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Most Pasco high schools improve their grades from last year

Gulf High School principal Steve Knobl had promised to shave his head if the school received an "A" from the Florida Department of Education.

This was one time when a B wasn't so bad.

"I'm graduating with my Ph.D. this weekend," Knobl said Tuesday after the results were released. "My wife said there was no way I was going to be in photos with no hair."

Instead Knobl brought in doughnuts to celebrate the school's rise from a D to a B.

The school actually scored enough points to earn an A. But the lowest quartile of students slipped in reading. Under the grading system, schools lose a letter grade if the lowest quartile doesn't improve. The law's intent is to ensure the lowest performers don't get overlooked.

In fact, six Pasco high schools would have received A grades if not for that rule. And Hudson High, which earned a D, would have come away with a C. Anclote High School, meanwhile, became Pasco County's first F-rated school.

Overall, district and school officials were pleased at the results. For the first time, the grades for high schools also took into account the number of students participating in Advanced Placement programs and graduation rates in addition to FCAT results.

"These grades do signify a dramatic shift in the way we recognize high school and value the work of our students and teachers," said Florida education commissioner Eric J. Smith. "It's a very positive move for our state. This is certainly the kind of work that should be considered in national efforts."

The standards get progressively tougher each year. In the future, just enrolling in AP classes won't be enough, Smith said. Students will actually have to pass the exams.

Local district officials were pleased with the results yielded by the new criteria.

"We have done extremely well, and we're very proud," Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino said. "This is truly an effort of the schools working together as a team with the students. We're very proud of all our schools."

Pasco County saw several of its high schools improve their grades, three of them by two positions.

In addition to Gulf going from a D to a B, Mitchell High moved from C to A, and Wesley Chapel High also went from D to B.

Land O'Lakes High also made an A, up from last year's B. Ridgewood High, which appears on the state's lowest performing schools list, improved from a D to a C.

As for Anclote High, Fiorentino noted that the school did not have seniors and as a result was not able to get points for things such as graduation rate, although the school's FCAT results were low. She said the school staff is working hard to improve already.

Anclote principal Monica Ilse, who announced the anticipated results last month, didn't let the news get her down. Instead, she focused on improvements the school already is seeing.

For example, students who are retaking the FCAT are doing better than last year.

"The staff is truly committed to helping students and they have been focused on making that happen," she said.

Among the reform efforts adopted has been the "gradual release" model of instruction, which also has gained traction at other Pasco County high schools. With it, teachers spend time explaining lessons and then have students practice the material in groups before moving to more individualized review.

Also introduced were an instruction focus calendar to keep teachers on pace with curriculum, a common note-taking method for students, after-school tutoring and a new method to track students' grades, attendance and disciplinary records to see who is at risk of falling behind.

Teams of teachers also organized into "professional learning communities" to share teaching strategies and ideas for working with specific students. They also started working to infuse more complex thinking into their lessons.

"We're continuing on with business and looking toward the FCAT exams coming up," Ilse said.

Mitchell High principal Jim Michaels chalked up his school's A to the flexibility of the staff. He also noted evidence that extra efforts spent on writing paid off in the form of strong scores.

"There's been a real open-mindedness," he said. "No one said, 'We've always done it that way. I don't want to change.' "

He admitted that the broader criteria helped his school's score: "It takes in the total picture a little better than it used to."

At Gulf, Knobl said some students argued that he should shave his head, since the school scored enough points for the A.

With temperatures in the 50s, "it's not going to happen," he said.

But he'll save the razor for next year, when "we will have an A. ... I don't want to do it for an A with an asterisk by it."

Lisa Buie can be reached at or (813) 909-4604. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

.Fast facts

High school grades

School 2009-10 2008-09

Anclote F n/a

Gulf B D

Hudson D D

Land O'Lakes A B

Mitchell A C

Pasco B C

Ridgewood C D

River Ridge B C

Sunlake B B

Wesley Chapel B D

WiregrassB B

Zephyrhills B C

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Most Pasco high schools improve their grades from last year 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 8:54pm]
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