LAND O'LAKES — One of Florida's 474 high schools improved its state grade from F to A.
It was Anclote High.
The school showed dramatic improvement in its FCAT results over the previous year. More important, though, was that the school actually had performance data in several categories for which it had none in 2010, including a graduation rate.
That boost, which also gave Anclote maximum bonus points for growth, vaulted the school into A status for 2011.
Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino applauded the school's students and staff for not sagging under its failing mark in its first year out, and instead rising to the occasion.
"Monica Ilse's leadership has been phenomenal," Fiorentino said, noting the school changed several instructional methods to meet student needs. "They really have done a lot of things to improve that school."
Ilse said the school's leadership team developed a comprehensive improvement plan based on students' FCAT results.
"We focused on the individual needs of each student and targeted support and resources where they were most needed," she said in a prepared statement. "Our staff, students and parents understood the urgent need to make improvement, and worked cooperatively to prioritize the needs of students."
Anclote was not the only Pasco school to see its grade improve in results announced Wednesday. Eight local high schools raised their grades by at least one level, with two remaining steady and two dropping.
But those good grades might be short lived, as the formula changes again this year. Local and state officials expect marks to drop as it becomes harder to pass the FCAT and to be counted as a high school graduate.
"We'll worry about that later," Fiorentino said. "This is a time to celebrate."
Hudson High moved to a B from a D, the county's second-best gain.
Pasco High earned its first A since the grading system began in 1998-99.
"Oh my God," principal Pat Reedy said on learning the news. "All right! Whoo! This is awesome."
Reedy, the school's principal since 1999, said the rise from mostly C's and D's came from basic hard work, implementing successful teaching methods and making them better based upon constant evaluation of results.
"All the research says it's not one big bang," he said. "It's keeping that steady focus, and obviously having the kids respond."
Wesley Chapel High earned an A just two years after receiving a D. Principal Carin Nettles, who took over the school in late 2009, said a team effort was necessary to make strides.
"It was getting everyone to understand the rules of the game," Nettles said. "I hate to say that, but it is sort of a game, with a moving target."
Once everyone shared that understanding, she said, the school turned its full attention to academics. The school implemented a new discipline plan, added a ninth-grade academy to help new students transition into high school, and amped up its reading and literacy offerings, among other efforts.
It also began celebrating students' academic successes.
"We highlight the fact that you're a student first," Nettles said.
One school — Fivay High — didn't fare well, earning the district's only D grade.
Like Anclote the year before, Fivay had no results to include for its graduation rate and other factors that make up half the grade.
Fiorentino suggested that new schools should not be graded until after their first-year scores can set a benchmark, as was done in the past. State education officials said schools are graded on the available data, even if it represents only half the equation.
School grades for the current academic year will see the equation change again.
The state Board of Education has changed the FCAT passing scores for all grade levels, effective immediately. It has adopted a new graduate rate calculation that commissioner Gerard Robinson has acknowledged will result in lower graduation levels.
Performance on accelerated courses, such as Advanced Placement and dual enrollment, will count even more in the next round of grades, too.
Reedy said all these changes could result in reduced school grades. He and other principals have asked the state to detail how they will explain to parents and students the comparison between the grades.
They haven't gotten an answer.
"We'll just keep plugging away on the strategies," he said. "However they keep changing the formula, we'll be teaching kids."
That's the case district-wide, Fiorentino said: "We're going to have to play with new rules from the DOE. But our goal has always been to have successful students, and we're going to continue to work toward our goals."
School Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said everyone should keep in mind that school grades are but one way to look at a school's performance.
"Even if the grades don't remain the same next year, we're on target with the way we are approaching each child and their achievement," Hurley said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.