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Updated: 11/02/2013 08:00:01AM

BMS buckling down

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Like any kid teetering on the brink of failing a class, Bartow Middle School is buckling down and hitting the books. Teachers are being monitored, classroom methods are being evaluated and coaches from the Polk County School District office are stepping in to help.

Bartow Middle School is one of 10 Polk schools that earned a D or lower in last spring’s Department of Education rating system which put the school into the “turnaround” mode, says Deputy School Superintendent Jackie Byrd.

Byrd said the district had pulled out all the stops to raise the school’s F grade of 441 points on the state’s grading scale including adding in-school teacher coaches in reading, math and science, the three fields in which schools are measured.

The school’s turnaround plan also called for its new principal and two assistant principals to spend “half their time monitoring teachers in the classroom” and keeping closer tabs on teachers’ methods of teaching.

“We’re also going to monitor student progress more routinely to see where we need to add help,” Byrd added.

In addition to new administrators, according to Byrd, the District staff is searching for ways to pay for incentives or bonuses to further motivate staff. “We’re working with the Polk Education Association to see what we can come up with to add incentives to teachers and principals in schools classified as turnaround schools,” she said Wednesday.

“We’re looking for ways to help teachers improve their students’ learning,” the new deputy Superintendent said. She added that content area specialists in reading, math and science are helping teachers out.

While Bartow Middle School is getting extra homework and tutoring, it’s not the only school. Nine other schools are also getting the intense assistance from the District to bring up their overall scores. Those schools are Sleepy Hill Middle School, Griffin Elementary School, Westwood Middle School, Garner Elementary School, McLaughlin Middle School, Denison Middle School, Kathleen Middle School, Dundee Elementary School and Wahneta Elementary School.

Even with the focus on beefing up school students’ achievement, Byrd is quick to remind one that “the school is not failing, the teachers are not failing and the students are not failing.”

Byrd maintains that the DOE’s grading system “keeps changing” so the grades issued by the state are subject to interpretation.

“They (the DOE) have revised the grading system so often, it’s hard to know what they are really grading on,” she said.

The DOE’s last grading was based on student FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores which show that BMS students that fell into the lower reading rankings were not making enough headway. It also said that only 41 percent of the students met high standards in reading; 37 percent met high standards in math and 28 percent in science.

Byrd says the schools’ grading system is challenging to understand, and neither parents nor students should be discouraged.

“We’ll work hard to get those grades up and make sure our teachers in those buildings have the skills and the support to do it,” she said.

The DOE has since abandoned last year’s grading system, according to reports.

By instituting the turnaround plan this year, Byrd explained, it preempted the DOE from mandating changes.

“This gives us the option of bringing up the scores in our own way, rather than being told by the state how to do it,” she said.

The preemptive and intense assistance can be a game-changer, according to state reports. For example, in 2012 Alturas Elementary School scored a D on its annual evaluation which also launched a similar turnaround focus. This year’s ranking jumped two grades to a B.

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