BROOKSVILLE — By state standards, Hernando County is one of the best school districts in Florida. If you ask the federal government, there's a lot of work to do.
For the first time since the Florida Department of Education awarded letter grades to entire school districts based on results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the Hernando County School District has earned an A.
But just four of the district's 20 schools met adequate yearly progress this past school year, a performance benchmark for the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This is down from six schools meeting the goal last year.
District officials largely dismissed the federal scores, calling them unrealistic, and were ecstatic with the state's grades.
Of the state's 67 public school districts, 32 earned A's. Fewer than 25 percent of the state's schools met federal AYP standards.
The Education Department awarded either an A or B grade to 18 out of 20 Hernando schools, up from 13 last year. This is the best the district has done since grades were first awarded following the 1998-1999 school year. The district has earned B grades every other year.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander credited teachers and support staff for the improvements. The district has made an effort to focus on individual students and to identify and respond to their needs, officials said. The district also encourages educators to tell students where they need the most work.
"You create that ownership," Alexander said Tuesday. "You empower the kids in part of the improvement process, and I think that says a heck of a lot."
Not all of the state news was good. Hernando High School and Central High School both received D grades, the fourth consecutive year for Hernando. Last year, Central received a grade of C.
Those marks troubled district officials, who said they will try to incorporate successful teaching methods from Nature Coast and Springstead high schools, both of which received B grades, to the other two county high schools.
Three district schools —Springstead, Parrott Middle and Spring Hill Elementary —all jumped two letter grades. Springstead moved from a D to a B, while Parrott and Spring Hill went from a C to an A.
Parrott principal Leechele Booker was thrilled. "Oh, I am so excited," she said. "I am trying to contain myself."
Booker, a first-year principal, said the improvement is due to a "cultural shift." Teachers told students they had high expectations, and the students bought in, Booker said.
Susan Duvall, principal at Springstead, said the credit for her school's jump is owed to her entire staff. Curriculum changes, she said, were key, too. One program, called "Educate Kids," is being used in district high schools to look at FCAT scores and incorporate curriculum changes that will help students fare better.
District curriculum specialist Dave Schoelles said that has also given teachers more tools.
"That's done a great job of helping teachers zero in on where students' weaknesses are and provide assistance in those areas," Schoelles said.
But while schools outperformed past state marks, the district struggled to keep up with increasing federal standards.
Part of the No Child Left Behind Act, adequate yearly progress measures how groups of students fare in standardized tests. Five district schools received A grades from the state but did not meet AYP.
"I think it's an absurdity," Alexander said.
And as the bar is raised for schools, fewer and fewer are likely to meet AYP. District officials think AYP standards are unrealistic, which is one reason why they are more pleased by the state's grades than they are worried by AYP scores.
Michael Sanserino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1430.
School grades: Hernando County
|Gulf Coast Academy||A||A||Yes|
|John D. Floyd||A||A||No|