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Half of Manatee schools score an ‘A’

MANATEE — More than half of Manatee County district schools received an A grade Thursday from the state based upon student performance and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

According to data released by the Florida Department of Education, 28 of the 55 schools assessed received an A, including Samoset Elementary, a Title I school. Samoset jumped up to an A this year after posting a C in 2007-08. Ratings show Tara Elementary also made that same grade leap.

Of the rest: 14 received a B; 11 received a C; and two received a D. Not receiving a letter grade: three alternative schools ranked as “passing.”

The 51 percent figure is an increase over 2008 results, when 47 percent of Manatee District schools, including charter schools, received an A.

One public high school — Lakewood Ranch — received an “A” while Braden River and Manatee high schools slipped from an “A” to a “B.” Southeast High School improved its mark from a “D” to a “C.”

Two schools, Bayshore and Palmetto, again received a “D.”

As a whole, the Manatee district this year received a B, the same grade it has received each year since 2003-04.

No school in Manatee County received an F.

School Board Member Barbara Harvey congratulated Samoset and Tara elementaries for their dramatic improvement.

Her response when told no school received an F: “Praise God.”

In total, 11 district schools raised their grades this year and the total number of A schools in Manatee County rose from 25 in 2008 to 28 in 2009.

Overall, 42 of 55 district schools — 76 percent — earned an A or B this year, up from 66 percent last year, said Michael Barber, a district spokesman.

Bradenton Charter School Principal Richard Donnelly said he was ecstatic his school improved from a C to a B.

Samoset and Tara school officials complimented their students and staffers and chalked their grade jumps up to remediation sessions held before, during and after school.

“We’re very tickled,” said Samoset Elementary School Principal Scott Boyes. “It’s the dedication and the hard work of the teachers and all the staff.“

Tara Elementary School Principal Linda Fouse said the school focused more on writing this year.

“And the students worked really hard and our kids just knew they needed to concentrate and did their best,” she said.

In the past few years, Southeast High has struggled with declining student enrollment and a diverse and low-income student population. The schools FCAT grades slid from a C to a D in 2008.

But those grades reversed this year.

Southeast Principal Mike Horne could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, Superintendant Tim McGonegal announced he did not plan to renew Horne’s contract for the next school year. Then in late April, McGonegal reinstated Horne’s job after he said he was informed by teachers “what a good job he’s doing as an instructional leader.”

Buffalo Creek Middle School and Palmetto High principals were let go in April because McGonegal said they weren’t meeting expectations.

Results show Buffalo Creek jumped up to a B this year after posting a C in 2008. Palmetto’s grade has remained a stagnant D since 2005. From 1999-2004 it had been a C.

Assistant principals at those schools could not be reached for comment. Neither could Bayshore High Principal David Underhill, who was out of town.

Adequate Yearly Progress results under the federal No Child Left Behind Act were also released Thursday. Manatee schools to make AYP include Braden River Elementary, Stewart Elementary, Willis Elementary and Imagine North Charter School, said Barber.

In all, Florida schools experienced their most successful year to date, according to Florida Department of Education. Driven by a significant increase in the number of A grades, more than three quarters of all public schools are considered to be high performing — receiving either an A or B.

Statewide, the 2009 results show the number of schools earning an F grade decreased to the lowest point in three years.