The Jacksonville NAACP education committee last week asked school district leaders to look into why the number of black students attending Stanton College Preparatory School has declined in recent years.

 

According to the district’s profile data, Stanton had 363 black students, or 23 percent, enrolled in the 1,600-student, A- rated school in 2012. Now, the enrollment includes 271 black students, or 16 percent of the student body.

Black enrollment declines have been steady over the past six years, though this year’s numbers are better than last year’s.

“I was dean of students when Stanton opened and I know how it progressed downward for black students and I don’t like it,” said Elnora Atkins, the NAACP’s education chairwoman and a former Duval administrator. “I want to know how many are leaving and why. They’re not being pushed out, I hope.”

Few district magnet schools have seen such declines. Most high-demand, academically oriented magnet schools and programs sustained or grew their African-American population.

Paxon School for Advanced Studies, for instance, is 44 percent black; Darnell-Cookman is 47 percent black, and Kirby-Smith Middle is at 62 percent black.

In the entire district, black students make up 44 percent of the student population.

Currently, parents and students are listing their top choices for schools for next year. A computerized random lottery, with a system of priorities, will decide if students get into their chosen schools.

Stanton is Duval’s highest-ranked public high school. It is a magnet school, drawing students from around the county, and usually has a waiting list after the lottery.

But in recent years, it has had more competition for enrollment. The district has grown a number of academic acceleration programs in most of its high schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Choice Sharwanda Peek told the NAACP committee there are likely a variety of reasons for the decline in black enrollment at Stanton. She said she is still gathering data and will be discussing with Stanton leadership how the school communicates with students and parents.

“We have to possibly consider the school’s recruitment efforts,” she said. “I can’t say why parents or children are making certain choices, but I want to be sure we have the proper data set so we can talk about what the numbers are saying.”

Peek said she also would like her staff to attend school tours and school recruitment meetings to hear first-hand what is being said about Stanton. “Principals can be cheerleaders for their favorite schools,” she said. “We know that.”

Members of the NAACP education committee, which is largely made up of retired Duval school administrators and community members, have asked the district for data on enrollment, applications, lottery placements and graduation rates for Stanton.

Stanton is a racially diverse school in the most general sense: 44 percent of its students are white, 29 percent Asian, 8 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent multiracial, its website states.

But Duval’s magnets have a clear “racial balance” mission that specifically sets a goal for black students to make up 20 percent or more of the population and non-blacks to make up 45 percent or more. The racial balance targets are part of the district’s history of trying to integrate schools.

There are thousands of African-American students who today qualify to get into Stanton but don’t choose to enroll, Peek said.

The minimum requirement for an incoming freshman is to have completed algebra 1 and passed the state’s end-of-course exam while in eighth grade.

Peek said that in the 2014-15 school year, 4,392 African-American students met that standard. Of them, 175 went to Paxon School for Advanced Studies, Peek said, 126 went to Lee High School, 90 went to Darnell-Cookman Middle High, and 72 went to Stanton, Peek said while others spread out to other high schools.

Some NAACP committee members said Stanton does not recruit at many majority black middle schools, focusing instead on certain “feeder” schools with accelerated or gifted programs. For years, most of those schools were not located in predominantly black neighborhoods.

“When I look at schools such as Highlands, Ribault Middle, Gilbert, there’s not an effort to recruit students to Stanton,” said Hank Rogers, an education advocate. “You don’t find [Stanton] coming up in those schools. I would hope that in the future all the schools are looked at, not just certain schools.”

In recent years, Duval has created more gifted and talented programs in the city, including converting R.L. Brown and R.V. Daniels in black neighborhoods into gifted and talented elementary magnets. Eventually those schools will lead to more students from those communities attending Stanton, said board member Rebecca Couch.

Like Couch, other School Board members said they need more information before reaching conclusions about Stanton’s black enrollment.

“There are a number of factors that contribute to the demographics of our schools from year to year,” said board chairwoman Paula Wright.

“For example, we are currently in the window for selecting a school choice option. As a district, we have increased the number of Choice programs offered for high school students, as well the number of accelerated options throughout the district. In addition to expanding the number of IB programs in the district, we have consistently increased the number of advanced placement scholars, dual enrollment, AICE, and Early College programs, offering an accelerated option at all of our high schools.”

Board member Scott Shine suggested that demographic shifts in city population could play a role. “Are more of these students relocating to other [school] feeder patterns,” he asked. “You have to look at the statistics to understand changes in enrollment. One obvious issue: Enrollment in all the urban core feeder patterns has fallen over the past decades.”

Before Stanton became a nationally ranked magnet school, it had been a high school for black students, located in a predominantly black neighborhood. When Stanton was converted into the district’s first magnet high school in 1981 it became a model for how to integrate schools without forced busing.

Over the decades, Stanton sometimes failed to meet racial balance goals. In recent years, enrollment among other ethnic or racial groups grew at Stanton while African-American enrollment fell.

For instance, Stanton went from 29 percent black in 1999, when the district was released from the court order, to a high of 32 percent black in 2010. But it fell to 15 percent in 2016.

The school’s reputation for rigorous academics is likely a reason, said Timothy Sloan, an eighth-grade parent who said he has spoken with other black parents who aren’t sending children to Stanton.

“The perception is that you won’t have a life as a student at Stanton,” he said.

Meanwhile other schools, such as Wolfson High and Sandalwood, have been actively recruiting his daughter, who attends Julia Landon Middle.

Ayesha Hill, a parent of an Oceanway Middle School student and another at First Coast High, said only Wolfson and Peterson Academies courted her children.

“However schools like Stanton, I don’t believe there was ever any buzz about those schools, so students didn’t know they were options,” Hill said.

Denise Smith Amos: 904-359-4083