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Students succeed in spite of odds

Published Sep. 13, 2005

They haven't thrown a party at Orange Grove Elementary yet, but it's just a matter of time.

The Seminole school recently got word it's one of five Florida schools being recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Distinguished School.

The honor goes to schools where test scores are consistently high, students are well-behaved and at least half the children are poor enough to qualify for a free or discounted lunch.

Schools, in other words, that succeed despite having the demographics often blamed for educational failure.

"We're so excited about Orange Grove," said Judy Langford, Pinellas County's director of Title 1 programs, which directs federal money to schools with a high percentage of children from poor families. "It's kind of one of those things like, against all odds, the children are successful."

About 160 schools nationwide get the award each year. Orange Grove will be recognized in May at the International Reading Association's annual conference in Orlando.

Principal Charles Craig said the honor is affirmation "that my staff has done an excellent job, the kids have done a yeoman's job and the parents have supported us."

It also means, he added with a smile, "that we're good."

A review by three state evaluators found as much during a visit to the school in November.

The analysts interviewed teachers, observed classrooms and talked to students to see if the school was as good as its scores made it appear. At the end of a daylong visit, the evaluators said they were impressed.

"We felt real good about it," Craig said. "But until they actually tell you . . ."

Now that he knows Orange Grove will be honored, Craig wants to have a party to celebrate.

So far, the school has simply posted its good news on the new sign at the entrance. The sign, Craig noted, was put up by parents of Orange Grove children, an effort that he said reflects the spirit of cooperation that makes Orange Grove successful.

"That shows you the kind of sweat equity people put in here," he said.