Tiny collegiate high school earns big honor

High FCAT scores put the dual-enrollment school on top of the county heap.

Published July 2, 2006

St. Petersburg Collegiate High School received the greatest number of points among county high schools on the state Department of Education's school accountability report.

The county's first charter high school learned of the distinction a month after the graduation of its inaugural class.

The report assigns letter grades to public schools based on student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"It speaks extremely well of the college family and the high school staff working together to benefit students, and that's our focus. The fact that they do this well on the FCAT isn't because we do FCAT prep. We do, of course, but we try to direct all of our lessons to higher-level thinking," principal Linda Benware said.

The school, which opened in August 2004, enrolls grades 10-12 in a three-year program that allows students to earn a high school diploma and a college associate degree simultaneously. The school is operated by St. Petersburg College and sponsored by the Pinellas County School Board. Students take classes at SPC's Gibbs campus.

Benware attributed her school's accomplishment to "rigorous and relevant" curriculum and an emphasis on relationship-building.

"We build strong relationships with our students, our families, our college staff and the high school staff. So when you focus on, as (education reform consultant) Bill Daggett always says, rigor, relevance and relationship ... we have focused on those three R's. That is the nugget of our success," Benware said.

Grades are assigned based on a point system that awards points based on the percentage of students who score high on the FCAT and/or make annual learning gains. To earn an "A," a school must earn a minimum of 410 points. For the 2005-06 school year, St. Petersburg Collegiate High School earned 467 points. Palm Harbor University High and East Lake High rounded out the top three county high schools, with total points of 459 and 423, respectively.

"Students are selected on a random basis, so this is not because they are the very best students from the high schools they come from, but because they are interested in learning," said St. Petersburg-Gibbs campus provost Charles Roberts.

Benware pointed out that SPCHS has a minority rate - 30 percent - that is nearly double that of the other two "A" schools. Palm Harbor University and East Lake both have minority rates of about 15 percent.

"It's good to note that early college experiences are an excellent source of college access for minority students. They receive the support for the transition to prepare them for collegiate classes," she said.

With an enrollment next year of 175, St. Pete Collegiate is significantly smaller than Palm Harbor University or East Lake. Smaller classes and more one-on-one attention definitely help SPCHS students succeed, Benware said. And that's a point worth noting, she said.

"As Pinellas County schools and other schools across the nation start to move toward small learning communities, this is just one more example of the true success of small learning communities. There are many examples out there," the principal said.