Duval School Board, City Council collaborating on literacy, school safety and student mental health

This browser does not support the video element.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Duval County School Board and Jacksonville City Council leaders held a joint meeting Monday to exchange ideas and figure out ways to enhance collaboration between the elected two bodies.


They began by getting an update on the work being done by some of the city’s leading child advocacy groups.

Kids Hope Alliance highlighted the city’s $5.8 million investment in its literacy programs, the 1,500 students served through its juvenile justice program, and the 1,200 served through its Achievers for Life case management program.

KHA CEO Dr. Saralyn Grass expressed a desire to increase the number of case managers moving forward to help reach out to students who slipped through the cracks during COVID-19.

“And so they’re kind of like, you know, the lost children that are not getting services and that probably will ultimately commit crimes and other things,” said Grass.

The United Way detailed its efforts to improve student mental health, with over 7,000 students referred for services last school year.

United Way CEO Melanie Patz emphasized the impact of the 988 crisis hotline and the 211 community services hotline but noted answer times for 211 could be improved.

“During high call volume times, this morning at 10 AM is one of those, wait times can go upwards of 1 hour,” said Patz.

Read USA, a program that hires local high school and college students to mentor 3rd and 4th-grade students on reading, brought Nyzair Blake, a local tutor, to tell local leaders about the program’s success.

“We are securing the future, by not just teaching a child how to read, but how to love learning,” said Blake.

Council President Ron Salem (R-Group 2 At Large) said the update will help inform council members’ decision-making as they begin to craft next year’s budget.

“Keep in mind, we fund the Kids Hope Alliance, the city council does. So, it’s good to hear some of the issues there. Number two, the mayor has her $25 million that she’s presenting, and several million of that is going towards early literacy training. So, it was good to hear the impact that might have on our kids,” said Salem.

Local leaders also drilled into school safety, to learn what is being done already and what improvements can be made going forward.

Interim DCPS Police Chief Lieutenant Sean Macmaster highlighted the rollout of the Centegix panic alert system.

Using special badges, school staff are able to alert the entire school and local police in an instant should an emergency arise.

“And you have staff alerts and you have campus alerts. So, a staff alert if you think about it, it’s more like medical things. I need help, right? For a staff alert. When it’s campus alert, it’s we need help. Right? And we send the calvary,” said Macmaster.

DCPS police also highlighted the development of its K9 programs, which currently consist of two specially trained dogs who can sniff out narcotics and weapons.

The dogs provide an added layer of protection along with other improvements that have been funded through the half-cent sales tax like better fencing, cameras, and weapons scanners.

School Board Member April Carney (District 2) noted city council can play a role too, by improving safety for students en route to school.

“Because I know just recently Cornerstone Classical Acadamy was denied a school zone and a week later they had a pedestrian hit at the corner of St. Johns Bluff and Lost Pine,” said Carney.

It’s an issue School Board Chair Dr. Kelly Coker said she hopes to see additional collaboration with the council moving forward.

“You’re gonna see a little bit from code, you’re gonna see a bit from sidewalks, traffic outside of school facilities. Those types of things. As a school board we don’t have control over those items, the city council does. We can often hear about the programs, but we have to work collaboratively to solve those,” said Coker.

Monday’s meeting was the second of four planned between the school board and council over the span of a year.

The next meeting will be held sometime in February.

[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]

Click here to download the free Action News Jax news and weather apps, click here to download the Action News Jax Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Action News Jax live.