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Members of The Jacksonville Bar Association toured The Leadership Schools at Eugene J. Butler.
Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 1, 201412:00 PM EST

Bar Bulletin: Eye-opening visit to the Leadership Schools at Eugene J. Butler

by: Troy Smith

Our city cannot live up to its potential unless all children in Duval County are well prepared to become the citizens and workforce of the future.

With that fact foremost in their minds, leaders in the legal community are coming together with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund to advance the cause of better public schools for all students.

A Lumina Foundation report shows that by 2025, 60 percent of jobs in Florida will require some post-secondary training. Even today, the unemployment rate for adults with a bachelor’s degree is around 5 percent, but three times as high for high school dropouts.

The truth is, our public school system is on the upswing. The current graduation rate of 72.1 percent is up from 53.5 percent in 2008. But what would happen to Northeast Florida if 90 percent of students graduated from high school?

Based on research from the Alliance for Excellent Education, you could expect:

•?A $74 million increase in home sales.

•?A $40 million annual increase in combined earnings.

•?$32 million more in annual spending.

•?A $51 million increase in gross regional product.

•?And many more economic and social benefits.

Getting there will take strong leadership and alignment of efforts both inside the school district and among all sectors in the community.

That’s why in November, U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis, a member of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund board of directors, led more than a dozen leaders of Bar associations throughout the area on a tour of The Leadership Schools at Eugene J. Butler.

The tour sparked a discussion of how the legal community can take a stronger role in systemic improvement of our public school system.

The group joined some 60 other citizens and community leaders to view firsthand the incredible transformation that has taken place at Butler, which has been restructured into two schools under one roof — The Young Men’s Leadership Academy and The Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

Following the tour, the group met with Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti to learn more about the vast improvements being made at Butler, as well as the 36 schools that are the focus of a major new investment through the Quality Education for All Fund.

The fund is an initiative of The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida aiming to invest $50 million in private funds into the improvement of Duval County Public Schools.

It specifically focuses on recruiting, supporting and retaining high-quality teachers and leaders, with most of the funds directed to Ribault, Raines and Jackson high schools and their elementary and middle feeder schools. You can learn more about the Quality Education for All Fund at

The group ended the visit with a discussion of key insights from the day and how to best engage Bar association members throughout the area in the effort to support and improve public education.

The attendees were uniformly impressed with the school’s culture change, noting the school’s focus on discipline, accountability and leadership.

“Everything I heard about DCPS was negative,” one attendee wrote. “It is of course hearsay! Seeing Butler and the Leadership Academies was just wonderful!”

“This tour and visit made me very excited about the future of education in Duval,” another attendee said.

“This event was just the first step in involving a greater number of members of the legal community in learning more about the public education transformation underway, in helping to improve public perception about our education system and in advocating for high-quality public schools for all children in our city,” said Judge Davis.

The Bar leaders who attended hope to involve more attorneys and legal professionals by bringing them on additional tours of public schools, briefing them on key issues in public education and offering opportunities for the legal community to be a strong voice for education.

If you have not visited the newly reorganized Leadership Schools at Eugene J. Butler, I highly encourage you to do so.

To attend an upcoming tour, get information or be involved in the movement, please contact Jacksonville Public Education Fund Executive Vice President Pam Paul at (904) 356-7861 or [email protected].

For more information on public education, to research data and trends about local schools, see upcoming events or sign up for updates, visit

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