With recent improvements, Manatee elementary schools could avoid state-mandated takeover

Three public schools are on the upswing in Manatee County, while a fourth is likely to need help in the upcoming school year.

Blanche H. Daughtrey Elementary and G.D. Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary were at risk of losing their autonomy after earning a D grade for the last several years, placing them in the state-mandated turnaround process.

As part of the process, schools that fail to earn C or better over two years are required to close, convert to a charter school or contract with an “external operator,” and both schools chose the latter option. The change would take effect if either campus falls short of a C grade this year.

Both schools are expected to earn a C and avoid a takeover when the Florida Department of Education releases grades in the summer, according to an email from Pamela Craig, the director of school improvement in Manatee County.

Conversely, Oneco Elementary School could slip to a D grade this year. Oneco recently left the state’s turnaround process when it climbed to a C last year.

A drop in Oneco’s grade would call for an improvement plan, but the school can evade Florida’s turnaround process if it manages to avoid earning two consecutive D’s.

Meanwhile, another school is completing its first year in the turnaround process. Palm View Elementary School, in Palmetto, earned a D grade for the last two years, and another poor grade would send the school into its second year as a turnaround campus.

District officials are confident the school will improve its grade to a C this year, according to Craig’s email. She said the school is likely to improve with outside help and the use of a 17-page turnaround plan.

Manatee hired Judy Laurent to help Palm View in July, and she also worked to improve the grade at Daughtrey Elementary, a current turnaround school. She has more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal and district administrator, retiring as Manatee’s executive director of elementary education.

Her original contract expired in December, but the school board extended her agreement for an additional $50,000 in late January. Laurent is tasked with helping Daughtrey in the turnaround process and improving Oneco’s slipping grade.

She also serves as the “principal of record” for Palm View Elementary as it works to leave turnaround status. She assists Principal Kaththea Johnson in her everyday duties.

Palm View is a Title I school with nearly 380 students. About 21 percent of the students are English-language learners, while 100 percent are economically disadvantaged, including 11 students who were homeless in the previous year, according to the school’s improvement plan.

It seems Palm View is drawing from an old proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Fifteen people sit on the School Advisory Council, including parents, teachers and administrators. And community partners, many of them churches, support the school with uniforms, school supplies and volunteers.

The school holds monthly family nights, highlighting the importance of academics and heritage, according to the school’s improvement plan.

“A final component to creating positive culture and environment is by ensuring the open communication lines with our parents and families,” it states.

In its improvement plan, the school said it would “flood students with positive reinforcement,” and while strong relationships are crucial to school improvement, it can take some negotiating.

Culver’s and Little Caesars are among several local businesses to donate prizes and incentives for students.

“Students were also surveyed at the beginning of the school year to identify the incentives they were willing to work for,” the plan states. “Some included lunch with staff members and administrators, computer time, extra recess, Kona Ice, etc.”

When it comes to academics, Palm View extended its school day and utilized small-group instruction. District leaders also visit Palm View to help teachers form their lessons plans and scrutinize their students’ performance, according to the improvement plan.

And teachers, much like their students, are encouraged to share in the school’s positive overhaul.

“Another positive impact we are having on our school culture and to aide in making staff feel valued is our ‘Caught Ya being an MVP’ tickets and silver buckets,” the plan said. “Staff are encouraged to write specific feedback to each other in an effort to ‘fill a colleague’s emotional bank account/bucket.’”