BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando school district earned a B this year, dropping from the A grade that prompted cheers this time in 2008.
But there was still reason to pat backs, school officials said Thursday after the state released the grades based on the results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
"There are a lot of positives to this report," superintendent Wayne Alexander said. "I think we had a solid year."
After all, 16 of the district's 21 schools maintained their grades from last year, and those were mostly As and Bs.
All the elementary and middle schools earned an A or B this year.
Three schools improved. Eastside, Suncoast and Westside elementary schools all ticked up one notch to an A.
The total number of schools earning an A or B came in at 17, one fewer than last year.
And that's not including one school that took the FCAT for the first time.
Alexander said he was especially happy about the inaugural performance of Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill, which earned a B.
"I'm really, really, really pleased with Explorer coming out of the gate, with all their stresses of opening a new school, starting the gifted program and having more kids then we anticipated," Alexander said. "That says a lot about our staff and our leadership at that school in general."
Two schools slipped. Nature Coast Technical High School dropped one grade to a C; Spring Hill Elementary, from an A to a B.
Hernando came close to maintaining its overall A. The district earned 521 points this year, missing the top range by 4 points. The scale is based on the percentages of students that meet high standards or make gains in reading, writing, science and math.
"Four points," Alexander said with a heavy sigh. "Four points."
Areas of concern remain, though.
For the sixth straight year, the district failed to make adequate yearly progress as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
That's not a surprise considering how state and federal formulas differ, said Linda Peirce, the district's testing specialist. Few districts make the federal measure each year.
The state requires all students to make gains. To make it by federal standards, every category of student must perform at a proficient level. Hernando scored 72 percent.
While Hernando met overall proficiency benchmarks in writing and math, the district fell short in reading.
Poor and minority students continue to struggle by the federal government's reckoning.
Black students missed proficiency benchmarks in reading and math; Hispanic students in reading; and economically disadvantaged students in reading and math.
Still, 13 schools either maintained or improved their AYP percentages.
"Seeing them get closer to that, and the bar continuing to be raised, is a positive," Peirce said.
The number of schools making AYP increased from four to five this year. Two of those, Brooksville and Westside elementary schools, have two of the district's highest poverty rates.
High schools struggle
Two of Hernando's four high schools helped contribute to a statewide trend of under-performance on the FCAT at the secondary level.
Hernando High saw its fifth straight D. Central High also earned a D, its second in a row.
The results are disappointing considering how hard students and teachers worked, Central principal Dennis McGeehan said.
Students in Central's lowest-performing quartile failed to make enough gains to get the school into the C range, McGeehan said. Tenth grade reading results continue to be a stumbling block, he said.
"We did a lot of things, working with our students and giving them the opportunity to show improvement," he said. "As hard as they worked, something just didn't come across."
McGeehan said he'll continue to encourage his staff.
"They need to keep their heads up," he said. "They have a very tough job in very tough times."
Despite troubling high school performance locally and statewide, state officials boasted that more schools than ever made A grades this year: 1,822, or 62 percent.
Suncoast Elementary principal Jean Ferris was happy her students and staff helped make it happen.
Ferris said the school made a particular effort to prepare special-needs students.
"They worked hard and it paid off," Ferris said. "I feel like the proud mama."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.