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We Can’t Do It Alone: A Conversation with Duval County School Board Chair Darryl Willie

Throughout his personal and professional life, Duval County School Board Chair Darryl Willie has developed a keen eye for what works and what doesn’t work in a classroom. His tireless efforts in his current role are defined by his belief in the profound impact of collaboration, mentorship, and community.

His formative years as a military kid shaped this belief in equal proportion to his time as an educator. His unique experiences growing up in diverse cultures from Georgia to Germany laid a foundational belief in the transformative power of educational partnership.

A Diverse Background Paving the Way

When reflecting on his upbringing, Willie said, “I got to see the world and see how things worked in different communities.” Exposure to diverse educational approaches has provided unique perspectives he has drawn on throughout his career.

Darryl Willie did not always plan on being an educator, but his commitment to making a difference when he graduated college led him to Teach for America. This program provided pivotal experiences that opened his eyes to the disparities in access and quality of education in the Mississippi Delta and solidified his resolve to work in the educational field.

The Value of Community and Mentorship

Well before he became The Honorable Darryl Willie, School Board Chair, he was a young teacher just trying to find his way. He quickly realized the importance of relying on the wisdom and support of others.

Ms. Ward, his colleague across the hall, was particularly influential. “Even when I didn’t have real questions, I would just go sit in her presence,” he recounted. “I learned very early on that it takes a community, even though you’re one teacher in a classroom, it takes a full community to make sure your students are succeeding.”

Celebrating Student Potential in Duval County

Darryl Willie recognizes that the brilliance and potential within Duval County Public Schools are palpable. He passionately speaks about the “brilliance that abounds.”

“I see it every day when I step into classrooms or just walk down the hallway and hear conversations,” he says.

This point is driven home by a story he tells about a student who wanted to start a leadership program at their school.

“The student just articulated…why it’s necessary, why she wanted to leave a legacy at her school, (and) why she thought the sophomores and freshmen at the school would benefit from it,” He recalled. “We have to take a step back to listen to what our students and these young people are saying because there’s so much brilliance inside their minds.”

City Year: A Catalyst for Positive Change

Darryl Willie is a staunch advocate for City Year. He praises the organization for its crucial role in enhancing the educational journey for students across Duval County and recognizes City Year as a critical piece of the puzzle.

“Every single principal… speaks so well and raves about City Year,”  he noted, highlighting the widespread acknowledgment of the positive impact and success of our involvement within the schools. He recognizes the partnership as one that exemplifies the broader philosophy of collaboration and community support being essential to educational success.

Looking Ahead with a Community-Focused Vision

As Darryl looks to the future, he emphasizes the continued need for personal interaction and mentorship in an age dominated by technology. Organizations like City Year play a vital role in this landscape. We provide the relational support and academic assistance that students need.

“We’re losing sight of that a bit,” he cautioned, stressing the importance of nurturing relationships to support students’ personal and academic growth.

With City Year Student Success Coaches in Duval County public schools, we are committed to ensuring that personal interaction and leadership remain at the forefront of students’ educational experiences.

Through experiences and leadership, Darryl Willie’s story champions the idea that education is a collaborative journey enriched by mentorship, community engagement, and the acknowledgment of the brilliance within every student. His narrative is an inspiring call to action for educators, volunteers, and community members alike to come together to support our youth, building a stronger, more connected educational environment in Duval County and beyond.

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