Duval County School Board mulls post-Nikolai Vitti era


Before Wednesday’s meeting of the Duval County School Board, Chair Paula Wright cautioned that “no news” would come out of the conclave.

However, with the real possibility that Superintendent Nikolai Vitti may leave Jacksonville for Detroit, a city “in his DNA,” the board needed to have a sunshine discussion to discuss next steps.

Notable: Vitti was absent, “on leave” as Wright said.

Wright said that the meeting was called to discuss changes “if needed,” because “the power is in us” to make changes.

“We have to make sure we don’t get sidetracked by things that are written,” Wright said. “We’re going to move forward if needed.”

Wright noted that Detroit decides on Vitti by April 5.

Wright then turned her attention to a Florida Times-Union article that outlined the purpose of the meeting.

“This is not what Paula Wright said … I have said ‘if needed’ … everything is contingent upon if Dr. Vitti [moves on to] Detroit,” Wright said.

“If needed” became a call and response theme in Wright’s opening remarks.

“There’s no hidden agenda,” Wright said, noting the meeting is to discuss a schedule if Vitti actually moves on.

“It could get a little hectic if Dr. Vitti’s leaving … it’s about a process that we must endure  … our strength is going to be in our unity as one,” Wright said.

Scott Shine, a Vitti ally, said that there is a “strong leadership team” in place that can handle things in the interim.

Shine also suggested that Vitti is the strongest of the three Detroit candidates.

“I don’t think it’s surprising that he’ll get an offer,” Shine speculated.

Cheryl Grimes, another Vitti ally, was “bothered by the fact Vitti wasn’t invited to this meeting.”

Wright, who set up the invite, said that she thought he would be interviewing in Detroit this week.

“He is on leave and he’s trying to achieve … possibly a different opportunity,” Wright said.

Becki Couch said that Vitti was “with his family,” perhaps on “vacation.”

Board members expressed excitement for Vitti, who if he departed, would close a chapter in which he was embraced by the local business community and power structure throughout his tenure — even at times when the board wavered in support.

Ashley Smith-Juarez, the chair when Vitti’s job security was in question last year, phoned in to echo the board consensus of mandatory unity.

“We’ll continue to focus on student achievement,” Smith-Juarez noted.

“We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves,” Shine said. “We need to be patient and analytical.”

Grimes wanted to offer “accolades” for Vitti, if he departed; Wright said that she wasn’t sure by what Grimes meant by that.

The next board meeting on this subject will be predicated on Detroit’s decision.


After the meeting, Chairwoman Wright was asked about Vitti’s future if Detroit passes on him.

“We haven’t even thought about anything like that,” Wright said, noting that the focus of the board is on student achievement.

“We’re just going to take one step at a time,” Wright added. “Up until this, there was no reason to think of having another superintendent.”

When asked if the board was happy with Vitti’s performance, Wright said she wouldn’t “get into performance information because in June we’re to give our formal evaluation and that’s the time to talk about that.

Vitti’s Motown motions, Wright said, would not factor into that evaluation, as his looking for another job is not part of the “metrics.”

When asked about Vitti’s contract, which runs until 2019, Wright said there’s “no need” to get into contracts right now.

Board member Shine added that “there’s not a lot of urgency right now” regarding a post-Vitti plan.

“We’ve talked a good bit about this decision, the superintendent and I,” Shine continued, “and he’s not going to make a rash decision.”

“The last time the school district looked for a superintendent,” Shine added, “it was a nine to 12 month process. We’re fortunate to have a solid leadership team in place that can continue to run the district in the direction we’ve been going.”

“I’m confident that even if we need a year,” Shine said, “we have the time to do that.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski

One comment

  • Doug All

    March 22, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    I would like to see the board start looking now , as this is the time of year superintendent candidates consider making moves, for a new candidate and have them in place. Dr. Vitti made some improvements in reading scores but it appears that he is going to leave .

    What do applicants consider aside from pay/benefits , location?

    The candidate’s perception of the governing board/school board a super will work with plays a huge part in a seasoned, highly qualified candidate accepting a job.

    I would like to see someone in place that Duval PERSUADES to come over, that has at one point been a teacher, maybe even been a school board member too, that has a solid ten year history of welding together communities within their districts while maintaining or growing graduation rates and academic growth.
    Generally this is someone that has served in a District for a period of years with satisfaction.
    There is plenty of research to show that it does not take a year to find a superintendent.
    The ethical and moral nature of effective leadership is demonstrated when leaders move beyond talking about the belief that students can learn to taking concrete action to making changes so that they do learn. It doesn’t take a year for an effective leader to come up with a plan to do so.
    A really good superintendent will want to work with a cohesive board.
    Every Duval school board member’s charge is to work behalf of their constituents.

    Perhaps , now is the time for our board to become highly qualified and highly effective in order to attract the best candidates.
    Formal professional development instruction for school board members is important.

    There are models that boards can use in hiring a candidate but first the board must be in consensus for example : Do we want a leader or an implementer? There is a big difference and might be a point where consensus must come prior to interviewing candidates.

    Just as administrators and teachers regularly receive training and education so MUST a school board in : professional development mediating conflict, cultural awareness , best practices, legal and ethical responsibilities .One doesn’t just automatically know these things. Even if some have received training in other settings, a school board is a BODY, a unit and a really good one that is cohesive , mindful and efficient is one that has received training as a whole. It is a training that needs to occur yearly and is ongoing .
    Why also is this important? The best boards will attract the best higher administrative persons to work with them , as in a superintendent.
    All of our board members also each have very specific talents, which is not being capitalized on. Professional growth and specific need training makes less meetings , less conflict and a more positive perception by it’s stakeholders.
    I invite the Times Union to take a look at excellence in school boards. We have so much raw potential in our current school board and stakeholders and a cohesive board that is received education will be conducive to leading one of the largest districts in the United States and certainly in hiring future Superintendents in the near or distant future.

    Each board member on the school board has varied concerns as they represent their varied districts (as it should be) and a charge to represent at a high standard of professionalism at all times , even in situations where contrasting and personal viewpoints are present. it isn’t an easy or well paying job. One must assume that each school board member is on that board because they wanted to be on the board to make the District Community better.
    I would like to see the board as a whole-receive professional development and best practices training so they can capitalize on their individual strengths and present as an exemplary board and model to other school boards in the nation throughout the year. These opportunities for growth will not only immediately benefit the stakeholders but will also be knowledge and skills that can be used the rest of their careers be it in education or other career areas. Not one board has ever received any training or education , aside from what the state or judicial board mandates , to date , that I am aware of. We have so much untapped potential in the knowledge base of individuals on the board with a wide spectrum of experiences.

    The money spent up front is significantly less than what is spent later in”putting out fires” time inefficiency, or public relations improvement. In fact, there is probably a grant or monies available to fund exemplary board professional development so that we have a board that is desirous to work with and the community supports most of the time.
    A school board does not become efficient, cohesive and exemplary automatically . This is learned and requires all to participate to grow.

    It is this kind of exemplary school board ( and the potential to have it is present ) that will quickly attract the highest qualified, personable, experienced leadership candidates within a few weeks , not years.

    It is the cohesiveness , a well trained and listening school board with the highest level of exhibited professionalism and mindfulness that will lead the school district and it’s employees into Jacksonville being one of the most desirable places to have a child educated in Florida .

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