BROOKSVILLE — Major changes are on the horizon for two of Hernando County's most troubled schools.
Hit last week with the county's first F grade, Eastside Elementary School will be high on the agenda Monday when district officials meet, said superintendent Lori Romano.
While Romano declined to discuss specifics, one thing is clear: Officials are not waiting around.
"It's going to require immediate action," the superintendent said, adding later: "Drastic times call for drastic measures."
Eastside principal Tim Urban, who took over the school last year after it received a grade of D, said the school, in the Hill 'n Dale community, has worked extremely hard with the state to improve student achievement.
"We'll continue to work hard and do those things that research says make a difference when it comes to instruction in the classroom," Urban said.
The other topic of discussion: Fox Chapel Middle School, which earned a D — its second in a row.
Because of Eastside's F and Fox Chapel's consecutive D's, both schools will now need to create and submit turnaround plans to the state in 2014, said Eric Williams, the Hernando district's director of school improvement.
If the schools maintain their current grades or regress in the coming year, they have several choices for reform. The most common is to replace at least 50 percent of their core academic staff, which includes literacy, math and science teachers, Williams said.
"We'll have a year to work really hard to get those schools out of the D and F's and have a turnaround plan in place, if needed," said Romano.
But the schools will get some help; each will be now have full-time, dedicated reading, math and science coaches.
Also, both district and state officials will be making more frequent visits to the schools, especially Eastside.
Mirroring an unprecedented decline in state-issued grades, the Hernando County School District saw roughly half of its elementary, middle school and K-8 grades drop. Seven schools maintained the same grade. Only one school, Deltona Elementary, saw a positive gain, increasing from a D to a C.
Overall, 10 district schools earned C's, three earned B's, two earned A's, one earned a D and one earned an F. The lone charter school, Gulf Coast Academy, also earned an A.
Nine schools saw their grades drop, mirroring the statewide trend. Roughly 53 percent of schools earned lower grades than a year ago across Florida.
High school grades will be released later.
Hernando's grades could have been worse.
Three elementary schools — Brooksville, Spring Hill and Pine Grove — were protected from even bigger drops by a "safety net" rule this year that prevented schools from sliding more than one letter grade. If that rule had not been in place, Brooksville would have earned a C, while Spring Hill and Pine Grove would have rated D's.
The State Board of Education imposed that provision as a buffer for schools as they cope with changing grading rules, tougher tests and a transition to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards.
Still, there was some room for hope.
Romano, who just began her job in Hernando this month, was pleased that roughly half of the county's schools stayed the same or improved.
"That's significant, given that the state didn't budge on compromised standards," she said.
She said making significant changes in the schools will take time.
Educational leaders from across Florida have frequently criticized the state's grading system, particularly the changing standards.
Romano took a measured approach.
She said the district, especially school principals, will now drill down into the numbers that comprise the grades.
While the grades are significant, she noted they're not the be-all, end-all.
"Yes, we take stock in it; yes, we use it to drive our work," she said. "But we have a lot of other factors that we use to determine the effectiveness of a school."
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.