In 2008, the murder rate in Jacksonville, Florida was climbing up the chart without ceasing. Outrage built while emotional capacity was exhausted as the city mourned the death of children killed by stray bullets penetrating their houses while they lay on the floor and prayed for deliverance. Finally, city leaders, pastors, residents in crime-torn neighborhoods, people from all parts of the county came together and said, “Enough.”
A large task force was formed to study the problem from all angles and propose solutions. The task force divided into subcommittees to work on different issues: the criminal justice system, community programs, schools and suspension, early education, jobs and economic opportunities, I don’t remember them all but the point is that the task force looked at all contributing causes to consider solutions for the city.
Many programs were considered, recommended, adopted, and funded. They may not seem directly related to the problem of murder, such as centers where suspended students could report during the day to keep them out of trouble, centers with counselors and social workers to help the students work on why they misbehaved at school, or funding for after-school programs such as Team-Up for youth who would otherwise be left loose on the streets with no supervision, but overall, the Journey worked. The murder rate declined.
Now our schools are in crisis. Students are bringing loaded weapons onto campus. Discipline is out of control. Teachers are cussed, threatened with physical violence, bossed around, and ignored. Parents are frustrated and lashing out at school-based personnel before pulling their children for alternatives: charters, private school vouchers, home schooling, whatever they can think of, and who can blame them? They are trying to do what is best for their kids.
The Journey offers a way that Duval County Public Schools can pull the city together to consider the problem of school discipline and solutions that will address the systemic problems that are destroying the schools.
Systemic problems need a systemic approach. DCPS needs to stop the spin and admit the full scope of the problems. We need a new Journey. We need pastors, leaders of community institutions, city leaders, parents, residents of crime-torn neighborhoods, students because oh, yes, they really are involved and know what to do to bring them hope and a future, we need teachers and clerical personnel and security guards and custodians, we need representatives from all places and categories to come together in a task force, study the school system, and propose solutions that change the system that is producing the threats.
How about it, Jacksonville? Do you want a new Journey to work on the problems in our schools? It’s put up or shut up time. How about it, Wayne Weaver? Gary Chartrand? Trey Czar? Are you willing to fund an effort to make our schools safe? You pony up the bucks for many other initiatives. Are you willing to stand up for our students? Our children?
We can wait no longer or we will cease to be the Bold New City of the South.