At Rutledge Pearson Elementary, a Northwest Jacksonville school named for an historical civil rights leader, Tiger pride has taken a beating in recent years.

It’s a neighborhood school where unemployment is twice the city average and only a fifth of adults have high school diplomas. Homelessness, absenteeism and behavior problems are up at Rutledge while academic indicators are trending down.

The school’s grade fell from a B in 2015 to two straight D’s. Less than a quarter of its students read on grade level, about two-thirds were deficient in math, and the percent of fifth-graders passing science fell 17 percentage points last year.

So when Principal Erica Little-Bartley learned at principals’ meeting that Rutledge will get an extra $2,000 per student from the state, she jumped and shouted like a fan at a ball game.

“All I could think of was that my babies are going to be blessed,” she said Friday. “Our students are going to be in a better place with resources and funding.”

Rutledge Pearson and three other Duval County schools won a competitive Schools of Hope grant from the state. The grants, which were awarded to only 14 schools this year, are supposed to promote “whole-school transformation” by paying for innovations involving parents, community members and teachers.

Duval’s Rutledge Pearson, Hyde Park Elementary, Long Branch Elementary and Susie Tolbert Elementary schools will split a total of $2.4 million over two years, spending it on similar programs designed to forge closer ties between parents and teachers and boost student engagement.

Few schools need that extra money as much as Rutledge.

A large proportion of Rutledge’s 289 students come from homeless families, are foster children or are transient, Bartley said. About 86 percent live in poor homes earning less than half the city average.

Daily attendance has dropped over four years while suspensions rose: there were 96 out-of-school suspensions last year, compared to eight the year before.

“The students and parents/caregivers … are exhibiting an increasing level of disengagement that must be addressed for successful turnaround,” the school’s grant application states.

Rutledge gets some help. Business and nonprofit partnerships provide mentors, motivational speakers, field trips and campus beautification.

The “full service” school also provides therapy, intervention and other social services.

But “many students and families still shy away from the offered support or fail to follow up with referrals to services made on their behalf, “ the application notes.

Family mobility is a big issue, Bartley said; 30 to 50 percent of students in some classes were new to Rutledge this year. Five new students enrolled just last week.

“We welcome them and find a place in the family for them,” she said. “We do what we need to do.”

The Hope Grant will add to that. Part of it will pay for a part-time parent involvement liaison and an “early warning” coordinator who’ll work on attendance.

The liaison position had been eliminated at many Duval schools years ago because of budget cuts. But schools which still have them say they improve parent communication, volunteerism and presence at school activities, the application states.

The grant also will help pay for Parent Academy classes at the school, which will deal with everything from how to help with reading and math to how to work with teachers.

Parents will be paid $200 to attend at least 10 of the 12 academy classes and teachers who run the classes will make $26 an hour per class for a minimum of three hours. Teachers will get training training, themselves on how to develop more engaging classroom lessons.

Struggling schools often lose good teachers.

Bartley said that about half the teachers who were at Rutledge when she became its principal three years ago have gone.

Thanks to the grant, teachers at the four schools can earn recruitment and retention bonuses throughout the year. Amounts and details are being discussed, Bartley said, but the application says teachers could pocket up to $4,500 in incentives and $1,500 for supplies and class resources.

“When you’re talking about transformational change, having that consistency with staffing and the way of work (and), getting continuity is really the key,” Bartley said.

Rutledge Pearson already has added to its reading and math curricula, but Duval also is expanding an existing middle school and high school program called AVID into Rutledge and its other elementary schools.

AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It is a college readiness system that emphasizes organizational skills, writing, inquiry, collaboration, and reading.

Rutledge students will gain an AVID coordinator and its teachers will work with an AVID instructional coach.

Bartley said students will be working on new laptops at school and will gain access to real and virtual fields trips. 

Even without the new grant, Bartley said she has started to hold a series of “green parties,” where students who meet academic goals are celebrated during lunch. Students get such prizes as green snow cones or tiger paw wrist bands.

 “You would think they’d won the Grammy's or something, they’re so excited,” she said.

 The school also will link after-school fun to parent engagement, she said. Recently the school’s fall festival drew more than 100 people, who also went to parent-teacher conferences.

 “It’s about the whole child, connecting what we do at school with what they do at home,” Bartley said. “We need the parents. We can’t do our jobs without the parents.”