LAND O'LAKES — Lee-Anne Yerkey heard the news Thursday night but fought the urge to spread it. Sunray Elementary School, where she serves as principal, had improved from a C to a B.
"I closed Facebook. I closed everything; I was so afraid I would leak," said Yerkey, who came to the school after spending several years as an assistant principal at Richey Elementary.
Like its name, Sunray was among the bright spots in Friday's release of annual school grades based on FCAT results. It was one of only three middle and elementary schools that improved its grade over the past year. High school grades won't be released until the fall.
Among elementary schools, the trend was down: 18 schools dropped one letter grade, and nine more tumbled by two letter grades. Eleven held onto the same grade they got last year.
Lake Myrtle Elementary, which had earned an A every year since the testing began, dropped this year to a B.
The middle school picture was more stable: 10 kept the same grade as last year. Three dropped a grade. Pasco Middle fell from an A to a C.
Overall, 24 schools received A's and 24 received B's, while 16 got C's. Calusa Elementary earned the lone D. Unlike in Hillsborough and Pinellas, no Pasco schools received F grades.
The overall grade for the Pasco school district dropped from an A to a B.
As for the federal No Child Left Behind standards, no schools were headed to the state's most severe level of oversight based on the scores.
The Florida Department of Education's announcement was met with little surprise by Pasco County School District administrators, who attributed the declines partly to sharp drops among fourth- and fifth-graders, a concern that has drawn sharp criticism from superintendents statewide. Other factors included a poor economy and shrinking budgets.
"We do know there is learning going on in every classroom," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Friday. She said the district will use the FCAT scores as only one piece of a bigger picture. Other assessment tools also will be used in evaluating performance.
"We can drill down the data for classes and different students," she said.
Fiorentino said she was proud of the district staff despite the overall lower grades.
"We continue to perform strongly," she said, adding that the district missed an overall A rating by just eight points.
District officials said some schools that previously had A's dipped to B's because of the dip by low-performing students.
"If less than 50 percent (of the lowest-scoring students) make a learning gain, it can result in a letter being dropped for schools," said Peggy Jones, the district's director of research and evaluation.
Karen Marler, principal at Lacoochee Elementary, which sank from an A to a C, took the news in stride but saw it as a challenge.
"It doesn't matter whether you're a C or an A school, there's always room for improvement," she said. "If we have deficits, we'll analyze those deficits. We'll take it and run with it and do with it the best we can."
At Calusa Elementary, new principal Kara Merlin was already working on ways to replace the D next year. Those included enacting a two-hour planning time for teachers and changing schedules to cut down on student transition time.
At Sunray, which bucked the trend of falling grades, Yerkey attributed the rise to a number of strategies, including an improved student disciplinary process in which each teacher had a regular classroom meeting with students to discuss suggestions and concerns. The school went from 450 discipline referrals to 124 last year.
"We all know what that means: They're in class and learning instead of out of class and waiting in a hallway to talk to somebody," Yerkey said.
Other strategies included assigning music, art and physical education teachers to research at-risk kids and come up with intervention strategies.
"It really does take a village to raise a child," she said.