Throughout his 40-year career in education, Dane Gilbert has worked with countless at-risk students, helping them to stay on track for graduation and future success. After serving as principal of Fletcher and Terry Parker high schools, he is now director of the case management division for Communities In Schools, which places site coordinators in schools to work directly with students.
What originally brought you to the First Coast?
I came from New Jersey to Jacksonville in 1973 to attend Jacksonville University. Following graduation in 1976, I remained in the area and was hired by the Duval County Public Schools as a physical education teacher at a local elementary school. In my second year, I was transferred to Finegan Elementary School in Mayport. There, I taught with Joe Reynolds and started to coach at Fletcher High School in the afternoons. My wife and I moved to the Beaches in 1980 and have lived there since, raising three children in our wonderful community and schools.
How did you become interested in education?
I had summer jobs working with kids in recreation programs and really enjoyed that. My first teaching job was at Normandy Elementary, and the principal, Nancy Dorian, encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in education leadership. I finished that at UNF in 1980. Most of my 36 years with DCPS was spent at the Beaches or Arlington area schools. I was fortunate enough to be at Fletcher High School in a variety of roles – soccer coach, dean of boys and finally as principal (2006-2012) to finish my DCPS career in my “dream job.” Prior to that assignment, I was also principal at Woodland Acres Elementary, Fort Caroline Middle and Terry Parker High School.
How did you become involved with Communities In Schools?
Upon my retirement from the Duval County Public Schools, I wanted to continue to work with students in some capacity and focused on employment with nonprofits. I applied for a posted position with Communities In Schools of Jacksonville and served as the site coordinator at Terry Parker High School, where the principal was a former student of mine. A couple of years later, I moved to my present position as director of case management. I was familiar with Communities In Schools from my experience with DCPS and always admired the wonderful, important work they’ve done for 27 years in Jacksonville.
What are your duties and responsibilities as director of CIS’s case management division?
I manage about 34 site coordinators in three different programs: Student Enrichment Program, Achievers For Life and Bridge To Success. All of our site coordinators are embedded in their schools full time. I also work with our funders to ensure that the contract deliverables are being met. Our funders include the Duval County Public Schools, United Way, The Jim Moran Foundation and the DuBow Family Foundation. My experience with the school system is a benefit in this role.
What are some of the ways CIS works with at-risk youth to keep them on track to graduation?
Our site coordinators are sort of a blend of a counselor and social worker. They work individually and in small groups with their caseload of students and also assist with their families. They advocate for the students with the teachers and connect them with wraparound services provided by CIS or other partner agencies. We also provide our students and families with clothing, food and other needs. All of the efforts of the site coordinators are aimed at removing barriers that could impede the students’ success at school and beyond graduation.
What is the most challenging part of or your role as case management director? The most rewarding?
The greatest challenge is keeping students focused and positive despite some traumatic events and daily living conditions that impact them educationally and emotionally. The spike in youth-related violence has a direct impact on the communities where our students and families live. The most rewarding part of my role is the opportunity to build trusting relationships with our students and observe the many success stories and truly life-changing moments for those students. Many of our students move on to college upon high school graduation, and the majority of those are first-generation college students.
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I still attend a lot of Fletcher athletic events as I have a son who is basketball coach, and I faithfully attend every Jags home game. I am blessed, too, that all of my adult children and grandchild are Beaches residents, and I’m extremely proud that they have all followed me and my wife into the education field. Other than family time, beach time is always enjoyed!