Elementary schools shine; high schools struggle

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By Angye Morrison

The Florida Department of Education released school grades Thursday and for the second time in the district’s history, four of Gadsden County’s school received A’s. Overall, 85 percent of the schools received passing grades.

Not all of the news was good, however, as both East and West Gadsden high schools received failing grades. The F’s resulted in the removal of the principals at both schools. Juliette Jackson, formerly principal at James A. Shanks Middle School, will be principal at West Gadsden High School when the new academic year begins. The principal slot at East Gadsden is still open.

Greensboro and St. John elementary schools, along with Gadsden Elementary Magnet School and Crossroad Academy, received the top scores. Stewart Street Elementary School received a “B,” down from an “A” the previous year. George W. Munroe, Havana, Gretna and Chattahoochee elementary schools each received a “C,” as did Havana and James A. Shanks middle schools.

Gadsden County Schools Superintendent Reginald James said he was pleased with the performance of the elementary and middle schools, and he is taking a no-holds-barred approach to the high schools.

“I am pleased with the success in our elementary schools and I see very encouraging signs of progress in our middle schools,” James said. “In regards to our failing high schools, we are going to meet the challenges head on and we will offer ‘No Excuses.’ We will evaluate student performance by classroom and make the necessary changes from top to bottom.”

James discussed several of the schools specifically during an inteview today.

• Greensboro Elementary: James called the school’s back-to-back “A” significant, and said the school’s performance was excellent.

• St. John Elementary: James said he is proud of the school, and that last year, it was the only school that didn’t come up a letter grade. He challenged them, and this year, the school “strutted” its stuff. “They called me in and showed me their scores and said, ‘That’s a big, fat A,’” he said.

• Gadsden Elementary Magnet School: It’s been an “A” school for 4 years in a row, and this year had the highest point total in the district.

• Chattahoochee Elementary School: James said the school has had an excellent year, and has made significant progress, coming from an “F” 2 years ago to its current grade of “C.” The school made adequate yearly progress also.

• Gretna Elementary School: James called it an “underachieving school” that has the potential to be an “A.”

“They have a stable teacher base and bright students. They should be able to get an ‘A’,” he said.

• James A. Shanks Middle: “They are the shining star in the whole scenario this year,” James said. “It has been a struggling school. It was a ‘D’ for several years and an ‘F’ before that.There are positive things happening there. The state (Department of Education) visited there earlier this year and said there is some real instruction going on there.”

When discussing the high schools, James called them a “different kind of challenge in our district.”

“We have students who may not have gotten the foundation that others have. There is a need for intensive remedial instruction. We haven’t done an effective job in remedial instruction and we must do better,” he said.

James said he has adopted the high schools, and plans to be in the trenches there when the school year begins, to see firsthand what’s working and what’s not. But he’s not waiting until the first bell rings to begin that evaluation.

“We’ll be spending this summer analyzing the performance data by student at each school,” he said. “We’ll be looking at data right down to classrooms and individual teachers. We want to break down what is happening in each classroom to see which teachers are performing well and which are not. This is not to pick on anyone but to find out what’s really happening in a school. We’ll find this out and then make the necessary adjustments.”

James said this will likely include the removal and/or transferring of teachers.

“There will be people moved. Everybody must be held accountable,” he said. “I cannot accept the statement that our high school students cannot perform. We will look at the level and quality of instruction in each classroom and make adjustments accordingly.”

James does feel that budget cuts and funding issues played a part in student performance.

“Funding was a factor. Lack of funding does affect grades. When you start cutting or reducing programs or staff, and you already have students not performing well, then you create more problems. That was a fact. It was not it entirely, but it was a part of it.”

James said he is working with administrators to develop a list of students who are two to three grades behind, and those students will be placed into an alternative setting, which he said has been proven to work better for the district. He added that alternative programming will be more fully funded in the coming year than in the past.

Overall, however, James is encouraged.

“I am really optimistic about our middle schools,” he said. “Once we get the high schools performing better, we’ll be more where we need to be. Our high schools are our biggest challenge now and we’re going to take them on, head on.”