Pinellas schools' grades weather tougher criteria

Following a statewide trend, middle and elementary school grades largely held steady in Pinellas this year despite tougher standards and standardized tests, according to results released Thursday.

Meanwhile, all three of Pinellas' F-rated elementary schools — Woodlawn, Lakewood and Fairmount Park — improved their grades, though two other schools, Melrose and Maximo fell into the F category.

Woodlawn's staff whooped and cried when principal Karen Russell announced the school had climbed from F to C.

"They were pointing to goose bumps on their arms," Russell said. "It's just a nice pat on the back and confirmation of what we're doing."

Overall, the district earned a B grade, as it has every year.

"We had significant improvements, especially in our struggling schools," superintendent Julie Janssen said in a written statement. "Our teachers and our students deserve to be recognized for their achievements."

Statewide, more than three-quarters of schools received an A or B grade, which are based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results.

The number of A-rated elementary schools grew by 82. The number of F schools dropped from 44 to 31. This, despite new reading, math and science tests that were based on tougher standards, and a higher bar to be deemed proficient on the writing test.

In Pinellas, elementary schools earned 38 A's, 11 B's, 18 C's, four D's and two F's this year. Last year, they received 32, 19, 14, five and three, respectively.

"We're obviously proud that we're no longer considered a failing school," said Fairmount Park principal Cooper Dawson. "We're headed in the right direction and looking forward to continuing that way."

She credited additional district resources, including three academic coaches who helped with constant teacher training. More help is on the way thanks to a state grant, including an extra academic coach and another assistant principal.

Melrose and Maximo will get more district support next year and come under more state oversight, as Woodlawn, Lakewood and Fairmount Park did this year. They'll also get new principals.

Among Pinellas middle schools, two improved their grades, including John Hopkins, which was hammered by a wave of brawls and arrests during the 2009-10 school year. It went from C to B.

But six others fell, including Azalea and Pinellas Park. Both went from C to D.

The latter generated headlines last year after a wave of arrests for unruly behavior that brought comparison to the Hopkins of the prior year.

"It's always disappointing," Pinellas Park Middle principal Robyn Witcher said of the D grade. But "the goods news about it is — if you can ever find good news in it — is we know we had a challenging year" and that prompted more self scrutiny.

As a result, she said, the school crafted new programs that will be rolled out this fall, including one each for high-performing, artistically inclined and struggling students.

Stephanie Joyner, director of middle schools, said most of the drop-off with other schools was tied to a plunge in eighth-grade math scores. That, in turn, was tied to a district push to put thousands of extra middle school students into Algebra I — a class many of them would not have taken until high school.

In the long run, district officials say, students will adjust to higher expectations, while teachers will learn to better weave more generalized math skills — measured by the FCAT — into algebra lessons.

The state also released the number of points high schools received from FCAT scores, which make up 50 percent of the grades they'll receive this fall.

Three of the four schools with the biggest gains — Boca Ciega, Gibbs and Dixie Hollins — are also three of the four schools that fell under state oversight last year. (The fourth under oversight, Lakewood, saw a slight decrease in points.)

"Any time you have that kind of scrutiny, you really, really look at what you're doing," said Kevin Hendrick, director of high schools.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Reach Ron Matus at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

On the Web

To see school grades for the state, visit schoolgrades.fldoe.org/default.asp.

Pinellas schools' grades weather tougher criteria 07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2011 1:05am]

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