooms. Dawdling isn’t allowed.
After years of dismal state ratings and constant news reports of violence in the nearby streets, Maxey has a big challenge: Persuade parents of future high schoolers to give Raines a chance.
He’s done it before — he turned Ribault Middle from a “F” to a “B” school before he was tapped for Raines.
He has so much confidence in his new endeavor, his two sons are enrolled in the school.
Promising a quality education in a safe environment, he’s doing what he can to stop teens from bringing in weapons. He’s purchased clear backpacks and given them two sets of books so they won’t need lockers.
Students heading for a bathroom break must wear a construction worker-style vest so staff knows who’s allowed in the hallways.
At the same time, he’s trying to beef up study skills to help students do better in advanced classes and on standardized and college-entrance exams.
“We have to be able to compete and give every child a quality education every day,” Maxey said. “We have to do more on our end to ask our children to go the extra mile.”
As the band’s booster club president, Bohn takes care of a lot of the fundraising, organizing of chaperones for trips, and assorted other chores.
The 85-member band relies heavily on community support. When the group wanted to travel to Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago for the Fourth of July parade, boosters helped raise about $60,000 to cover much of the cost.
That level of community support can be attributed in part to history and geography.
In 1964, there was little between the Beaches and downtown Jacksonville. Crossing the “ditch” seemed like such a hike — one that many rarely made.
And there was little reason — especially for an education.
Fletcher had been around since 1937. By the time the students moved into the new campus, the school was deeply rooted in the surrounding neighborhood.
Everyone, it seemed, flocked to Friday night football games. Students
showed up with purple-and-white pompoms . Many brought their families.
And studying hard usually paid off. Most of 1968 graduate Steve Proctor’s friends went on to college, as did he.
When Proctor and his wife, Leigh, also a Fletcher graduate, chose a high school for their twins — who graduated from St. Paul’s Catholic School this year — they picked Fletcher for its “complete program.”
“Fletcher offers everything and sends a lot of kids to colleges,” Proctor said.
In a district where hundreds of students leave neighborhood schools for high-achieving magnets, Fletcher is unique. With about 2,300 students, the school is packed — including its 20 portable classrooms. In the surrounding community, only 350 teens chose this year to enroll in another public school or opt for home-schooling.
It’s an open campus, where juniors and seniors can grab a burger at lunch before returning for the next class.
And there’s a long menu of courses — unusual in the district’s neighborhood schools. Fletcher offers 27 Advanced Placement courses and various honors classes. Students can choose from five world languages: American Sign Language, Latin, German, French and Spanish. Electives range from the arts (including pottery, photography and sculpture) to specialized physical education (including aerobics, volleyball, wrestling and weight training.)
“Why would you want to leave?” asked Brenda Brown, a teacher at the school since 1984.
“I’m at a point now where I’ve taught some of the parents,” she said.
Brown’s husband is a Fletcher graduate and coaches at the school. Her daughter graduated from the school in 2007, and her son is graduating next week .
It’s a school where the clubs — 34 this year — have to enter a lottery to determine who gets to sell candy or other items each week during the school year.
Fletcher isn’t the district’s top school — it’s fluctuated between “A” and “B” grades in recent years. Last year, 42 percent of 10th-graders were reading at or above grade level. Only magnet schools scored better.
Administrators still must deal with students who use drugs, fight or skip school. But helping school officials keep students in line are many of those students’ parents. Teachers actually talk about having too many parents volunteer to chaperone trips.
He opted for Fletcher instead. He liked the school’s relaxed atmosphere, the closeness to the beach. He could get a quality education and still work on his wire sculptures and 3-foot-tall origami.
Now 18 and getting ready to graduate , Shannon is choosing colleges. Among the top prospects are the University of North Florida and a Boca Raton arts school offering a $10,000 scholarship.
There’s a sense of history that exists at Fletcher that has helped keep it strong, said Nancy Broner , a Fletcher graduate and Duval County School Board member.
“Fletcher is truly a community-owned school,” she said.
Giving students more
In the middle of top-notch magnets and struggling urban schools are more than 100 others with a range of obstacles from homeless children to disengaged parents.
National experts say it takes more to elevate public education than good teachers and principals. It takes a community-wide response.
District officials believe they’re making strides. In Northwest Jacksonville, promising new programs are offering needed support services for low-income families. The district is adding more rigorous programs at every high school , and offering more tutoring for struggling students.
And the state is taking a bigger, more visible role in making sure change is happening.
At Raines, with the help of alumni, Maxey is trying to give his students more: more clubs, more after-school activities, more field trips, more guest speakers. Convinced fewer students will need intensive math or reading next year because of improved standardized testing, he’s planning to introduce dance, ROTC, and law and medical studies.
But first, Maxey needs more higher-achieving students to come to his school. Just as a coach looks for star athletes, the principal is looking for star scholars. And he’s making his pitch directly to prospective students and their parents.
A couple of weeks ago, some of Matthew Gilbert Middle School’s brightest eighth-graders visited Raines. They heard from students like Bryan Lockwood, who’s heading to Duke University after participating in Raines’ Advanced International Certificate of Excellence and dual enrollment programs.
With hard work, Maxey promised the middle schoolers, they could be just as successful.
“I have to make sure this school is not just good enough for my kids,” he said, “but for everyone else’s kids.”
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