Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pasco County’s shuttered Ridgewood High School earns C state grade, would have avoided turnover rules

Pasco County's Ridgewood High School earned a C for its 2017-18 performance on state grading measures.

The mark, released Thursday to replace an "incomplete," would have been enough for the school to avoid tough state turnaround requirements that it had faced after receiving D's the previous two years.

But Ridgewood no longer exists. On the district administration's recommendation — and despite some community opposition — the School Board closed it over the summer break and converted it into a technical high school.

Part, but not all, of the rationale: To avoid the state's heavy hand in determining the school's fate if it failed to show improvement.

Related coverage: Proposal would turn Ridgewood High into a vocational-technical school 

School Board member Steve Luikart, a former Ridgewood assistant principal, said Friday he wished the district would have given the school more time to raise its game. The school's new principal brought in last winter, Chris Dunning, was barely given a chance, said Luikart, who voted against the plan to shut the community-based school in favor of a magnet.

"To me, they overreacted," he said.

Other district officials, however, saw the situation differently. They acknowledged Ridgewood's past grades hastened their effort, but remained certain that transforming the campus best meets student and community needs.

"My view all along was that we needed a technical high school," board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said. "With Ridgewood being located in proximity to Marchman Technical College, that made sense for where to put it."

She expressed satisfaction with Ridgewood's rising letter grade, saying, "That means the students received an excellent education."

Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd, who led the charge to convert Ridgewood, said the administration expected the school to receive a C.

"We're glad they got a C. That's wonderful," Gadd said. "But at the end of the day, we thought that creating the technical high school was the right thing to do."

The decision made, and Wendell Krinn Technical High now up and running, Luikart said he hoped the district would learn from Ridgewood's circumstance. Yes, a technical high school brings value to the community and students, he said, but the handling of the details leading to the transformation could have been much better.

"It should be a learning experience for the board members," said Luikart, who will leave the board in November. "It was an issue that could have been resolved with a little patience."

Principal Dunning, who now heads Krinn Technical, said he was glad students and staff "stepped up to ensure the school's legacy ended on a positive note. This has paved the way for a new era for the school, named after original Ridgewood principal Wendell Krinn, to open as a technical high school, which will provide amazing opportunities for students throughout Pasco county."

The district is now exploring opportunities to open a technical high school in eastern Pasco County.

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