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A grade A, B and C day for Hernando's schools

Three Hernando schools bring home A's from the state, and school leaders are also pleased that no school in the system grades lower than a C.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


Hernando County raised its grades this year on the state's school performance report card, earning more A's and B's and pushing what was its lowest-performing school to higher ground.

Three schools -- Deltona Elementary, J.D. Floyd Elementary and Fox Chapel Middle School -- raised their performance so much they earned an A. Last year, the county had just one A.

Pine Grove Elementary, which lost its principal and 17 teachers to the new Chocachatti Elementary, rallied enough through the transition to boost its grade from a C to a B.

Moton Elementary, which lived the past year under the cloud of a D, rode a string of vastly improved test scores to a C this year.

"Oh, I am glad we came up," Moton's new principal, Donnie Moen, said. "It's tough going through a whole year and knowing you are not a D school and yet the state calls you that."

Twelve Hernando County schools received C's. None received a D or an F.

The only school to drop was the one with nowhere to go but down -- Suncoast Elementary, which received an A in 1999 but took a C this year.

Suncoast principal Tizzy Schoelles was displeased though not surprised. Suncoast met most of the requirements for an A and dramatically improved in math. But reading scores declined too much to hold the high ground.

If there was a surprise in the report it was that Chocachatti, a new school that posted the district's highest scores, did not receive a letter grade.

None of the state's first-year schools were graded because grades are based, in part, on a school's past performance, an education department spokesperson said. Chocachatti's test scores met the requirements for an A.

Despite the omission, district officials were unabashedly pleased with the county's performance. The district's grade point average rose from a 2.1 last year to a 2.4 this year.

"It's a cautious celebration," said Charles Casciotta, the secondary curriculum specialist. "We are doing a good job."

Deltona principal Janet Dunleavy was much less reserved upon hearing her school had risen to A status.

"Oh God, I feel really good," Dunleavy said. "That's fantastic."

Deltona barely missed an A last year, partly because of low attendance. This year the school "rode" parents on attendance, even to the point of encouraging them to reschedule daytime doctor visits.

Dunleavy also took a strategic gamble by converting one fourth-grade teaching slot into a reading specialist's position. The change gave struggling readers more time in small groups but made classes larger for other students.

At J.D. Floyd, few people were around Wednesday to celebrate.

Principal Janet Yungmann-Barkalow heard the news while vacationing along the Utah-Arizona border. Though it came over a crackling mobile phone, it sounded just as sweet. "I feel happy. Great. Wonderful. Thrilled," she said.

Like her principal, teacher Linda Summers said J.D. Floyd is reaping the dividends of a single-minded commitment to a strategy called Project Child. It emphasizes technology and ensures that, in math, reading and language arts, students get the same teacher three years in a row. That promotes continuity and saves get-acquainted time.

"It's really worked," Summers said. "Even those skeptics in the beginning have seen the benefits of Project Child."

At Fox Chapel, assistant principal Sharon Bray invoked Forrest Gump to describe how hard it is to gauge eighth-graders, the focus of middle school testing. "Each year is like a box of chocolates -- you just never know what you're going to get," Bray said.

Fox Chapel has tried to promote continuity by assigning half the students in each class to the same set of teachers for their entire middle school stay. And each grade has its own hallway, assistant principal, guidance counselor and secretary. The idea has been to create a "school within a school."

Suncoast principal Schoelles accepted responsibility for the A-to-C drop. But it's clear her school had bumps in the road this year.

Fourth-graders are a key focus of the state's testing and accountability program. Yet a teacher pregnancy and a teacher transfer resulted in two fourth-grade classes spending a large chunk of the first semester with substitutes.

And to make the school more flexible in the long run, the burden of teaching writing to fourth-graders was shifted. Instead of depending on one teacher, Suncoast spread the responsibility to six. Schoelles said scores should improve as the other five teachers grow more attuned to quirks of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. "Rest assured," she said, "we will do better next year."

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