Student literacy and crime are big problems in Jacksonville. The city has a plan to address both issues at the same time

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Donna Deegan made promises during her campaign to bring back a popular crime-fighting tool in Jacksonville that was dumped or changed by past administrations: The Jacksonville Journey.

It focused on community initiatives.

Part of the recommendations for the new mayor to handle public safety is to bring back the Journey with an emphasis on literacy.

Reading skills, or the lack of them, is the major concern of the public safety committee.

People on the committee said over and over that if a child can’t read by the third grade there is an increased chance that the child will eventually drop out of school and could even end up in jail.

Some Jacksonville students not knowing how to read is a problem as Duval County has some of the worst reading test scores in the state.

These are 27 elementary schools across Duval County where 75% of the 3rd graders who go there are not reading on their grade level, a statistic that is concerning for those working to fight crime in Jacksonville.

“One thing that we hear all the time is that if the young people are not reading proficiently by grade three, their chances of becoming involved in the criminal justice system, it increases that probability. So it just moves us to look at the literacy,” said Lakesha Burton, Director of Community Initiatives for the City of Jacksonville.

That is why this committee is calling to bring back the Jacksonville Journey, with a new label: The Jacksonville Journey Forward.

RELATED: DCPS wants to bring in superintendent candidates by end of year; literacy for students will be main focus this year

“So now we’re here with Mayor Deegan, who’s made it very clear that literacy is a priority and wanted to revitalize the journey,” said committee chairman W.C. Gentry. “And hopefully we will do that and now we’ll have a mayor who will stick with it, sustain it, because these changes won’t happen overnight. But they can. They can happen in three and four or five years if we stick with it.”

One of those attending Thursday’s meeting was Tyrone Merchant. He said he sees how the lack of reading skills in Jacksonville is a major problem. He is working to put together an after-school reading program called Read30.

The board is also calling for changes in ex-offenders programs, taking them out of the hands of the sheriff and creating other agencies to deal with it. It is also looking at funding for these programs, some which could come up in the budget talks later this summer.


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