More than 130,000 Duval students head back to public school Monday.


Most will face changes from newly-enacted education laws or new innovations in schools. Dozens also will walk into brand new charter and private school buildings.

At the district’s 162 schools, interim Superintendent Patricia Willis has named several dozen new principals and assistant principals mostly to accommodate resignations and promotions.

The district turns its attention from the old 36 “transformation” schools in the Raines, Ribault and Andrew Jackson high school neighborhoods to 15 “turnaround” schools throughout the district that have a few years — as little as one or two years — to achieve a C or better, or face closure or takeover by a school manager.

Duval also is expanding career and technology courses, adding entrepreneurship at three high schools, biomedical at Ed White High, gaming at two middle schools and animation at Douglas Anderson and LaVilla arts-themed schools, said Laureen Ricks, district spokeswoman.

Florida’s newest, broad-ranging education law eliminated the mandate that middle-school students take career planning courses.

Beyond studies, Duval is extending its free breakfasts to every student in all schools and broadening its free lunch offerings to 117 schools, Ricks said. The district, which began offering salads at schools last year, has a goal this year of serving 2 million salads.

On the technology front, the district is piloting laptop lockers at two middle schools, Fletcher Middle and the Young Men and Young Women’s Leadership Academies at Butler Middle. Each student will have a laptop they’re expected to place in lockers that charge the laptops overnight.

“It also cultivates a sense of personal investment and accountability for the students, as they will be responsible for keeping track of their laptop and returning it to the locker at the end of the day,” Ricks said.

Thanks to other changes in state education law, daily recess will become a required part of the elementary school day.

Duval, like many districts, had left it up to principals and teachers to ensure students got free time, but that wasn’t enough for many parents, who successfully lobbied state legislators to make daily, unstructured play the law for public elementary schools.

New state law requires an average 20 minutes of free activity a day for district schools, but not charter schools.

Legislators also claimed to have heeded parents’ requests to reduce testing by eliminating the end-of-course exam for algebra 2. About half the test takers in the past two years failed it and some educators questioned its validity. The test results influenced 30 percent of students’ math grades, bringing down GPAs.

Another testing complaint led the state to slow its switch to computer testing. For many districts, the online Florida Standards Assessments caused logistical and technical backlogs, with many schools stretching testing over several weeks to get in enough computer time for all students to complete the tests.

The new law will allow for paper and pencil testing.

The law also pushes back the testing to April 1 so teachers and students have more time to prepare. Before, Florida’s testing season began in late February.

Expect more challenges and discussion about books, textbooks and educational materials thanks to the new state law.

Florida law already gave parents the right to inspect and complain about the books in use at schools, but the new law opens that up to any resident and requires districts to hire “hearing officers” to handle such complaints, although school boards retain the final right to pick books and materials. Some religious and conservative groups have sought to inject creationism and climate change skepticism into public education.

Florida also will require new college students to pass “civic literacy” classes or tests to prove they know the American democratic principles, the U.S. Constitution and other “founding documents.”

Religion also may become more visible in public schools because the new law states students can express religious views in classwork, clothing and jewelry at school and can pray during free time. These rights already were guaranteed under existing federal and state laws, but proponents said school administrators feared religious expression on campuses would look like they were endorsing a religion.

Beyond Duval’s district schools, there are new campuses and programs opening in the county.

In Jacksonville, Seaside Community Charter in Atlantic Beach is gaining a second location in Mandarin. One-hundred-fifty parents and students cut the ribbon Thursday on Jacksonville’s second Waldorf-inspired charter school.

Waldorf schools emphasize the arts, hands-on work and movement. The school day may include woodworking, knitting and sewing for ways to apply math, lessons at the beach or gardening for science instruction and surfing is part of physical education.

While the Jacksonville schools comply with state standards, they add Spanish, Chinese and American Sign languages, and they rely less on computers than most schools.

“They’re teaching kids to be creative and use their imagination, so as they get older the academics just happen,” said Kevin Stone, whose son is entering second grade at the new school.

Other new charter schools opening this week are BridgePrep Academy at 6400 Atlantic Boulevard, which includes Spanish language and culture and technology, and Duval Charter School at Coastal, at 13000 Beach Boulevard, another of several Jacksonville schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

Among Catholic schools, Guardian Catholic combines St. Pius and Holy Rosary into one new school, which gains its first gymnasium, a “learning commons” including library books and computers, an early learning center for children ages 3 and older, an athletic field and two playgrounds. The school’s heritage wall keeps the history of the two old schools alive.

It’s not a new school, but Christ the King recently became the first Catholic school in Florida to be “STREAM-certified” by the Florida Catholic Council. STREAM stands for science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics.

For instance, kindergartners planted a nectar garden for bees and butterflies, the fourth-graders’ project is solar panels, the sixth grade is collecting data for the St. Johns Riverkeeper at Strawberry Creek and seventh-graders are growing vegetables and canning their own sauce.

Denise Smith Amos: (904) 359-4083