Friday, July 20, 2018
Education

FCAT scores at Pinellas charter school that used Scientology 'study tech' are among lowest in Tampa Bay

DUNEDIN — When Hanan Islam and her management company took control of the struggling Life Force Arts and Technology charter school here last summer, she passed out lesson plans based on the work of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

She said Hubbard's "study technology" would enlighten children and help save the school. But grades from Florida's standardized FCAT test released Thursday show that, in one year under Islam's management, Life Force students' education suffered.

Life Force's third- and fourth-graders scored the lowest or second-lowest passing rates in math, reading and writing of more than 300 elementary schools across Tampa Bay.

"It's a classic case of how a management company mismanaged this school, was paid an extraordinarily large fee for dismal services, and the ultimate victims were those poor children," said Dot Clark, the Pinellas County school district's coordinator of partnership schools.

Islam's company, Clark added, "promised the world and gave them nothing. ... It breaks my heart."

Third-graders took a more difficult test this year than last, resulting in lower average scores statewide. But even adjusting for the different standards, Life Force's FCAT math and reading scores worsened year-to-year.

Only one of 14 third-graders at Life Force passed this year's reading test. Eight students scored in the lowest achievement level, leaving them at high risk of being held back. None of the third-graders passed math.

Life Force fourth-graders fared just as poorly. Only five of 17 students passed the writing test. Last year, all of Life Force's 12 fourth-graders passed the writing portion.

Life Force third-graders had Tampa Bay's second lowest passing rate, with only Pepin Elementary, a Tampa charter school for children with learning disabilities, scoring lower. Life Force fourth-graders had Tampa Bay's lowest passing rate by far. The second lowest, from students in Pinellas' dropout prevention program, was 13 percent higher.

For those results, Life Force paid Islam's companies — her charter school management firm, Art of Management, and a study-tech promotional group, the World Literacy Crusade — more than $100,000 in public funds over a span of five months, bankruptcy records show.

"I'm just disheartened. We had every disadvantage you could think of," principal Lenor Johnson said Friday. "The funds we needed ... we were unable to use because our management company said no."

The Pinellas County School Board voted to revoke the school's charter in March, due in part to its use of an unauthorized curriculum. Islam's company left the school later that month.

Neither Islam nor her second in command at Life Force, former director of operations Vikki Williams, responded to messages Friday. Life Force teachers believe Islam has moved to California or Puerto Rico but intends to open another school in south St. Petersburg.

Teachers blamed the poor performance on Islam's forced instruction of Hubbard's study tech as well as the school's lack of funding for basic classroom materials like paper, pencils and textbooks. Fifth-grade teacher Jason Lowe, who was fired by Islam but rehired after she left, said teachers "were definitely set up for failure."

Some blamed students' poor marks on instability due to Islam's repeated firings of, as third-grade teacher Lynne Kittredge said, "good, certified teachers, because they wouldn't accept her Scientology stuff."

"We worked our butts off. We did after-school, we did tutoring; we weren't even being paid. But I'm not a miracle worker," said Kittredge, who was hired in February. "By the time we came in, the best we could do was damage control."

Life Force board chairman Louis Muhammad, appointed by Islam in January, defended her management of the school, saying students' scores would have drastically improved if study tech had been given more of a chance.

He also blamed the low scores on the Tampa Bay Times, saying the newspaper's coverage of Life Force's problems "caused confusion and, in other words, hindered the school."

"You all put out this confusion on religion, and we're not talking religion: we're talking technology," Muhammad said. "If you all had left the school alone, it would have been better."

On its last day, June 7, Life Force will become the first Pinellas school to be forcefully closed by a revoked charter. The approximately 50 remaining students, down from nearly 100 in August, will move to nearby public and charter schools.

But for some students, their low marks at Life Force could haunt them for years. Several will need summer school to keep up with their peers, while others, including kindergarten students, may need to repeat the grade.

In recent weeks, some teachers say they have seen some student growth. They hope the small improvements, not visible in FCAT scores, will carry on to their next school.

"Did they get a full year's growth? No," Kittredge said. "But we have eight days. Eight days. We're all teaching to the very bitter end. We'll be teaching our way out the door, because that's what we do."

Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.

Comments
In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

By the second week of August, public schools will be back in session across the Tampa Bay area. That may seem far off, but sleep experts say now is when parents need to start easing the kids (and themselves) into those early wakeup routines. The foll...
Published: 07/20/18
Hernando County leaders may help School Board pay for campus security

Hernando County leaders may help School Board pay for campus security

BROOKSVILLE — With an Oct. 1 deadline looming for the Hernando County School Board to find a way to pay for school security once its agreement with the County Commission expires, leaders from both governments will consider extending the partnership.B...
Published: 07/19/18
State to keep close watch on five ‘turnaround’ schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas

State to keep close watch on five ‘turnaround’ schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas

State education officials on Wednesday approved plans in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to improve struggling schools — but with some conditions.The Pinellas district will have to keep a close watch on Fairmount Park Elementary principal Kristy M...
Published: 07/18/18
Pinellas School Board: First of three big candidate forums on Tuesday

Pinellas School Board: First of three big candidate forums on Tuesday

Candidates for the Pinellas County School Board will appear Tuesday at the first of three forums sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation, St. Petersburg College, the Pinellas County Council PTA and the League of Women Voters. The event will be...
Published: 07/18/18
Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, the union for the county’s instructional staff, has announced its recommendations for School Board candidates ahead of next month’s election.The group made its decisions via a private forum, where about fi...
Published: 07/18/18
Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Lori Romano, fired from the Hernando County superintendent post for "ineffective leadership" a month ago, has snagged a job in the neighboring Pasco County school district.She won’t be nearly as high up the administrative ladder in her new role.Subje...
Published: 07/17/18
Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

LAND O’ LAKES — Chris Stowe has a storied past as an explosives technician in the U.S. Marine Corps.The retired master gunnery sergeant has mementos of his service — a field knife mounted to the lid of an explosives box, for instance — hanging promin...
Published: 07/17/18
Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Three trustees for Pasco-Hernando State College have been reappointed to their posts by Gov. Rick Scott, and a new member joined the college’s Foundation Board of Directors.The reappointments to the Board of Trustees are Alvaro Hernandez, Lee Maggard...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

DOVER — With the start of classes nearly three weeks away, Hillsborough County school resource officers are receiving extensive active shooter training Tuesday morning to prepare them in the event of another school tragedy.Members of the Hillsborough...
Published: 07/17/18
Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Chicago schoolteacher Kimberly Bermudez has always been the chatty type.So when she was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Florida to visit her parents last week, and her seatmate asked her what she did for a living, she told him about her first-grade...
Published: 07/17/18