They crunched the numbers and targeted students and subjects. In the end they boosted their FCAT scores, graduated more at-risk student and prepared more students for college-level courses.
Tarpon Springs High School's first A. Up from a D.
And just like that the school got a mental boost.
"(The grade change) makes me want to go to school every day," said freshman Sheridan Markham, shortly after state education officials released the 2009-2010 high school grades Tuesday.
Tarpon was one of seven traditional Pinellas County high schools to earn an A — and the one that logged in the biggest leap, jumping three letter grades.
In Pinellas and across the state, high school grades rose sharply, thanks in part to a new grading formula that for the first time includes components other than the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The new factors include graduation rates, including for at-risk students, and participation and passage on Advancement Placement and other college-level courses. The FCAT now counts 50 percent and the new components 50 percent.
Factors such as Tarpon Springs' partnership with St. Petersburg College and its 15 AP classes contributed to the A, said Principal Clint Herbic.
But he noted that even under the old formula, Tarpon Springs would have gotten A thanks to better FCAT scores, which helped the school go from 477 to 532 points in that area.
"I've always been proud to say that I'm principal of Tarpon, but today makes it a bit more special," Herbic said.
Together with the school's number cruncher, business education teacher S. Jed Lehrer, Herbic explored ways to bring up the grade.
"We've never had D students or teachers," Lehrer said. "Clint got us back on track."
The strategy: focusing on reading and writing in all subjects and build closer relationships between teachers and students.
"This was the perfect situation to put all those ideas together," said Herbic, who became principal in 2009.
So in students in band director Robert Barfield's ninth-grade class did as much reading and writing in their classes as music. For example, students were required to do written summaries of concert experiences
Freshman Sheridan Markham, who plays the flute and piccolo, said she enjoyed Barfield's writing assignments because she could write about her favorite experiences during rehearsal and practice.
And other students said they gained confidence to do well.
"We've matured a lot as a group," said freshman Kalia Chavez, who plays clarinet. Before Barfield's class, she said, she was always too nervous to read aloud.
The school's reading score increased by 10 percentage points.
Assistant Principal Wayne McKnight took on the task of developing better relationship between teachers and students. He said he met individually with about 250 lower performing students and interviewed them about their goals.
"They could feel more confident and approach the FCAT with a sense of empowerment," said McKnight.
Even as they celebrate their first A, school officials have already begun crunching more numbers and plotting way to keep the precious A.
"The real test is going to be: Can we maintain this for four or five years?" Herbic said.