Franklin County School Principal Eric Bidwell pulled no punches in a detailed report to the school board last week as to why the district’s kindergarten through 12th grade school earned a D grade, and what the administration and faculty plan to do about it.

“I knew exactly what it was going to be,” Bidwell told school board members at their regular meeting Jan. 9, responding to some board members’ surprise the school‘s grade had fallen for the second year in a row after a B in 2010-11. “We should never be surprised by the school grade. We should know where a kid’s going to land within a few points.

“This is where we need it to be to start this new (process),” he said. “I don’t like being a D school. That school is going to be a B or an A school and it’s going to stay that way. If you don’t change the way we do it day to day, it’s going to take a little bit longer. And we’re going to change the culture here.”

Bidwell shared a six-page report with the school board that addressed the factors that led to the school tallying 915 points, 10 shy of a C.

“We’re not arguing with the score,” he said. “We want the public to know here we’re struggling.

“I want kids at the school to perform at the school the way they should be performing. I’m not trying to eke out a point here, a point there. What breaks my heart is the performance of our students.”

Bidwell told the board that assessment components, largely dependent on standardized testing, account for 80 percent of the school grade. All told, the district earned 504 out of a possible 900 assessment points.

The reason for this low point total is that just 44 percent of students were at grade level or better in reading, with a slightly higher percentage, 51 percent, at grade level or better in math. The lowest percentage at grade level or better was in writing, 40 percent, while the highest was in science, at 54 percent.

When it came to points assessed for learning gains overall, the school received 68 out of 100 points for math gains, and 56 points for reading gains. The data also showed that when it came to the lowest performing 25 percent of students, reading gains accounted for 57 out of 100 points, and math gains 56 points.

“Those are scary; we have a lot of work to do,” Bidwell said. “We’re not pointing at any grade level, it’s across the school. Everybody can improve their efficiency. We all can.”

The principal noted that one bright spot was how well students enrolled in accelerated classes were performing, as measured by end-of-year course exams and other data. The school earned 43 out of 50 points for middle school students, and 107 out of 150 points for high school.

But, he noted, when it came to the numbers of middle and high school students enrolled in such accelerated courses, or dual enrolled in community college courses, the numbers were less impressive, with the school earning only 35 of 50 points for middle school participation, and 44 out of 150 points for high school participation.

Bidwell said the remaining 20 percent of the school’s grade depended on a variety of other components, such as graduation rate and college readiness, and these results did little to improve the school’s grade.

Fewer than two-thirds of high school freshman graduate, even after five years of high school, and for those students who are considered by the state to be “at risk,” the numbers were little better.

“The graduation rate is alarming to me,” said Bidwell. “Luckily that’s only 20 percent of our grade.”

In terms of the measurement for college readiness in reading, the school collected a respectable 71 out of 100 points. But in terms of math readiness, the number was a dismal 27 out of 100.


‘You have to weigh the social factors as well’

School board member George Thompson asked Bidwell why it was students were not earning high school diplomas, and Bidwell said it was a variety of factors, including economic factors, inability to pass the required FCAT exam and even the program offerings of the school.

“We need to do a better job on checking on the interest of students,” he said, noting that having a Jr. ROTC program, or courses in small engine repair, might enable the school to hold on to more students through to graduation.

“Somebody ought to be able to have a list of names (of these students) and go down the list. Has anyone thought about doing that?” suggested School Board Chair Jimmy Gander. “It seems if you have the names, you could sit them down with five or six staff members, and identify what happened to that 36 percent” who didn’t graduate.

Bidwell said the school is aware now of several students who won’t receive their diplomas because of their inability to pass the required FCAT standardized test. He noted that the district would have received 10 bonus points, enough to secure a C grade, had at least half of the students who failed the FCAT the first time passed it on a subsequent attempt.

But they did not, and thus the school earned none of these points. “We got zero,” Bidwell said. “There’s no middle ground.

“Right now we have a high number of students who at this point of the year are not ready to graduate,” he said. “And we do have a lot of students who drop out once they reach 16.”

Gander said he would like to see statistics on the percentage of students who go on to earn their GED. “Are we losing half these kids when they’re seniors? This is the year to concentrate on saving them,” he said.

“Are we promoting students who shouldn’t be promoted?” asked Thompson.

Bidwell said questions need to be asked about the rigor of earlier school preparation. “There’s always stuff like that going on,” he said. “Low performers, they’re struggling. You have to weigh the social factors as well.”

Gander said the school board had acted on a request from the past administration to hire math and reading coaches, but it had not had the desired result. “A lot of times we just do the same things,” he said. “I’m wondering if that’s where the bodies need to be.”

Bidwell said hiring of coaches in reading and math was necessary. “Academic coaches are money well spent,” he said.

School Board member Pam Shiver said she appreciated the proactive approach being taken by the administration, and wondered about the effect on advanced placement offerings. “I was a little concerned,” she said. “If we’re going have an AP course, will we be able to broaden them?

“We have quite a large number of students who are dual enrolled. To me dual enrollment is a win-win,” she said. “Some of those numbers are alarming and that’s something we want to work on.”

Questioned about why the grade had risen when the state stepped in to help a few years ago, and fallen since then, Superintendent Nina Marks said the successor to Nikolai Vitti, the state advisor who is now superintendent of schools in Duval County, had not been as vigilant.

“The next person who came in behind him did not have the same level of commitment that he did,” said Marks. “The level of commitment can’t just come from people in the front office; it has to come across the board.”

Bidwell stressed to the board that he has talked to parents about upcoming changes, and promised that things would get better.

“We need to let people know that what we’ve done in the past is not going to cut it,” he said. “It’s going to raise people’s eyebrows. I had some conversation with parents and I showed them everything.

“I’m on annual contract if we don’t perform than you know what to do,” he told school board members. “I’m telling you it’s going to improve.

“We have those babies longer than those parents do,” he said. “There’s no excuse for not knowing every strength and every weakness they have. We’re not going to make excuses; they’re going to make the gains and achieve the scores they should achieve.”

County Attorney Barbara Sanders asked about teacher evaluations, which state data in 2011-12 showed that 31 of the 96 teachers in the district were not evaluated, and that of the remainder, four were deemed highly effective, 19 were effective and 42 needed improvement.

“Are we going to have real evaluations this year?” Sanders asked.

“If not I’m going home,” replied Bidwell.