DADE CITY — When Yvonne Reins took over in 2009, Cox Elementary School was at perhaps its lowest point.
The school was one of just two in Pasco County that had not made adequate annual learning gains with its students over seven years. Its student body was among the county's poorest, with one of the highest percentages of children still learning English.
The demographics haven't changed much over time. But the results have.
On Tuesday, Reins received recognition as one of the state's top performing principals in a high-risk school from Florida Tax Watch and the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University.
The two organizations looked at student FCAT reading and math performance over three years, compared to expected performance and other school and student characteristics. It gave its inaugural Elite Principal awards to six school leaders whose schools most surpassed expectations.
Five of the principals came from Miami-Dade County. One worked in Pasco.
"The credit goes to my staff," Reins said. "The teachers are very dedicated, and they have a lot of tenacity to work with these students. They truly care about them."
Reins also spoke of the important role that custodians, cafeteria workers and others — not to mention parents — play in creating an educational atmosphere for the children.
The school made a concerted effort to improve student academic outcomes, Reins added. She spoke of an early move to "professional learning communities" where teachers can jointly discuss methods and techniques, for instance.
Test scores play a key role in the discussions, she said.
"Data is very important to determine the gains that students are making. We have to look at that," Reins said. "My teachers have been very good in the past few years of owning that.
"The data is something we use to drive our instruction."
The Learning Systems Institute now plans to conduct a five-year study of the principals to identify the principals' role in hiring, retaining and developing outstanding teachers.
The study "will provide policymakers with research-based evidence regarding the day-to-day practices of effective principals," said director emeritus Laura Lang.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.