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Better-than-expected school grades have Big Bend and state education officials breathing a sigh of relief

Blue chairs stacked on top of blue chairs in an empty classroom.
Patrick Sternad
/
WFSU Public Media
Chairs are seated on top of the desks in an empty classroom after school at Sabal Palm Elementary,

Florida is back to issuing school and district grades after a two-year pause due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This year, no district in the Big Bend earned less than a “C” while the long-troubled Jefferson school district got an incomplete grade.

The results were better than state education officials expected but still lower than the 2019 school year—the last complete one before COVID-19 disrupted children’s learning.

Tallahassee Classical School, Leon’s newest charter, earned a "C" grade for its first full school year. Several of the district’s elementary schools earned "D" grades, yet there were No “F” schools this year in Leon.

Leon, Rickards and Godby High Schools, along with the Success Academy and the Leon Virtual School received Incomplete grades. Schools that received those “I” grades may not have had the required number of students taking the state exams. And even some usual high performers, such as Montford Middle School, The school of Arts and Sciences, Swift Creek and Cobb Middle Schools—appeared to take a pandemic hit.

During the 2020-2021 school year, many students were given the option of staying home, and for elementary schoolers, who take their first assessments in 3rd grade, their 1st and second-grade years were met with remote learning and early pandemic shutdowns. There were also rolling quarantines which saw many students that were exposed to or contracted COVID, having to be sent home—impacting their attendance.

The same grade patterns can be seen across Big Bend Schools where even Wakulla—which is typically an “A” district, earned its first B-rating in four years.

The results are still better than what state education officials expected.

“Less than a year ago, the data showed that nearly 1,500 elementary schools would require additional literacy supports and over 800 schools would likely be placed on the School Improvement Support list,” said State Board of Education Member Monesia T. Brown in a statement released by the Florida Department of Education.

Only 168 schools in the state ended up on the list, which is for the lowest of the lowest performers.

“From Spring 2021 to Spring 2022, it’s clear that our teachers and school leaders used every resource at their disposal to lift Florida’s students well beyond expectations,” said Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., in a statement released by the Florida Department of Education.

“We know that these results are thanks to policies that kept schools open and kept kids in the classroom, which has been widely recognized as critical to student achievement.”

Only two schools, Gadsden’s George Monroe Elementary and Madison’s Greenville Elementary earned an "F" grade, while Jefferson’s middle and Elementary school received D’s. Its high school got an Incomplete.

“I think overall we were very pleased and very excited with the results coming off two years of COVID," said Billy Epting, Leon’s Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services. "Overall we are really positive about the direction we are headed in. Of course, we still have areas we want to improve,” he told the Tallahassee Democrat.

Among the biggest improvers was Bond Elementary, which jumped from a “D” grade in 2019, to a “B” this year. Its former principal, Dr. Pam Hightower, was recently named as principal of Apalachee Elementary School, which saw its grade drop to a “D.”

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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