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K-8 System, Choice, Rezoning: Flagler School District Bracing for Reforms Affecting All

| November 14, 2012

One last class before it all changes for Flagler County students. (© FlaglerLive)

Major changes are coming to Flagler County schools: Rezoning, reforming and rethinking the district’s physical and intellectual boundaries. By the time it’s done—or at least implemented—students, teachers and parents will have all felt the ground beneath their feet move a little, and in some cases a lot.

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By 2014, it is becoming a certainty that elementary and middle schools will disappear. They’ll be replaced with universal K-8 schools. The Flagler County School Board believes the reconfiguration will result in more “personalized” education: The reconfigured schools would borrow a page from the charter school movement, with each school emphasizing a specialty (think arts, science, languages), rather than providing the same curriculum throughout. Each school would preserve a basic core of coursework, of course.

“The reason for that reconfiguration,” Superintendent Janet Valentine says, “is to provide more balanced schools, smaller learning communities within the schools, acceleration options, remediation options, a focus on areas of interest, school choice options with transportation, and then ultimately, that more personalized approach to education.”

The school district currently has 3,000 more seats than it has students. That’s the equivalent of two whole schools. The district’s traditional public schools have also been losing enrollment to the county’s charter schools, while the county’s overall student population has stagnated for five successive years. Moving to a K-8 system would make for a more efficient, less costly system, particularly with transportation. It would also—the district hopes—help blunt the growing appeal of charter schools by providing the same sort of specialization and choice to parents.

And it would dovetail with a $30 million, four-year grant the district is applying for as part of the federal school reform movement called Race to the Top. That’s another major change, should the district secure the grant.

flagler county school superintendent janet valentine

Janet Valentine (© FlaglerLive)

Race to the Top is an Obama administration initiative that, through very competitive grants, pushes states to adopt higher education and graduation standards, college eligibility and entrance rates. It also encourages better teacher recruitment and retention, with particular emphasis on low-achieving schools. It does so with methods that have been interpreted as either innovative by its advocates or abrasive and alienating by its detractors, among them some teacher groups. Race to the Top requires far more rigorous evaluation and reward systems that could leave some teachers behind. But Flagler County’s teacher union has signed on.

Flagler’s $30 million grant is part of a multi-billion program that has most districts around the nation, and virtually every district in Florida, competing. But the acceptance rate is low, and nothing guarantees that Flagler, despite high confidence in the district, will land it.

“Flagler’s participation in Race to the Top will strengthen the long-standing district expectation that all teachers will provide rigorous, authentically engaging, standards-based instruction,” the district’s 77-page grant application  reads, “that challenges students and results in students graduating from high school ready to be successful in college or post-secondary career education. It will cause the district to focus Professional Development so that a correlation can be drawn between what teachers learn and how they implement that knowledge to raise student achievement. Through its redesigned evaluation system, the district will identify and reward teachers who are consistently achieving student growth so that others may emulate their practices. “ See the full grant application here.

The school board has been recalibrating its thinking around Race to the Top since January 2010, when it secured a very small grant designed to help it adapt to the new system. It then applied for the much larger grant. The results will be announced in December. Between now and then, the district is exploring various consequences of anticipated changes, not all of them necessarily related either to the grant or to Race to the Top.

During a workshop last week, for example, board members examined potential rezoning maps for the two high schools and the two middle schools. Rezoning is a certainty whether the district lands the grant or not. The question is how far the rezoning will go to enable the K-8 system.

Flagler Palm Coast and Matanzas High School won’t change. But their populations and zoning boundaries will. FPC’s population of 2,400  is currently some 300 students over-capacity. That’s why you see those portables ringing parts of the school’s campus. Matanzas’s population of 1,600 is more than 300 students below capacity. The district wants to even out the two schools and balance their demographics: the proportion of black students at FPC (20 percent) is twice that at Matanzas (10 percent), though Asians and Hispanics are more fairly balanced between the two schools.

