Amid pressure from the state, Manatee school improves its grade. So they had a party

Appreciation was in the air at Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon.

The school was in Florida’s dreaded “turnaround process” after receiving three D grades in a row. If the Bradenton elementary school failed to improve its grade, it would have likely contracted with an outside management company, or “external operator.”

On Tuesday, students and staff gathered in the cafeteria to celebrate the C grade they earned last school year, lifting a tremendous weight off Rogers Garden-Bullock. The school moved out of turnaround status for the first time since it opened, said Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association.

“It puts a lot of added pressure on what is already a very difficult job,” she said of the turnaround process.

MEA, the local education union, sponsored this week’s event as part of a statewide tour by the Florida Education Association. The five-week trip across Florida was named the Fund Our Future Bus Tour, a call for better classroom supplies, needed school repairs and improved salaries for teachers across all experience levels.

As part of Tuesday’s event, students chose from dozens of free books throughout the cafeteria. A young girl, marveling at pages of artwork and stickers, picked a copy of “Moana,” a story based on the hit Disney movie.

“She’s a beautiful woman,” the student said, admiring the book’s main character.

First Book, a nonprofit that works with the American Federation of Teachers, donated the books. The nonprofit often contributes to Title I schools like Rogers-Garden Bullock, which serves low-income families, Barber said.

Her organization also hosted a dinner and a conversation with parents on Tuesday evening. They planned to discuss public education and local needs, a practice that Barber would like to see in Tallahassee.

“The legislature needs to talk to educators about how they can help our schools, instead of making decisions from the top down,” she said.

The event was also attended by Superintendent Cynthia Saunders, deputy superintendents Doug Wagner and Genelle Yost, school board members Charlie Kennedy and James Golden, and board Chairman Dave Miner.

Principal Pat Stream said she was grateful for the support of district staff and turnaround leaders with the Florida Department of Education. She was grateful for the employees at Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary, and for the hard work of their students.

“We were hungry to learn how to do better,” she said, speaking at Tuesday’s celebration.

But even an abundance of support won’t guarantee success, Stream said, noting that school employees need to believe in the process. With their continued dedication, she hopes to effect deep-rooted changes, improving the school’s letter grade a little more each year.

“You have to believe in the kids and you have to believe in what you’re doing,” she said. “You have to know that, if you work hard enough, you’re going to succeed.”

“With that said, did I spend some sleepless nights? You bet.”

Giuseppe Sabella, education reporter for the Bradenton Herald, holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He spent time at the Independent Florida Alligator, the Gainesville Sun and the Florida Times-Union. His coverage of education in Manatee County earned him a first place prize in the Florida Society of News Editors’ 2019 Journalism Contest. Giuseppe also spent one year in Charleston, W.Va., earning a first-place award for investigative reporting.