Education board grants waivers to struggling schools in Miami-Dade, Duval, Escambia
Following impassioned pleas from superintendents, community members and one tearful student, the State Board of Education on Tuesday granted waivers to several struggling schools in Miami-Dade, Duval and Escambia counties, allowing them another year to turn things around.
The schools were previously placed on "intervene status", the most intense level of state monitoring, following consistent F grades and low student test scores. Had the board members not voted to grant the waivers, those schools would have been forced to close or become charter schools.
Only board member John Padget voted no, "as a matter of principle," explaining that he wanted to send a message that there's no room for excuses when it comes to school quality.
The other board members acknowledged gains the schools had made and said they had faith that they could turn things around, particularly with the help of several stipulations included with the waivers.
The schools -- Warrington Middle School in Escambia; Holmes Elementary, Miami Edison Senior High School and Miami Central Senior High in Miami-Dade; and North Shore K-8, Andrew Jackson High School, Jean Ribault High School, and William Raines High School in Duval -- will now have to each hold public events for parents and students to showcase alternate school options in their areas, hire an independent school management consultant company that will report monthly to the state board, and participate in a Race to the Top initiative that explores national models for improving learning and engages the community in possible solutions.
The decision was met with applause from the audience, which included students and parents from Duval schools, graduates of the schools in Miami and state legislators from those areas.
It followed a much praised presentation from Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho that extolled his schools' improvements -- notably Central and Edison high schools moving to C grades after more than a decade of consistent D or F scores. Hesaid that progress was replicated across the district after he took the helm in 2009 and immediately fired nine teachers and replaced a massive amount of faculty.
"It's a journey," Carvalho said.
He recognized that there were still more gains to be made, in reading scores, for instance, but he said he was frustrated that it seemed easier for schools to be put on the intervene lists than to be taken off them. If Central and Edison were evaluated for intervene status today, Carvalho said, with their scores, neither would earn that designation.
The board members said they appreciated his efforts and praised his success so far, expressing confidence that the schools would continue their upswing.
They were a little more leery with Duval. "I don't think you're on the same track as Miami-Dade," board chairwoman Kathleen Shanahan told superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals.
Dannals said the district would split each of the schools into two specialty areas. For example, Ribault will now partially focus on college readiness and, alternatively, military and aviation. The superintendent said he hoped this would encourage students who left their neighborhood schools to give them another chance.
School choice is important, Dannals said, but not only when it comes to options away from students' designated schools. "We want them to be informed consumers on both sides of that."
Expanding school choice was an issue board members highlighted continually during the meeting. It's also a priority of Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Board vice chairman Roberto Martinez pointed specifically to charter schools as a facet of school choice. He said he wanted to put together a workshop, possibly by the beginning of next year, to examine those institutions in-depth.
Board member Akshay Desai agreed. "Charter schools are popping up all over the country," he said. "We need to have a very good understanding of what is working and what is not."
The board meets again in August for a budget workshop