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MaryEllen Elia

Turning things around at Tampa high school

Hillsborough County Public Schools has earned an overall A grade from the state — again. This is especially meaningful because all students, teachers and administrators contribute to that overall grade. Three schools most in need of improvement showed tremendous gains. Broward Elementary went from an F to a C. Sulphur Springs Elementary went from an F to a B. And the USF-Patel Partnership School went from an F to an A.

However, even with our overall A grade, we are not satisfied that all our schools and students are achieving their highest potential. I want to talk about one school in particular — historic Middleton High School.

Middleton has a special place in Tampa history. In the days of segregation it was a predominantly African-American school, and many of Tampa's African-American leaders are alumni, including School Board member Doretha Edgecomb. In 1971, the high school was closed as part of the district's desegregation order. Due to the efforts of alumni and community leaders, Middleton High School was re-established in 2002 at a beautiful new campus in East Tampa. The school's rebirth is a point of pride for our school district and community.

The state gave Middleton a D grade and identified it as one of two high schools in Florida that must improve or face restructuring. The other school on the state's list for possible restructuring, Miami Edison Senior High School, is an F-rated school and has earned an F grade eight of the last 11 years.

Middleton is a very different story. It is not among the state's 44 F-rated schools (there are none in Hillsborough). Middleton has never been graded F. In fact, Middleton earned more points than ever toward its school grade this past year. I am confident the school is moving in the right direction.

Middleton's Mu Alpha Theta mathematics team ranked first in our district and seventh in the nation. The Japanese team took first place in the state language competition. Middleton is one of only three schools in the nation recognized as a student branch by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

I can't say enough about how hard the dedicated Middleton staff has worked. Still, none of us believe we are moving fast enough, and a grade of D is not good enough. The Middleton staff, the School Board and I will not simply wait for things to get better. We will continue to make them better.

We have devoted significant resources to Middleton this past year, adding math, science and reading coaches; reducing class sizes; conducting special Saturday trainings for staff; and providing tutors. We have worked with local churches, law enforcement and community members to make improvements. All these efforts were worthwhile. But the academic improvement is not where we want it to be.

We have a lot of work to do and I can attest to the district's sense of urgency. Over the summer, we are using federal stimulus money to provide more teachers with training than ever before, and Middleton teachers are well represented. We are analyzing test score data, class by class and subject by subject, to make sure we're devoting resources to the right areas. We are expanding our focus to the middle schools that feed Middleton.

In the coming weeks you will see more changes, and I will be meeting soon with Middleton alumni so we can work together even more closely.

This school district has a proven track record of making changes when necessary to turn around a school's fortunes. But the school district cannot do it alone. Whatever plan we devise for Middleton will require commitment from students and their families, as well as support from the community.

I believe that the community that was so effective in working with the school district to get Middleton re-established as a high school in the 1990s can be just as helpful and effective now. Together we must ensure that Middleton's future is as bright as its historic past.

MaryEllen Elia is the superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools.

Turning things around at Tampa high school 07/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 10, 2009 8:10pm]
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