Hillsborough's Middleton High gets another turnaround year
UPDATED AT 8 P.M.
TAMPA -- High school grades aren't out yet, but the writing was on the wall: troubled Middleton High was on the ropes this fall.
Despite vast improvements in boosting the school's culture and crafting interventions for students, according to state and district officials, test scores have been slow to budge. The school made some improvements on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test last spring, such as sophomore reading. But other scores dropped. And that wasn't helping the school break its string of D grades and move off the state's Intervene list, the bottom rung of its accountability system.
On Tuesday, Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia traveled to Tallahassee to make a personal appeal to the state Board of Education. As described in a recent letter, she was asking for another year for Middleton as a "district-managed turnaround school."
"The leadership and staff at Middleton High School have worked diligently during the 2009-10 school year to put the building blocks in place so that students are set up for success," she told the state. "The data trends show that Middleton High School has taken positive steps toward turning around the school's performance."
And she got it. The Board of Education voted to give Middleton a waiver, and one more year to boost those scores.
Had she failed, the school might have gotten an outside management team or worse.
"The district has the right to appeal if they feel the school made significant progress and as a result, needs an additional year to allow their initiatives to fully develop," said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, in an email."If the appeal had been denied, the district would have had to select one of the three remaining intervene options of convert(ing) to a charter school, private management or closure."
But Elia said her visit wasn't just about Middleton. She came with a broader complaint about the state's Differentiated Accountability model. It was designed to allow struggling schools more leeway to show improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. But it hasn't always worked as intended.
"Middleton was never an F," she said. "And right now if you looked at Franklin Middle School it has had a C for two years and it would be a Correct I school if it was judged right now, and yet it’s in Intervene status."
Elia said she asked the Board of Education to consider tweaking the program so that improving schools don't get wrongly labeled.
"I’m just saying we’re doing really good work, and we have to continue that good work. We have a ways to go. But when staffs and schools are working hard, I don’t think it’s appropriate to categorize them as the worst school in the state. I think that’s not true."