Monday, December 14

Every Duval County Middle School Parent--Read This

Duval County Schools

I wrote an article about searching for a high school if you live in Jacksonville, but I realize now that my article might give some parents a false sense of security because your otherwise good student might not qualify for some of the Duval programs. Your own school and Duval Schools might claim it's all your fault. While that's partially true, I'm here to help you avoid a potentially huge mistake that needs to be addressed early in middle school. And it's especially important for those of you with kids in private or charter schools.

If your child is proficient or advanced on standardized tests and gets good grades, you would expect that the child could get into an advanced high school program. We're not talking Stanton here, just the AP Capstone, IB, AICE, or Early College programs offered at more than a dozen local high schools. In fact, you're not really going to want your private-school-educated child to be tossed into the general high school population. Trust me. 

So let's say your kid has a 4 or 5 score in reading, along with a 3 or 4 in math (3 is proficient for grade level). As and Bs all thorough middle school. Taking all the recommended classes. While that might sound pretty good, if one of those recommended classes was not Algebra, then you cannot apply to one of Duval's advanced programs. This will not only send your child into the general population, but it will also limit your school choices to your local attendance area, unless you can squeeze in with the choice program. Wait, what? Pre-algebra isn't good enough to get into an early college program? Apparently, students at Duval County Public Schools (not exactly known for stellar performance) are taking Algebra and often Geometry in middle school. No word on whether they truly understand the math, but they are taking the classes if they are on the advanced track. Unfortunately, your child, who might be outperforming DCPS students in reading or even math on those SAT or MAP or state tests, will not be able to enroll in some of the only programs keeping parents from moving to St. Johns County. 

Not getting into these programs is kind of a big deal. You can get into the school of your choice, be legitimately prepared for college, get free college credits, and even have a more streamlined track to get Florida's Bright Futures Scholarship. Unless you are certain your kid has no interest in college or he/she consistently scores below average on standardized tests, you are limiting your options by not taking one class in middle school, but it may not be your fault.

If your school is like the one my kids attended, there might be a test to assess math skills as middle school begins, with the advanced students being on track for algebra while the rest topping out in pre-algebra. I am not sure if any of the private schools push geometry at all. My understanding is that those students in the lower track are not retested or otherwise encouraged to move up. That's fine if all those students in the lower track don't eventually want to gain admission to an advanced high school program and the parents are aware of the deficiency. If you're bothering to read this article, you're not that parent.

I want this to be very clear: I don't agree with students needing algebra in order to be in an advanced program like AP or IB, or even early college. In fact, I've met several students who were part of Sandalwood's early college and who didn't exactly seem like college material, and I bet most of them (like most humanities majors I knew) never took anything beyond Math for Everyday Life in college, which is kind of pre-algebra for social work majors. I was even told that my daughter will feel behind because she won't have taken geometry in middle school as she enters an AICE Program. Why? Are they taking calculus, trigonometry, and, what linear algebra and functional analysis? College prep websites suggest pre-calculus is probably as far as most STEM students need to go, so I don't understand the push to start high school with Algebra 2. Fewer than 20% of college graduates in America get STEM degrees, which (to me) means an exclusive math requirement is discriminatory against the vast majority of future college students in Duval.

But Duval isn't going to change for you, the parents who have sent their children to other schools and taken away from Duval enrollment numbers. Sure, you could move to St. Johns like many parents of decent local students, but is that really the best solution? You move and Duval loses potentially some of its best high school students, just because the private schools aren't on the same page in one single requirement. 

An apparent workaround is for kids to get themselves enrolled in Algebra on FLVS by the time they sign up for the advanced program. But that means that a student who has not been deemed advanced in math all through middle school suddenly needs to be able to handle it without a teacher present to help out. My daughter's friend, who also wants to join the AICE program, is in this predicament. She is a good student who has all As and Bs on her report card, along with a score of a 4 in reading. Another friend has a score of a 5 in reading. Both of these kids will have to try to navigate Algebra 1 on their own or else give up and attend local private or charter schools. Another boy who wants to enroll in AICE and is in the advanced math class, only has a 3 in reading, but he's a shoe-in for the writing-intensive, college-bound program. 

The main lesson here is that middle school parents need to know what their children will need to get into the vast landscape of local high schools and the programs offered. My kids' middle school should have let all the students in "regular" math know that the class disqualifies them for AICE, AP, IB, and Early College programs in Duval. It might not be a big deal if your kids are at Episcopal or Providence and you plan on paying for the education at the high schools of the same name, but if you want to get the most out of a Duval public high school, then you need to know about all the available programs and how to get in them. 

Many parents have reached out for my help, especially when it comes to signing a student up for Duval Schools for the first time. Or coming back to Duval for high school after a student account goes dormant. I wanted to reiterate how stupid the Duval online system is (not you). 

Duval's website, and I cannot stress this enough, is TERRIBLE! It's a labyrinth of broken links and useless information, unless you end up on the current "Easy Steps" web page and are able to avoid all of the other poorly-conceived pages still live on the website. Some of those other pages eventually lead to the right place, but even the easy steps page is stupid because it uses a button at the bottom of the page that belongs in step 1. 

Here's a brief synopsis of how it all works as of 2020: 
Use the page above to create a student account. 
Then create a parent account in Focus. 
Then link the parent to student account by logging into Sharepoint (even though the login page looks EXACTLY like the Focus login page).
Then wait for someone to approve your link
Then apply for schools. Open enrollment is easy. Magnet and special programs are harder, and you'll get a phone call saying it's your fault if you use a jpg of report cards or test scores rather than a pdf, even if you can see the jpg just fine in your browser. 

The alternative that most parents I know (who sat on hold hours and hours) is to go to Duval Schools (either on Prudential or the tech office) and have someone help you in person, but it is a good idea to have the student and parent accounts created as much as possible before you get someone else involved. I am very, very, very good with technology and websites, and this was almost as bad as trying to file for unemployment in Florida. Painful and sad. 

Also, don't wait until mid January to complete all this. I was done with creating the accounts in November, and we were signed up for school at the beginning of December. My application was in early enough for a reviewer to tell me she couldn't "read" the jpg files (meaning she couldn't "open" them), which gave me a chance to convert the jpg to pdf (online tool) and still have time to spare. 


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