Manatee Schools see significant improvement
Under the the looming threat of state intervention, a handful of struggling Manatee County schools maintained focus and breathed a collective sigh of relief after the Florida Department of Education released grades for the 2018-2019 school year.
Blanche H. Daughtrey Elementary was in the second year of the state’s “turnaround process,” and G.D. Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary entered its third year after former Superintendent Diana Greene negotiated a one-year extension with DOE officials. Both would have to contract with an outside management company if they failed to earn a C or higher in the recent school year.
Daughtrey and Rogers Garden-Bullock improved from a D to a C, allowing them to exit the high-stakes, high-stress turnaround process. Aside from the use of an “external operator,” turnaround schools can choose to shut down or convert to a charter if they fail to improve after several years.
Ballard Elementary and Palm View Elementary were in their first year of the turnaround process after earning a D grade for two years in a row. Ballard’s grade increased from a D to a C, and Palm View leaped three letter grades, from a D to an A.
After the DOE published school grades on Thursday morning, Principal Kaththea Johnson thanked everyone who contributed to the success at Palm View, including school employees, district officials, Manatee residents and local business partners.
“We are amazed at the successful efforts of our school leadership, teachers, staff, families and students,” she said in a prepared statement. “Collaboration was critical towards achieving our ultimate goal to raise our school grade”
Improvement efforts will likely shift to Oneco Elementary School, which slipped from a C to a D this year. The school previously dropped its turnaround status after earning three D’s between 2015 and 2017.
Though one D grade doesn’t warrant turnaround status, it does require an improvement plan.
Judy Laurent, a retired educator, worked alongside leaders at Palm View, Daughtrey and Oneco under a short-term contract. Between her time in three different states, she has more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal, district administrator and state employee.
“There was lots of district support, I have to admit,” she said. “From curriculum to instruction to assessment, they were always there whenever we needed them
Laurent said poverty is a common thread between many turnaround schools. Palm View, Ballard, Daughtrey, Oneco and Rogers Garden-Bullock are all Title I school, meaning they serve economically disadvantaged students.
Facing a lack of resources and no shortage of distractions, the students often fall behind. And while the nationwide teacher shortage affects all schools, it hits even harder at Title I schools, where vacancies are often a constant, Laurent said.
“It’s just much more difficult to teach in those schools, because the students typically do not have the background they need,” she said. “If the school hasn’t been successful in the past, these students probably aren’t at grade level, and it takes a lot of catching up.”
Another constant, she said, is a high level of English-language learners. While the students often speak English, their primary language might be Spanish or Creole.
As they learn to become proficient in English, working to understand all of its intricacies, they also have to learn a variety of subjects in that very language.
“In Title I schools and these schools, the teachers work far beyond the regular day,” Laurent said. “No one can understand that.”
The foundations of a strong education are universal, but the efforts are magnified in turnaround schools. Leaders face a constant need to plan, motivate students, connect with parents and analyze the results.
Each school has to juggle rules from the state, expectations from the district and the unique needs of their campus. The turnaround process is draining, but with teamwork and dedication, the results can be rewarding, Laurent said.
“The glory goes to the principals that had the vision and set the goals and continued to make sure they were carried out,” she said. “And the teachers, they did an amazing job.”