The Apalachicola Bay Charter School was recognized this spring as one of just 16 Florida schools, out of more than 1700 Title I schools across the state, to be worthy of an Exceeding Expectations award by a technical assistance center in Sanford.

The award is particularly significant because it is an honor given only to Title I schools, which are those determined by the federal government to serve a high percentage of students from low-income families.

A group of educators from the ABC School presented for two days at the Exceeding Expectations conference in Orlando May 14 and 15. Attending were ABC School Assistant Principal Elizabeth Kirvin, Principal Chimene Johnson, and teachers Heather Friedman and Tara Ward.

To qualify for the award, presented by the East Coast Technical Assistance Center in Sanford, the ABC School’s elementary grades had to show improvement in reading and math for all its subgroups, had to earn an A grade, and be above the state median in reading and math gains, including for the lowest quartile of students.

For the middle school, the ABC School had to show an increase in proficiency for its entire student population, as well as keep an A grade and be above the state median in reading and math.

“I am extremely proud of the accomplishment of our staff and students this year,” said Johnson.

In the educators’ presentation, they wrote that the vision of the 12-year-old school, which serves 328 students in grades kindergarten through eight, “is to create a community-centered, facility that promotes student and parent participation in a stimulating learning environment that is positive, hopeful, and exciting. It is the mission of ABC School that each child will achieve his or her academic and social potential.”

The presentation cited the school’s extended learning day which enables it to offer art, music, character education, technology and foreign language instruction.

“It is our belief that all students can learn and we hold high expectations for students and staff,” read the summary, outlining how Individual Learning Plans prepared early each fall bring parents, students and teachers together to share ideas to increase the success of the child.

“It is our belief that by using best practices, differentiated instruction and intervention strategies, our students will reach their full potential,” it said.

Differentiated instruction allows teachers time necessary to learn the interests, learning styles and abilities of students, it said, describing how the elementary school consists of two heterogeneously grouped classes per grade level and are self-contained to give the teachers flexibility with scheduling and instruction.

“Our school utilizes teacher assistants to help provide differentiated instruction. It is our belief that small group instruction yields the greatest learning benefit for most students,” read the report. “Our students generally rotate between the certified teacher, the teacher assistant, and a center during the day.”

The presentation also described the “Response to Intervention” process which it said has been an integral part of ABC School’s success for many years.

“The process has evolved into an effective team approach for problem-solving. We work to quickly identify students in need for additional support,” said the presentation. “Teachers or parents will refer a student if they feel a student is not working to their academic or social potential.”

The weekly meetings bring together the assistant principal, guidance counselor, Franklin County School psychologist, teachers, parents, and, when appropriate, students.

The teachers keep a Success Binder on each student which contains student data and work samples, and which follows that student throughout their educational career at ABC School.

“The team works through a problem solving approach to develop a plan for student success,” it described. “The teachers implement scientifically-based interventions during the students’ day.”

Title I dollars are used to fund a reading teacher for intervention for identified students, as well as for additional tutoring, FCAT camps held after school and run by ABC teachers, and to purchase intervention materials.

“We know the power of building connections with students. These connections are essential to be a successful school. Great instruction and interventions are fostered by positive relationships,” reported the ABC School presentation.

The report said that field trips offer a great time for teachers, parents and students to connect outside of the school building, and outlined the “rising” and “soaring” ceremonies that have marked student advancement into, and completion of, the middle school.

“Historically, our former students have remained close in high school,” read the report. “It is wonderful to see students’ excitement and appreciation when they see staff watching them play ball or attending an extracurricular function. Each morning our students are greeted by administration. Many teachers give students “chores” and are able to be the classroom greeter. We have numerous opportunities for parental involvement throughout the year and parents are always welcome.”

The report also shared the school’s methods of celebrating its students and staff, including how it prepares for and celebrates the students’ performance on the FCAT.

“Since the inception of ABC School, the board and administration has worked hard to apply best practices to both the educational programs and administrative activities while maintaining a financially sound school. We spend the public funding we receive wisely and operate within a balanced budget,” read the presentation. We strive to create a school culture that is positive and nurturing. Our teachers and administration are held to a high standard and implementation of the new teacher evaluation system is evolving into an effective teaching tool for all.”