Team Success celebrates FCAT scores with $32,000 in cash prizes for students

BRADENTON -- Dressed in tops hats, suits and ties, shimmery dresses and feather boas Monday, students, staff and families of Team Success celebrated their equivalent of the Academy Awards.

The Title I charter school celebrated student achievement with a special event at the Manatee County Performing Arts Center. Students were awarded cash prizes for what officials called amazing scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"We're very grateful to be able to do something like this," said Fred Spence, Team Success chief executive officer. "The kids are the stars of the show."

The school gave out almost $32,000 to more than 150 students. A student with a 3 received $50, a score of 4 was worth $125 and a 5 garnered $400. Students with a perfect score in any FCAT category earned $1,000.

The money was donated by a private benefactor Spence called the school "angel." Spence said giving students money for good grades is an incentive, and compared it with similar practices used in businesses.

FCAT tests were taken by 28 Team Success third-grade students for the first time last year.

All last year, Tenaya Rangel would do her homework and say she wanted to be on the stage in the fall receiving an award, said her mother, Christine Rangel. Tenaya earned her $1,125 for a perfect math score and a 4 on the reading exam.

"I'm shocked. It's amazing. I'm really proud of her," Christine Rangel said.

Tenaya, now a fourth-grader, said she likes math, especially fractions.

"I think it's fun and I like when I'm challenged," the 9-year-old said. Tenaya said she plans to buy new clothes with her prize money.

Sixth-grader Fritzi Santiago earned $1,200 for receiving a 5 in math, science and reading. She said it is important for her to do well in school now so she will have a better future and be able to help people later.

"We're thinking about opening an account and starting to save for her future," said Lorena Iniestra, her mother.

Alex St. John will spend a little and save a little with his $1,400 in prize money, he said. Now in seventh grade, St. John got a perfect score on the reading exam and a 5 on the math exam.

"If you can't do reading, you can't do math or anything else," he said.

Alex's friend, Alejandro Guerrero, also took home $1,400 for a perfect score in math and a 5 in reading. Guerrero, who plans to share some money with his family, said he's drawn to math because it's challenging.

"Once you understand the math, it's easy and you can do it no problem," he said.

Team Success, Manatee County School District's only Title I charter school, serves about 400 students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

Title I schools are eligible to receive special federal funds to provide additional resources to work with economically disadvantaged children. The funds given out Monday were not from the special Title I funds.

The school rose from an "F" to an "A" school in two years in 2012 based on state measurements. The school dropped to a "B" in 2013 and earned a "C" in 2014.

Last spring was the last year Florida students will take the FCAT. Student assessments this year are tied to the Common Core standards -- named Florida standards here -- which are more rigorous than FCAT.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.