Gainesville, Newberry, Santa Fe earn A grades
Published: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 10:42 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 12:30 p.m.
A record number of Florida high schools earned a grade of A this year, with 48 percent — 240 schools — making the highest grade.
Alachua County's public high schools earned three of those A's, according to the preliminary high school grades released Wednesday by the Department of Education.
P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, which is in its own school district separate from Alachua County Public Schools, received its 12th consecutive A this year.
Gainesville, Newberry and Santa Fe high schools all earned A grades, and Buchholz, Eastside and the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High came in at a B.
Hawthorne Middle/High School received an F.
Newberry and Santa Fe both pulled up from last year, while Eastside, Buchholz and Hawthorne slipped. Gainesville and Loften held steady.
The grades are considered preliminary because of an appeal window that ends Jan. 22.
Karen Clarke, Alachua County Public Schools' assistant superintendent for student support, curriculum and instructional services, said the district was pleased to see two of its high schools improve from last year.
Clarke said Santa Fe Principal Beth LeClear and Newberry Principal Kevin Purvis worked hard to ensure resources were going into the programs and students who needed it the most.
As a result, both schools had strong graduation rates for their students who are considered at-risk, Clarke said, which helped bump both schools up a grade.
Buchholz and Eastside both had enough overall points in the grading formula to earn A's, but their at-risk graduation rates weren't up to scratch, which knocked both schools down to a B, Clarke said.
Eastside missed the mark in that category by one point.
"Those are painful," Clarke said.
Even though six of Alachua County's seven high schools are considered high-performing, Hawthorne Middle/High dipped lower last year. Low standardized test scores and a graduation rate of only 50 percent contributed to the school's declining grade.
"It's not for lack of effort," Clarke said. "You've got folks that are working hard out there."
The Department of Education has been involved with the school since the beginning of the year, providing professional development and instructional coaching for teachers and unpacking data about where students need the most help, she said.
This year, more than 75 percent of Hawthorne's students are on free or reduced-price lunch, which qualified the school for Title I. That qualification brought a full-time reading coach and some federal dollars and additional resources, which the school district hopes will help.
Check&Connect, a program that aims to increase graduation rates for at-risk students, has been in place for about a year there, but Clarke said it will be a little longer before Hawthorne's numbers reflect that.
"To start getting the full benefit, they have to have time to build the relationships with the students," she said.
Hawthorne is one of only eight F schools in the state.
"We are very proud of the work that our high schools have done, and they certainly have improved their performance over previous years," Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said during a media conference call.
While the number of A grades increased to a record number statewide, the number of schools receiving an F more than doubled, climbing from only three schools in 2011-2012 to eight schools in the 2012-2013 school year.
Eighty-two percent of Florida's high schools had either an A or a B and were considered high-performing this year, she said. "And they've done this while it was a little more difficult this year to achieve the higher grades."
The added difficulty came from a provision that requires certain learning gains for the lowest quartile of students in each school.
"They not only met that challenge but exceeded that challenge," Stewart said.
However, seven schools in the state were protected from dropping more than one letter grade by the safety-net measure this year. None of them are in Alachua County.
In 2011, the state board of education passed a rule that calls for an automatic adjustment of the school-grading scale after 75 percent of the schools earn an A or a B.
The adjustments increase the percentage of points needed to earn a letter grade according to the state's grading formula. The new formula will kick in when the 2013-2014 school grades are calculated in a year.
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or email@example.com.