The most significant proposed change would carve out a swath of the western ends of the W and R Sections of Palm Coast, and send those students—who are currently attending Buddy Taylor Middle School and Flagler Palm Coast High School—to Indian Trails Middle School and Matanzas High School instead. That’s one proposal. A second proposal would limit the carving to the W Section.

Both proposals would even out the populations of the two high schools. But the first proposal would better achieve the racial balance the district is aiming for, and would likely prove more controversial for that reason: even after de-segregation, predominantly white schools’ communities have historically reacted bitterly (and often embarrassingly) to greater influx of black students. Those bigoted reactions are unlikely to spare such rezoning efforts, however well intentioned (and legally compelling) in a county known in Florida for having been the very last to desegregate its schools.

The district itself is not in a position to prevaricate over fairer treatment of black students, who are disciplined and expelled at much greater rates than white students, a disparity that resulted in the Flagler district being one of four at the receiving end of a federal complaint by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Nevertheless, Valentine cautioned, “we don’t want this to go any further with people starting to look at lines and all, because these are just really rough estimates at this point.”

During last week’s discussion, Valentine also de-coupled the rezoning plan from the district’s K-8 transformation, suggesting that the transformation hinged on securing the Race to the Top grant.

“I thought that during a board meeting, we discussed going K-8, and this board said, regardless of the grant, we’re going K-8,” School Board member Colleen Conklin said, surprised.

But the superintendent wanted to have a plan just in case the district did not go to K-8, “to give some relief” to existing schools. “If I’m being directed that we’re going to K-8 no matter what, then we can certainly go back to the drawing board and just do K-8,” Valentine said. “I apologize, but I thought we were looking at all options, because we’re going to have to look and find out financial impacts of all of these moves. So what I’m trying to do is lay out all the options for this board to look at and discuss.”

But valentine assured the board that students will not go through two rezoning no matter what. “No one at all is going to recommend that, no,” Valentine said. “I just want you to see all the options. We will consider all the financial costs. And we will do that before the decision is made in December by the feds as to whether we get the grant or not.”

In two weeks, the board will consider rezoning maps as they would look in a K-8 system.

25 Responses for “K-8 System, Choice, Rezoning: Flagler School District Bracing for Reforms Affecting All”

  1. DLF says:

    When are we going to stop reinventing the wheel ? When after years of increase spending,lack of results we are now redesigning a broken system. Lets start holding the school board and teachers accountable for the results we continue to fail to get. Now we have something that will cost more money and no one will understand why we continue to fall behind the rest of the world. Next year it will be another lame plan to cover up the lack of positive results,and say we need to spend more money for the school board and teachers salary.

  2. J MILLER says:

    Whats wrong with the current system? is it not working? Are they trying to fix something that isn”t broken?
    If they have 3,000 open seats why are they getting fined to not meeting class size rules…..and how does a student that young know which direction they want to go in?

  3. Nancy N. says:

    Have to say that as the parent of an elementary special needs student the idea of dumping all the K-8 kids together in one building concerns me. I was already nervous enough about my daughter having to go to the middle school year after next and deal with the chaos and issues the older kids bring that she doesn’t understand – now they are saying they want to run the schools in a way so that she’d be with those kids NOW? On the other hand, I’m concerned that they will use this as a reason to isolate my daughter more from the mainstream than she already is…seems like a no-win.

  4. Dlf says:

    Just another plan to ask for more money and to cover up the lack of positive results from the educational system .

  5. Mother of Kindergartners says:

    I really hope the Parents can vote on this! I am not for this at all!

  6. Witchy Mamma says:

    I don’t see any problems with this… so what if you are adding additional grades to a building? It’s not like there will be buildings standing empty or anything… they aren’t cramming two schools under one roof. They will be more spread out. It ends up redistributing the students so they can have smaller class sizes and better utilize the resources they have at the moment.

    And I don’t think they are going to ask a first grader ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’, then take their word for it and toss them in that direction. I’m sure there will be testing and other forms information used in that decision. My fourth grader is obviously more adept to literature and writing, and not so much with math and science. This has been evident since she began school. It’s not like they are going to completely ignore the math and science, but instead just give some extra attention to the areas she excels in and enjoys most. How is that a bad thing?

    I know change is hard. But it seems to me that there are a lot of good things to consider here. Maybe give it a chance before getting upset over it. Try learning more about it… or even attend a school board meeting. Get informed before passing judgement.

  7. Deep South says:

    If Matanzas HS ever wants to get on the same level with FPC and the rest of the the state in sports to compete, they need to rezone. I don’t want my son or daughter to attend a high school that doesn’t give them a opportunity to get a scholarship to a Division I college, like Florida or Florida State.

  8. FL informed voter says:

    It’s going to happen…whether we like it or not. But, why is our county always last to implement things. I hope we lose the “good ole’ boy” mentality here and get with the times.

    • Prof Atom says:

      Yea, lets get up with the times….Because these “Times” are so much better then the past times.Maybe thats the problem with this country, always changing the things that work for the things that DON’T !!!

      • PCer says:

        Yes, these times are better than past “times”. Those past times included segregation, bigotry, and archaic ideas about how to educate our children.

  9. Helene says:

    I have responses to several of the posts above. First FL, our county was actually ahead of the times before it was behind the times. Indian Trails was opened as a K-8 and was very successful. My 3 children all graduated 8th grade from Indian Trails K-8 with my son attending school there all 8 years. It was wonderful. Then when Belle Terre opened it became 6-8 and then a couple of years ago it became 7-8.
    So Nancy, do not worry. Special needs children were at ITS K-8 and all was well. My son received several special ed classes and was eventually fully integrated in main-stream classes. After graduating MHS, he is now attending the #3 rated private college in the entire southeast. Pretty impressive for a student starting out in spec ed.
    Lastly, I do have a complaint with the Board of Ed – get your act together and stop changing the system every year! It is getting beyond ridiculous. Every year they change something whether it be the length of the day, the lineup up grades in elementary vs middle school, and the ever changing scheduling at the high school (my son had 4 different schedules in 4 years). These changes then cause teachers to be moved from school to school or grade to grade. It seems like the Board and Administration has to qualify their jobs and make work for themselves.

    • Nancy N. says:

      Helene – my daughter’s not “special ed” due to falling behind educationally. She’s “special needs”. She has a developmental disability – autism – that makes it difficult (practically impossible) for her to function socially with her peers in complex social environment, and that leaves her very vulnerable to bullying and other school violence. The social environment created by the older kids is a whole different thing than the younger kids, and I worry a lot about what will happen to her when she is thrown into that. She has enough difficulty now just with the younger kids, let alone having the older kids thrown into the building environment.

      I have to say that even if I was the parent of a “normal” kid, I would be hesitant to let my young elementary student go to school in an environment that also contains teenagers. The older kids bring with them problems and a culture that you don’t get with the younger kids usually. Why do we want to throw the guppies and the sharks in the same pond?

      • Helene says:

        Nancy, my son was not “falling behind educationally”. In fact, he was an A/B student and took honors classes in high school. His special ed “disability” was mild autisim aka Asperger’s. He was also developmentally delayed and had speech, occupational, and phsical therapy. Very early intervention (which began in NY in a special ed or “needs” preschool) helped him become the smart, secure, caring, confident young man he is today. Indian Trails K-8 had a major hand in that. As I said above, for the most part, the ages were kept separated. It doesn’t matter which kind of school a child goes to – there will also be some kind of bullying, teasing, and peer pressure. This will occur in all facets of life. Caring teachers and INVOLVED parents make the difference. It sounds like you are involved, so I think your child should has the first important ingrediant down. The K-8 school will still have the same qualified, teachers. ITS also has completely separated classrooms for highly disabled students and self-contained kitchen/living classrooms for those that need to eventually live on their own. They are quite remarkable. Of course, I can’t say how the rest of the schools in the county will be set up.

        My family found the K-8 formula at Indian Trails very successful. On the other hand, the current line-up of schools seems to have been going downhill.

        I would hardly refer to middle school children as “sharks”. Yes, there are troubled pre-teens (again – look to the homelife for the source) but the majority of these youth are just trying to figure it all out and fit in.

  10. J MILLER says:

    There is a good reason why schools are separated by age…First graders should not have to mix with 8th graders…

    • Helene says:

      J: Have you been inside ITS? It is huge! When my kids went to Indian Trails K-8 it was separted in half – elementary on one side and 6-8 on the other side. The little ones really didn’t come in contact with the older kids too often and even lunch times in the cafeteria were kept separated. It was never a problem.
      Now I don’t know how they intend on setting it up this time, but hopefully they will keep the model the same as back then.

  11. Brattlike says:

    Well my daughter attended Indian Trails K-8 and then went to FPCHS and I always wondered why they got rid of Indian Trails K-8 it was a wonderful school and my daughter did well in that type of environment. Instead of focusing on changing the zoning and worrying about Mantanaz sports you should focus more on the special needs children who are now held to the same standard testing as the kids with no special needs. As far as I can see this has done nothing but lower what little bit of self-esteem these children have and is setting them up to fail. I thought we were supposed to encourage more children to graduate from high school and not set them up to fail and not graduate because they have learning disabilities or other impairements. For one I have seen my son’s grades drop due to the new standards and because he is small for his age and has disabilities he is being bullied on a daily basis at BTMS. Focus on the real issues and leave the zoning the way it is.

    • Nancy N. says:

      I agree about the testing standards. My daughter’s grades in language have dropped significantly since they changed the standards for the special needs kids as well. This does nothing to help her.

  12. Deep South says:

    Do y’all not know where you live ? This is Florida, the South, SEC country, Gators, ‘Noles. Sounds like y’all ain’t from around here.

  13. local says:

    To unhappy parents, you always have the option to homeschool your children. I have not been impressed with Flagler Schools for a few years now so, I decided this year to do it myself. My childs future is my responsibilty no one elses. I work a full time job and homeschool my child. It is possible. If your that concerned do it yourself.

    • Nancy N. says:

      I don’t actually have the option to homeschool my child since she has a developmental disability. Autistic kids require special help that I’m simply not qualified to give. It would be ridiculous of me to think that I can adequately replace myself the help that she is getting at school from teachers with special degrees and years of special training and hands-on experience.

  14. Flagler Native says:

    LOL….only YOU know your kids. Not these underpaid, impatient teachers who assume they do. Homeschooling WILL BE the schooling of the future, you can bet on that! Homeschoolers ROCK!!!!


  15. local says:

    I totally agree with Flagler Native….! If you cant do it or don’t have the patience to do it, then stop complaining about the instituition you are trusting to do it. I recently read an article about a young boy who was autistic and was helped by chickens. If chickens can do it I am sure it does not take a special school to do it. Society has trained us to rely on someone else to train our future.

  16. Sherry Epley says:

    As a citizen who doesn’t even have kids, I am fine with paying taxes to create excellent “public” education for the children who will inherit the responsibility of the quality of the future of our country. . . and of our planet. In reading these comments, I, again, see the politically motivated stand offs that are dividing our country and taking it further and further away from greatness. United we stand, divided we fall. It seems to me that there is a place for really good teachers who bring to the small class sized room a broader perspective/vision of culture and civilization, beyond what even the most educated, well meaning parent can provide. As icing on that cake, then, are the parents who take the time to add to their children’s intellectual development with their own unique (only YOU know your kids), loving teaching/guidance. Why is it Either Or? Our future generations deserve all the “good, open minded” education they can absorb, from evey source available.

    Taking an un-necessary defensive posture, and putting down, an entire profession which employs thousands of highly qualified, caring, hard working professionals is negative, divisive, sets a terrible exampe, and does not honor anyone who proclaims themselves to be the “best” teacher.

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