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FCAT money a welcome reward

Five Citrus County schools have been on an exhilarating spending spree, divvying up $330,000 in bonus money from the state.

This shopping experience is designed to boost staff morale, improve academic achievement, increase student interest in reading, provide innovative classroom lessons and promote parent involvement.

Schools earned the windfall by improving their performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and thus the letter grade assigned to all schools. The amount of each award is tied to the student population. At each school, staff will get bonuses and students will benefit from dollars earmarked for academic enrichment or celebrations.

The five schools are Homosassa Elementary, Crystal River Middle, Floral City Elementary, Lecanto Middle and Citrus Springs Middle.

Every student at Homosassa Elementary will be able to take home at least one book from the book fair planned at that school this spring. Every teacher in the school will get $100 for direct classroom purchases and programs. Students will be treated to special monthly activities including jugglers, dramatic and musical presentations, field trips and academic motivational speakers.

Everyone who works at the school will see a bonus with full-time employees earning $325 before taxes.

"We know how to stretch our money," said Roberta Long, Homosassa principal. Her school received $36,784 for maintaining the A grade it earned from the state last year. "All of this is in addition to what we're already doing for enrichment and enhancement for students."

With a much larger school population, Crystal River Middle earned $90,570 by jumping from a C school to a B.

"We've been busy assessing various needs," said principal Gina Hodges. "We've decided to enhance our library collection, which is something also identified by the students."

The school has set aside $15,000 to add books and materials.

Another $5,000 has been set aside for curriculum-focused student celebrations. Hodges said that may include a cultural fair but details are not settled. Teachers will also receive funds based on the number of students they teach each day which they can use for supplies or programs in their classroom.

For teachers who often dig into their own pockets to provide what their students need when their classroom allocations run out, the dollars are welcome. One of the school's teachers will now be able to purchase a series of scholastic magazines she hopes will help with discussions about the world-changing events of Sept. 11.

"The teachers are very excited about this," Hodges said.

The remaining $50,000 will be given as staff bonuses which would amount to about $580 per employee.

"We wanted to do a little bit of everything," Hodges said. "It makes it nice to be able to meet the needs that we don't have the money for. Adding to the library is not something we can do very often."

A program related to accelerated reading efforts will get a jump start at Floral City Elementary School because of the $44,827 the school earned by improving from C to B.

Later this year, in partnership with Home Depot, students will be learning how to do several construction projects including building birdhouses, according to principal Janet Reed.

At Floral City the dollars will also provide $300 per classroom for supplies and staff bonuses of about $400.

At Lecanto Middle School, where the grade also improved from a C to a B, school officials decided to spend about 80 percent of their $81,324 on bonuses for all the people who were on staff last year. "This is because our people felt that there was such a commitment and a buy-in by these people that they were deserving," said assistant principal Cherise Cernich.

Those bonuses will amount to $850.

The remaining balance will go toward academic activities and materials.

During a recent spirit week, for example, homerooms competed against one another to see who could raise the most to help the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks. Students in Robin Bell's homeroom, who won the contest, were treated to breakfast at McDonald's.

"They understood that these activities were because of their efforts and their successes in the FCAT," Cernich said.

The final decision on how to spend $77,208 in recognition monies has not yet been made at Citrus Springs Middle School, which also improved from a C to a B. Early discussions divide the money between small staff bonuses and a larger amount to provide special opportunities for students, according to principal Bill Farrell.

"We're just working out the amounts at this point," he said. "It's kind of a nice problem to have."

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