Dr. Angela Osborne of Windermere, principal of Palmetto Elementary School in Orlando, and Allison Olszewski of Winter Garden, the school’s writing coach, came to the school a year ago and immediately began working to improve students’ FCAT scores, a feat in which they found great success.
Based on the test scores that have been released, the school scores have risen 90 points in total compared to last year. The students’ major accomplishment was in writing, raising scores by 43 points. Eighty percent of the students in fourth grade passed the FCAT Writing, making the school the sixth highest in the county overall, and had the most gains in OCPS.
“They overcame many barriers,” Olszewski said. “It’s been very exciting. When we revealed the scores, the kids were jumping up and down and some of them started crying. Just watching these kids achieve something and be so proud of it, it was incredible.”
Because of their accomplishments, the school is now hoping that the “F” it received last year from the state will now be transformed into an “A.” Administrators won’t know the grade until all the scores are released, but they believe an “A” is very possible.
More than 40 instructors and staff members were hired by Osborne this year to help move the school grade from an “F” to an “A,” including Olszewski. These new team members came from a variety of places, but many came from West Orange County. Susan Steinmeyer of Dr. Phillips is another writing coach and resource teacher, and the assistant principal, Michael Knight, lives in Ocoee.
Olszewski came to Palmetto as a writing coach, prepared to help the students truly understand how to write and learn to love it. She brought with her a new writing program, designed to break down essays piece by piece. Instead of looking at an entire essay, she worked with them on each paragraph and showed them how to be successful throughout the entire work. This helped show the students how strong their writing actually could be, and then they built on that. She came into all the fourth-grade classes every day to co-teach and work with struggling students in groups of one to three.
“It really helped us to do it step-by-step, and they became very good writers, and more importantly they became very excited about writing,” said Olszewski. “Every time we would walk through the halls, kids would run up with their essays and say, ‘Can you stop by later and read my essay?’”
Principal Osborne required an hour a day be devoted to writing alone within the classrooms. An after-school tutoring program was also offered three days a week for two hours, along with Saturday school. Students were able to receive individualized teaching and really focus on improving their work.
“We had approximately 100 sessions of tutoring from the time we started to the time we ended, which was a lot,” Osborne said. “We started right when school began, and we didn’t end until the Thursday before the FCAT.”
About 350 students attended after-school tutoring with the promise of a trip to LegoLand if they came 80 percent of the time. The school took 248 kids to LegoLand, made possible by donations from churches near Palmetto Elementary and also in West Orange County.
“All but three of the kids had never been to LegoLand before,” said Osborne. “And many of these students had never been to any amusement parks.”
Osborne said several churches in Windermere “adopted” the school and provided many donations. A child at Windermere Elementary, Cassidy Schenk, even asked for donations for the school as her birthday present to help the kids go on the trip, and then she went with them. She raised $1,250 for the kids.
Now, the students are proud of their work and are confident in their ability to succeed. Many hope to continue to develop their stories, even though it is not required for a grade.
“I think a lot of it for the kids was they really enjoyed having a strong voice, and then having Dr. Osborne read their essays, having me read their essays and having their teacher read their essays,” said Olszewski. “And then, all of a sudden, so many people could hear their thoughts and these stories that they would create.”