Manatee school improvement plan hinges on 10,000 students, assistant superintendent says

chawes@bradenton.comMarch 20, 2012 

MANATEE -- Bolstering Manatee County to be among the state's top 25 school districts will mean getting at least 10,000 students to improve their academic performance, enroll in advanced courses, or succeed in a job.

That's among the statistics shared with the Manatee School Board Monday by Bob Gagnon, a former high school principal who became an assistant superintendent of curriculum in January.

Gagnon also told the school board, during a workshop focused entirely on improving Manatee County's ranking of 47th out of 67 Florida school districts, that acknowledging district-level failings was the first step in improving the performance of students.

And he emphasized that Manatee County's challenge is amplified by the fact that Florida has just increased its education standards to make it one of the top 10 most rigorous states in the country.

"Florida is trying to pack 10 years of educational reform into three years," Gagnon said, referring to the state's three-year heightening of minimum standards required of students.

More rigorous scoring of school performance and of FCAT testing will mean that Manatee County will likely see only 10 "A" schools next year rather than the 22 it boasted of this year, Gagnon said. Likewise, its list of 19 "B" schools will likely decrease to 10. The new, tougher standards take into account not only FCAT scoring, but the number of students enrolling in advanced placement programs like dual enrollment or the International Baccalaureate program, or excelling in vocational programs.

"This isn't just us," Gagnon told the board. "This is statewide. This is happening everywhere."

Gagnon's plan for bolstering student performance is based in district officials having a better understanding of what individual schools need and responding more efficiently, he said.

"Schools need to be able to come and talk to us," he said, adding that "we have not done a good job of disseminating information right to the people we need to."

The other key component of his plan is to boil the state's complex accountability system down to goals on which teachers, principals and administrators can focus, he said. For example, improving Manatee's score enough to advance from a "B" district to an "A" district will mean that every teacher who works with students taking the FCAT will need to ensure that at least one student improves his or her performance while also ensuring all other students keep pace.

The plan drew praise from several board members. Bob Gause called the plan "a great road map" while board Chair Harry Kinnan said he's excited to see its progress.

Julie Aranibar questioned the research on which Gagnon's plan was based; Gagnon said he had personally visited 12 of the district's 56 schools so far. Aranibar also asked if Gagnon was interested in the feedback school board members receive about teachers' frustrations.

"If they're going to board members, we're not going to move very fast very far," Gagnon said. "They need to bring it to the people that supervise them ... In an organization this size, it has to follow the chain."

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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