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State gives middle schools gold stars

FCAT scores rate an A for all four of these schools in Citrus. Eight of the 10 elementary schools also get A's.

Published June 15, 2006

All four Citrus County middle schools performed well enough on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year to earn A grades in the state's ranking system.

Eight of Citrus' 10 elementary schools earned A's, the same as last year. Among them was Homosassa Elementary, which despite having the greatest percentage of children from low-income families in the district has now earned its seventh A grade in a row.

The other two elementary schools earned B's.

All three Citrus high schools earned C's. Last year there was one B, one C and one D.

The straight As at the middle schools were an improvement over last year's record: three B's and a C.

When asked about the middle school performance this year, superintendent Sandra "Sam'' Himmel erupted into applause.

"Overall, I think we've gained,'' she said.

This year's grades make for a 3.5 GPA. "I'm very pleased and very excited,'' she said.

Dave Stephens, who has just completed his first year as principal at Citrus Springs Middle School, credited his staff and his students for the school's A grade.

"This school has always been very student focused,'' he said, noting that "there has been a concerted effort by everyone to raise our scores.''

The news on the federal government's educational yardstick, also released Wednesday, was not as positive: Four Citrus elementary schools received provisional status under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

That means that, while those schools did well in the state's grading system, they failed to meet the federal standard of "adequate yearly progress.''

Floral City Elementary and Inverness Primary will not face sanctions over that failure to meet the federal standard because they have not failed for two years in a row.

But Pleasant Grove Elementary and Citrus Springs Elementary have not met the standard for two years in the past, and thus will now face additional sanctions.

After the second year of failure, the schools' parents were offered the opportunity to move their children to a school that had met the standard. School choice will still be offered, but another level of sanctions will also be added, said Kathy Pomposelli, the district's Title I coordinator.

That next level would allow low-income students from those schools to seek supplemental educational services in the form of tutors outside the school district.

For some, the school grades were a frustration because the FCAT scores of just a student or two were enough to cost a school a higher grade.

At Crystal River High School, principal Patrick Simon said his school missed a B grade by less than 1 percentage point. Crystal River High met the standards to make a B except that just over 49 percent of his lowest-performing students made gains in reading. He needed 50 percent for the B.

"We thought we'd be a B. So, is it what we wished for? No. But it's still growth,'' Simon said. "Do we have our work to do? Absolutely.''

Last year the school had a D.

"I'm also proud that all our middle schools did exceptionally well and that the school I was affiliated with and the one I'm married to also did well,'' he said.

Until this year, Simon was the principal at Pleasant Grove Elementary, which earned an A. He is married to Rock Crusher Elementary School principal Nancy Simon, whose school also earned an A.

Other principals in the district were unavailable for comment because they are attending a two-day curriculum session.

Himmel pointed to that kind of staff training as one reason why the district continues to improve its FCAT performance.

But she also gave credit to students. Many of this year's middle school students, for example, have been taught under the rigors of meeting the FCAT standards since they entered school.

Himmel said she believed students are understanding and living up to the higher standards required to make gains on the FCAT.

"You need to be at grade level in order to move on,'' she said. "If we just pass kids who are not at grade level, we set them up for failure.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or

[Last modified June 15, 2006, 07:02:51]

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