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Updated: 12/20/2013 04:12:01PM

BMS still struggling to raise its grade

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This year’s Polk County state report card was a mixed bag. At the high school level, several raised their grades; one elementary school that earned a D rating last year rose two grades; but one failed in its effort to rise up from last year’s D rating. Half the scores are based half on the FCAT. The remainder is a laundry list of achievements, including graduation rates, certifications obtained and student scores on both International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement scores.

All Polk high schools finished the year’s reports with a C or better, even Tenoroc High School, which was just one step from failing last year. Bartow High School maintained its B rating, the same as last year, according to the state Department of Education rankings released on Wednesday. George Jenkins, Lakeland High and McKeel Academy got A’s. Ridge Community in Haines City got a B. Ten high schools got a C, among them Fort Meade, Lake Wales, Mulberry and Frostproof. Meanwhile, Alturas Elementary School reveled in raising its year-ago grade, from a low D to a B+, according to principal Charles Pemberton.

“We were only four points shy of an A,” he said. “We plan to make up those four points this year.”

Sadly, Bartow Middle School, which began the 2012-2013 school year with a new principal and vice principal and then later underwent a management shakeup toward the end of the school year, got its D rating this summer. To reverse course, principal Pam Henderson said some of the recovery methods used by Alturas Elementary will be put in place at BMS. The school now has on-staff coaches to help teachers with reading and math. Those helped Alturas raise their grade, as did additional study time set aside to concentrate on reading skills.

“We have state and district coaches who help teachers plan their lessons and evaluate each students needs to see where they need the most help,” she explained. “We’re also tracking student progress every few weeks to see progression.”

Even though it is early in the reporting year for middle schools, both Henderson and District Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jackie Byrd said BMS is “on the upswing.” Henderson said the only data readily available on Thursday was the recent evaluation of student reading capabilities. She said all three grades show an uptick from last year’s achievements: a 7 percent increase for sixth grade; 16 percent for seventh grade; and 10 percent for eighth grade reading abilities.

“We have focused on Bartow Middle,” said Byrd, “And are working closely with the faculty there to look at each child’s needs and outline plans to help them improve.”

“We also have plans ongoing where each child can track his or her own progress,” Henderson explained. “It helps them to see where they need to work harder. It also helps them see their gains.”

Henderson also said the school was holding family literacy nights where parents are guided in ways to help their children improve their reading skills.

“If they help their child read better, their other scores usually go up as well,” she said. “But we also are looking at scores in math and science and have improved our professional development in those areas too. We are also incorporating reading improvement into all our classes, like in social studies.”

In January the school will be launching twice-weekly 90n minute tutoring sessions after school for those students who may need more individualized coaching.

“Those will be after school and available to every student who needs the extra help.”

Both Pemberton and Henderson say their teachers are working very hard with each student to keep their skills at grade level or beyond.

“Our teachers stayed focused and were phenomenal. All the grade levels worked together to help us raise the overall school grade. I’m extremely proud of them,” Pemberton said.

“All our staff is working hard to raise those grades. We are seeing the results of that work slowly, but it is coming,” Henderson said. “We know we have a long way to go, but we’re working very hard to get there.”

Meanwhile, BHS is pleased with it’s B, retiring principal Ron Pritchard said in an earlier interview. He said that Bartow High’s B rating rests a lot on the IB scores and the school’s multiple career academies which have been successful in student certification in areas like the medical and fire academies.

“Those career-focused academies have been really good for those students who may not be interested in college, but are ready to work hands-on to earn a certificate in their chosen field,” he said.

“We still have too many C high schools,”said Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Leroy. “We want to accelerate performance at our high schools. There’s a difference between college ready and college eligible.”

What next year’s scores will look like remains a mystery because the FCAT scores will no longer be used for half the school grades. Regardless of this year’s grades, Leroy said she “wants the B’s to be A’s and the C’s to be B’s. We don’t want anyone to fall backward as we tighten up our elementary and middle schools.”

“When a child isn’t reading on grade level in high school, it’s very difficult to overcome that. They can’t get the opportunities offered through out academies and those are extremely important.”

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