Middleton High School in Tampa is one of two schools in Florida facing the threat of a state-directed overhaul next year because its students are not making enough progress.
For the second year in a row, D-rated Middleton, a historic pillar in east Tampa's black community, falls into the "Intervene" category under the state's accountability system.
If it falls short again, the state says it will have to radically reorganize.
"Everyone understands what's at stake," said Owen Young, Middleton's assistant principal for curriculum.
Across Tampa Bay, F-rated Gibbs High in St. Petersburg, another school with proud roots in the black community, avoided the "Intervene" label by a hair.
But it and dozens of other Pinellas schools will face more outside intervention than ever.
"That's a good thing," said Cassandra Jackson, who has two children at Gibbs. "Then the state would have to make sure that (the district is) giving Gibbs all the necessary tools … to get mission accomplished."
The status of Middleton and Gibbs was revealed Thursday as the state Department of Education rolled out results of its new accountability system — a highly technical plan for improvement that blends Florida's school grading with portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The system began as a pilot project last year and was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist this month. It brings escalating levels of intervention and oversight depending on which one of six categories a school lands in.
Schools in the mildest category, "Prevent I," must draw up improvement plans, review all members of leadership teams (and replace them, if necessary) and make sure all teachers are highly qualified.
At the other extreme, schools in "Intervene" must hire more reading and math coaches, boot teachers whose students are not making gains and allow the state to help with hiring.
No matter the category, state and district officials will work with schools to identity shortcomings and tailor remedies.
At Middleton last year, authorities sent underperforming teachers packing and brought in subject-area specialists to help the rest. They spent more time monitoring and giving feedback. They shrunk class sizes.
Middleton's overall FCAT scores fell in every subject. But the percentage of its most struggling students who made reading gains climbed from 43 percent to 53 percent — an especially striking bright spot given a statewide trend that saw many high schools lose ground with those students.
"I saw a change that's not reflected in FCAT scores … of a very, very orderly school," said Hillsborough deputy superintendent Ken Otero.
He said it's too early to say what additional changes Middleton will make.
"There is a lot of good taking place," Young said. "The reality is, it's a process. It doesn't happen overnight."
Statewide, 2,445 schools will be monitored under the system, including 379 in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. All must submit improvement plans by Sept. 11.
Gibbs falls into the "Correct II" category, along with 36 other Pinellas schools. No Pinellas schools are in "Intervene."
In Hillsborough, Franklin Middle Magnet remains in "Intervene." But it improved enough to avoid planning for an overhaul, as did eight of 10 other Florida schools in that category last year.
Only two of them improved enough to be taken off the list.
One of them, Sulphur Springs Elementary in Tampa, jumped from an F to a B.
Ron Matus can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8873.