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School gets an A, but ready for better
Lake Myrtle officials consider how they can prepare for next year's assessments.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published July 9, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Lake Myrtle Elementary School earned an A this year. Again.
Maybe you missed it amid all the talk of misscored FCAT exams and increasing failure rates across the state.
But Lake Myrtle quietly maintained its top mark, one of just 34 schools in Florida to hold a 4.0 grade-point, if you will, since the state started grading schools in 1999. John Abernathy, the school's principal until this month, attributed the "good run" to Lake Myrtle's hard- working teachers.
"Even before the years of FCAT, the teachers really tried to look at individual student needs and address that," said Abernathy, now principal of nearby Wesley Chapel Elementary School. More than that, he added, "we have super supportive parents, our kids are eager to learn and they have fun too."
Kara McComeskey, the new principal, said she has no plans to let the school rest on its accomplishments. The staff will continue to train in new methods to reach children and will look for ways to reach even higher.
The school had 80 percent of its students at grade-level or higher in reading, 73 percent in math, 93 percent in writing and 47 percent in science. That leaves room for growth.
"I think it's important that we continually analyze the data ... to make sure that we're looking at the areas that we did well and look at what could be causing us to be successful and, as a school and as individual teachers, reflect and look at what areas we want to grow in," McComeskey said. "I would like to be at the point where every child in this school reaches proficiency."
Her comments reflect the philosophy of leaders at the majority of the top-performing schools. They understand that assessment is a tool to refine instruction, and that a grade is not an end.
"We continue to stretch ourselves," said Ellyn Smith, principal of Alafia Elementary, another all-A school, in Bloomingdale in Hillsborough County. "We try very hard not to be okay with being okay."
They also know that, in most instances, they have advantages that many schools do not enjoy. These include, as Abernathy mentioned, active parents most have received multiple awards for volunteer involvement, low teacher turnover, low instances of children in poverty and stable leadership.
"Most children come prepared," noted Kathy Wickett, principal of McMullen-Booth Elementary School in Clearwater, another all-A school. "That's a big difference."
In fact, schools that don't earn A's might show much more growth in student achievement than those that have consistently gotten top grades, Smith said. Pasco assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly pointed to another school, Anclote Elementary in New Port Richey, as a perfect example of a school that beats the odds but hasn't been an A all the time.
Anclote, which has a poverty rate of about 66 percent, has made A's all but one year.
"Maintaining an A, and now meeting (federal adequate yearly progress), is very significant for a school with a significant level of poverty," Reilly said.
The school leaders also are well aware that grades can come and go as the state changes its criteria -- it added science to the mix this year, for instance -- and as children change.
"It is hard to keep up, especially when you already have higher scores," Wickett said. "Sometimes it can be one or two children. You wonder every year."
One thing McComeskey said she hopes to stress is that the FCAT is just another day at school, and that learning -- not school grades -- rule the day.
"I don't want to create anxiety among the children," she said. "It's important for us to develop mathematicians, strong writers and strong readers. If we provide quality instruction for the students, they will be prepared."
Unfortunately, no one could serve up a to-do list for other schools to follow. As Reilly said simply, "There is no magic formula" for earning an A. If there were, everyone would have one.
Instead, Lake Myrtle stands in a class of 34.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
Just 34 schools have earned an A from the state each year since grading began in 1999. The local ones are: