Every single traditional elementary school in the county got an A rating this year, four of them improving from lower grades. Palm Harbor Elementary, the charter school that was failing just two years ago, also got an A. So did Indian Trails Middle School. (See the full chart below.)
“It’s exciting to have all the elementary schools back up to A;s, I know they were working hard on improving,” School Board Chairman Andy Dance said.
For all that, the Flagler County School District got a B rating for the second year in a row according to preliminary school grades released Friday by the Florida Department of Education. The district’s ranking fell by a notch, to 12th among 67 school districts statewide, but remains among the state’s elite. St. Johns county schools were at the top again, followed by Sarasota and Santa Rosa.
“We were all trying to get into that top 10, we’re just barely outside,” Dance said. “The goal is still continuous improvement and working our way up.” Dance congratulated St. Johns for taking the top spot again, but cautioned: “It’s an entirely different county, it’s hard to compare Flagler with St. Johns. When you look at our demographics, I think it’s a pretty amazing testament to the teachers and administrative staff. When you draw attention to our demographics, and free or reduced lunch, we are performing very highly with the demographics we have in Flagler County. It takes a lot of hard work.”
The proportion of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch in Flagler is considerably higher than in St. Johns County, with most schools near the 70 percent range in Flagler, as opposed to some schools in St. Johns not breaking 20 percent.
“I want to be the first to congratulate everyone for their handwork and making Flagler Schools a great place for students to learn,” Superintendent Jacob Oliva said in an email to district staff this morning. “We are doing great things in Flagler and this is proof that what we are doing is working.”
Oliva had just returned the previous evening from the Florida Teacher of the Year celebration, where Jill Espinosa, a kindergarten teacher at Belle Terre Elementary–an A-rated school every year of its history since 2004–was one of the five finalists. A Polk County teacher ended up with the award, but Oliva, in an interview this morning, said Espinosa’s achievement spoke to the innovations in the district.
“We pride ourselves on innovation and some of the things we’re doing in Flagler County, when we have A schools, it reinforces what we’re doing, what we should be doing.”
A-rated schools included Bunnell, Rymfire, Old Kings, Wadsworth and Belle Terre elementaries, along with Indian Trails Middle and Palm Harbor, the charter school. Bunnell, Rymfire and Old Kings improved from last year’s B. Buddy Taylor Middle School got a C, as it had last year, so did Phoenix Academy, the specialized school within the district, also a repeat from last year’s grade. Imagine School at Town Center, the charter school, maintained a B.
Palm Harbor was the great success this year. “Palm Harbor was a school that has struggled in the past,” Oliva said. “They’ve put some intervention in place, they’ve extended their learning time, they have great leadership, so we’re very proud of their accomplishments. I keep going back to it takes a team, everybody working together.”
The grades are the result of weighing FCAT and other scores and adding up points. “The more students you have above grade level and the more students who make progress, the more points you earn,” Oliva said. Flagler had 521 point, just four points short of the 525 required for an A.
They don’t call the standardized tests high-stakes for grades alone, though school grades have a lot to do with defining a school’s–and a district’s–reputation. Money is tagged to the grades as well, what the state calls “School Recognition Fund.” Schools that get an A earn money, as do schools that improve a full letter grade. The sums add up to several hundred thousand dollars district-wide. The figure for this year hasn’t yet been tabulated.
There’ll be a new grading system next year as the FCAT is finally retired and new tests based on the Florida Standards, themselves based on common core, take root. Formulas will change. But schools will still be graded. “I don’t see that ever going away,” Oliva said.
Flagler County School Grades, 2001-2016
|Bunnell Elementary||C||C||A||A||A||B||B||A||A||B||B||A||B (C)*||A||B||C||C|
|Belle Terre Elementary||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||B||B|
|Old Kings Elementary||B||A||A||B||A||A||A||A||A||B||A||A||B||A||A||C||A|
|Rymfire Elementary||B||A||B||C||A||A||B (c)*||A||B||B||B|
|Indian Trails Middle||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||A||B||B|
|Buddy Taylor Middle||A||A||A||B||B||A||A||A||A||A||A||B||C||C||B||C||C|
|Flagler-Palm Coast High||C||B||B||D||C||B||C||A||D||B||B||B||A||B||B||C||B|
(*) In 2013, the state Board of Education agreed to pad grades in such a way as to prevent them from falling by more than one letter grade. More than 20 percent of schools benefited from the padding, including Rymfire and Bunnell elementaries in Flagler, whose grades would have been a C if the actual standards were applied.