For the third year in a row, and the fifth time in the last six years, the Apalachicola Bay Charter School has earned a school grade of A, firmly establishing itself as one of the top performing schools in the region.
The ABC School was among 110 combination kindergarten through eighth grade schools in the state to earn the top grade, a 4 percent increase over last year. In all, 42 percent of these K-8 schools earned an A.
When school grades were announced Friday by the Florida Department of Education, the kindergarten through 12th grade Franklin County School received only a grade of “pending.” This is because the state waits until the fall, when all possible additional points can be calculated, to announce the grades for such K-12 schools.
Based on a preliminary grade of C issued Friday for the entire district, it appears likely that the consolidated school will earn at least a grade of C, and eliminate the stigma of having been a D school in 2012-13.
The ABC School’s grade was earned because it tallied 614 points, easily surpassing the minimum of 590 points needed to get an A grade. Schools are assigned points for earning satisfactory or better scores in reading, math, science and writing on the (FCAT) Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, for achieving learning gains as measured by individual test results from one year to the next; and for doing well on the end of course (EOC) exams.
In the ABC School’s case, all 17 of its students taking the one EOC course it offers, Algebra I, earned satisfactory or better results, so those scores of the top students were clearly among several areas that worked in the school’s favor.
In addition, included in the school grade is the calculation of student gains of the lower 25 percent in reading and math, and that too helped the school earn the needed points. “That’s where we saw a lot of other school growth,” said ABC Principal Chimene Johnson.
“I am very proud of the students, faculty, and staff and their hard work this year,” said Johnson. “Our teachers and staff worked diligently with their students to help them reach their academic potential. The students were well prepared and rose to the challenge, giving their best to reach the high expectations set by the state.”
Fine tuning with ‘Student Success Binders’
She said the school engages in a cooperative effort to use benchmark assessments three times a year to assess how well students understand the standards in reading, math and science being tested. Beginning in the first nine-week grading period, once students have settled into the school year, teachers get a baseline, and then review the data with students and revise instruction to meet academic needs.
“Teachers keep ‘student success binders,’ which are basically a portfolio of our students and their prior assessments, their academic history, so teachers get a picture of where our students fall,” Johnson said. “Teachers and teacher assistants provide remediation one-on-one and in small groups to help students become more proficient with subject area skills.”
Further testing is done in December-January, and they review that data to fine tune the teaching approach. A third assessment is done the first week of March, just before the FCATs, to further address any weak spots in the student’s education.
On an ongoing basis, every Wednesday is devoted to a team review by teachers and administrators known as MTSS (Multi-Tiered Student Support) for the most at-risk students. Johnson, Assistant Principal Elizabeth Kirvin, Dean of Students Gina Taranto, and Guidance Counselor Susan Bachrach, review data with teachers in what used to be known as Response to Intervention.
“Are there resources they need to further teach that standard? We sit with teachers to discuss individual students, which is required by law for schools to implement in order to meet the needs of those at-risk students,” Johnson said. “We ask ‘Is it behavior? Is it attendance? Is it an academic issue? Is it working to improve the student's skills and ability? Are they still struggling?’
“They (teachers) work bell-to-bell and pull those students during special area times and after school,” said Johnson. “When I look back at the consistency of our school grade and scores, some of that is attributable to fine-tuning our teachers.”
Overall, student assessments are done with Discovery Education’s ThinkLink, a tool for what is called “predicative assessments,” used to help students meet Common Core standards and the Next Generation Sunshine State standards. Johnson said that over the last two years, students have also been assessed on the new Florida Standards.
These standards will be especially crucial next year, when a new, simpler and more transparent grading system will support the more rigorous Florida Standards, and the Florida Standards Assessment will replace the FCAT. This is the final year school grades will be calculated using the current formula.
“The new grading system that will start next year will continue to be crafted with input from parents, teachers and educators,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “Its focus on student achievement and gains will help ensure a fair accountability system that helps measure student knowledge of the new Florida Standards.”
Changes in the faculty
The charter school administration has been busy this summer addressing faculty changes. Tanya Joanos, who taught seventh grade civics and language arts, has moved to Wakulla County. She has been replaced by Allison Crum, a Carrabelle native who has taught in schools throughout Florida.
For the last five years she has taught language arts at North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City. The mother of three boys, in kindergarten, fifth and seventh grade, Crum is the wife of Ron Crum, pastor of High Calling Church in Eastpoint.
Elementary school teacher Marie Lee, who taught fourth grade mainly in the six years she has been at ABC, is moving to the Walton County area. Also, first grade teacher Roxanne Ramsdell is moving back to St. Croix.
Belinda Cassidy, a paraprofessional who returned to Florida State University to get her bachelor’s degree, has been hired as a classroom teacher.
Also, an additional pre-Kindergarten class, with 10 students each half-day, has been added. This will be instructed by Amy Hersey, who worked as a teacher assistant for the last couple years and who took course work over the summer to be certified to teach pre-K.
Making the grade
Here is a review of the ABC School’s school grades dating back to 2003.