BROOKSVILLE — Nearly every school in Hernando County this year either maintained or improved on its grade, making for slight gains that inched the district closer to an A but kept it steady at a B for the third straight year.
Superintendent Lori Romano said she was pleased to see how the county fared, ranking 37th among Florida's 67 districts and moving from 54 percent to 56 percent of fulfilled points on the state's grading scale. Sixty-two percent secures an A.
"When I came here, we were a C that was almost a D, so this shows that staff has worked hard and our community has united," Romano said after the release of grades last week. She said district leaders got the news during a workshop, giving them the chance to celebrate together.
Linda Peirce, district manager of assessments and accountability, said the district's growth came from small score increases across a number of grades and subjects, including math, science and social studies.
"The growth didn't come from any one category," Peirce said. "It was more like, two points here, one there ... pretty much across the board."
The one school that fell a letter grade, from a B to a C, was J.D. Floyd Elementary. But Peirce said the school's change from a K-8 to an elementary school last year has to be taken into account.
She said she plans to analyze data on the school's third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from before and after the transition in the coming weeks to get a clearer, truer picture of the school's growth.
Both Spring Hill and Chocachatti elementary schools rose from a B to an A, and a handful of schools made gains from C's to B's. Moton Elementary ranked lowest in the district, earning a D for the second year in a row and falling again on the list of the state's lowest-performing schools.
District leaders agreed that Spring Hill's A rating didn't come easily. The Title I school, with a high percentage of children from low-income families, has improved steadily, moving up one letter grade a year since 2014, when it was a D.
This year, it was the only Title I in the district that earned an A, an achievement that principal Michael Maine said he hopes brings pride to the school's community, specifically students' parents and guardians.
"We are up against a high population of students with disabilities, students that don't speak English as their first language and students on free and reduced(-price) lunch," Maine said. "But when you take all of those things and push them aside and believe that all kids can achieve and learn regardless of their background ... you realize none of those things matter."
Maine, who has been in the school's top spot for two years, said he credits the gains to the "team effort" push for teachers and staff to focus on bottom-quartile, or the lowest-performing, students.
Chocachatti principal Lara Silva said teachers at her school were focused on teaching fun and engaging lessons, specifically noting a program called Hands on Science Days, which she credited for the school's jump in science scores. The school's overall score increased by more than 80 points.
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Others schools that saw major gains were Brooksville Elementary, Springstead High, Pine Grove Elementary, Nature Coast Technical High and Parrott Middle, another Title I school that earned a B this year, its highest rating since 2011.
Peirce said she credited the growth at some schools to data-driven school leaders who dedicated themselves to crunching numbers to see how instruction could be made better.
Next year, she said, the district plans to have a computer system in place that will allow staffers to do their own calculations to come up with early predictions of school grades. While state numbers will be more exact, she said the district's program should be "pretty close."
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com. Follow @mareevs.