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Parents, students raise concerns over Duval County Public Schools possible merger plan

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Duval County School Board held another meeting with parents to talk about the potential school closures of more than 30 schools.

While this is the fourth meeting about the Master Facility Plan, this is the first one after the school approved the new superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier’s contract. Parents say Dr. Bernier has some big shoes to fill, and they are worried about how he will handle this big task of school consolidation.

But Action News Jax Annette Gutierrez spoke with Dr. Bernier who said he is ready to listen, learn and then lead.

More than 100 teachers, parents, community members and students took to the podium at Edward White High School Thursday night. They shared their concerns about the more than 30 DCPS schools that could potentially close.

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Some people came wearing shirts advocating for their schools like Fishwier, Stockton, and West Riverside Elementary.

“Fishwier is really an amazing school,” Fishwier fifth grader Robyn Jarrell said. “It’s a really good art magnet – it has drama, it has chorus, it has dance, it has arts and craft, and I learned so much.”

The Duval County School Board had an outside consultant create a proposal to redraw school boundaries and consolidate lower enrolled schools. But some parents want the plan revised saying other factors should be taken into consideration.

“School grades, ratings, the community, the environment walkability,” Stockton Elementary parent Talley Roberts said.

“I want to keep the community schools in the neighborhood so people can walk their children to school and walk their bikes to school,” Stockton Elementary grandparent Susan Armstrong said. “And not cross highways where it’s dangerous.”

The district says this is all the result of the 2019 Master Facility Plan facing a billion-dollar funding gap due to the growth in charter schools and private school voucher choice programs.

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Students say they like smaller classrooms.

“I think it would be like very big and overwhelming because there is a lot that goes into teaching because there is a lot that goes into teaching,” Stockton 5th grader Maya Rappoporot said.

Wednesday, the Duval County School Board agreed to a $320,000 contract for the new superintendent, Dr. Christopher Bernier. But some parents say they are worried about whether he can take on this challenge.

“We don’t really have anything to judge him on yet because he isn’t yet doing the work, but once he starts doing the work, I feel like it will be such a heavy lift,” Roberts said.

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Dr. Bernier tells Action News Jax School he is ready to take on the challenge.

“Challenges are why school boards and superintendents exist,” Dr. Bernier said. “This, tonight is all about community engagement. And I’m really proud of the board and the community for turning out to tell the stories of their schools.”

Again, the board wants to remind community members that this is a draft proposal. After these meetings, the consultant will create a revised plan based on the community’s recommendation. Then, the school board will vote on a new plan.

The next community meeting is set for Monday at Atlantic Coast High School

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