UPDATE | Sept. 4, 2012, at 11:03 a.m. | This story has been updated to reflect the proper attribution of the 2011 report on Duval County Public Schools.
A new center at the College of Education and Human Services plans on being a leader in directing the conversation among some of the important events in urban education, said Dr. Larry Daniel, the dean of COEHS.
The Center for Urban Education and Policy’s goal is to find what the big issues in education are, what will affect the lives of the teachers and students positively and how UNF can get citizens and business people pulled into the effort to look at school improvement locally, he said.
UNF is using the term urban education fairly broadly in the concept of the center, Daniel said. When the university says urban, it means Jacksonville as a city.
Most schools are heavy on regulations and light on creativity within the schedule of the school day, Daniel said. UNF wants to work on a policy that allows teachers to spend more time being creative and less time having to follow rules and regulations, he said.
Daniel said UNF is hoping to contribute to those efforts by providing research along with historical and Jacksonville-based surveys that will best inform the center on how to make decisions in an effective way.
The center would like to begin collaborations with the community regarding other important initiatives that will affect the the quality of education and what the COEHS is doing with children in schools for reform and school improvement efforts, he said.
UNF already has a partnership with four schools in the urban professional development school program, Daniel said. He said 30 to 35 students go out to these schools with a faculty member and hold class at an urban elementary or secondary school. The students in the program will learn, while they are engaging with children and teachers in classrooms, Daniel said.
The work UNF has done with the professional development school program and making certain that its teachers have spent time in the urban environment has been a forerunner in some of the work done in urban areas, said Iranetta Wright, principal of Andrew Jackson High School.
Wright, a UNF alumna, said focusing specifically on urban education in a comprehensive fashion is product. Wright is currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of Florida in educational leadership with a specific focus around urban settings.
In 2011, Jacksonville had 51 elementary schools with enrollment below 500, according to a September 2011 Education Resource Strategies report on Duval County. Consolidating those types of schools could save about $26 million annually, roughly $500,000 a school, according to the consultant.
The report, which the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and Duval County Public Schools co-funded, stated that the district is paying a “size premium” for its small, underused elementary schools. This means the cost per student is higher to keep the building operating at the intended enrollment size.
Daniel said he is aware of the issue of several smaller schools in urban neighborhoods that are in danger of closing due to a small student population. He said school closures in the urban core is a remarkably sensitive issue.
Some schools are a major part of the identity in Jacksonville’s neighborhoods, which could mean that younger children might have to travel farther away to receive an education, he said.
Wright said the center will be a positive step in the direction of helping some of the smaller schools in urban neighborhoods that might be in danger of closing. To provide additional focus to the diverse needs of urban children can only be a positive thing, whether it’s elementary, middle or high schools, she said.
For the policy side, UNF will be getting together with groups of individuals in communities and having conversations about what needs to be different in local, state and national education policy to serve schools better, Daniel said.
He said the COEHS is currently searching for a project director to be the first employee of the center. After, the center should be up and running inside the COEHS within the next 60 days, he said.
The funding and inspiration for the center is due to the late Frederick H. Schultz, Daniel said. Before Schultz passed, he wanted to make sure UNF would do something visible with the money to improve education and have a direct impact on Jacksonville schools.
Schultz, after whom Building 9 is named, is a UNF donor, philanthropist and Jacksonville community leader, Daniel said. In the 1980s, the Schultz family started the Robinson Eminent Endowment Fund in the honor of former UNF president and COEHS Dean Andrew A. Robinson.
Daniel said the center is an opportunity for the COEHS to look at a variety of things the university is already doing in urban schools and urban education and to pull all that work under one big umbrella.
He said UNF has had a lot of great initiatives going on for a number of years, but there hasn’t been one place to showcase exactly what they are along with the COEHS’s current events.
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