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Photo by: Isaac Babcock - School grades went up in the area.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 8 years ago

Winter Park and Edgewater are A schools

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A for Winter Park
by: Sarah Wilson Staff Writer

To see how all OCPS high, middle and elementary schools ranked in 2011 compared to previous years, view the district’s report card at tinyurl.com/ocgrades

Winter Park and Edgewater high schools were two of four Orange County public high schools to earn A grades in 2011.

The grades, released on Jan. 4, show Winter Park continuing its 13-year run as a high-performing school, up from a B grade the previous year, and Edgewater earning its first A in school history.

“I’m excited that all the hard work and effort we’ve been putting into our schools over the last few years shows,” District 1 School Board Representative Joie Cadle said. “It shows that our high school students are working really hard and have great opportunities attending Orange County public schools.”

Out of the district’s 19 traditional high schools, 16 received high-performing grades of an A or B, three earning Cs and, for the first time in 13 years of grading, none received underperforming scores of Ds or Fs. Vicki Cartwright, senior director of accountability, research and assessment for OCPS, said this makes 2011 the highest achieving year for public high schools in graded history.

These results follow changes in the school accountability grading scale in the 2009-2010 school year, which added factors of graduation rates, accelerated course work and growth and decline components to make up half of the scale. The other half was based on FCAT performance, compared to the previous 100 percent FCAT model.

The 2011 grades have the administration and faculty of local high schools celebrating, while also focusing on what they need to do to keep their grades up in 2012.

No longer on edge

On Dec. 19, the Florida Department of Education approved changes in FCAT Cut Scores, the range of scores students have to reach for each level of achievement, to go along with FCAT 2.0 testing in 2012.

Vicki Cartwright said the changes in ranges of points needed to reach each level has upped the difficulty of the test significantly. For example, she pointed out that of the 73 percent of third-graders who scored a passing level of three or above in reading on the previous scale in 2011, only 57 percent would do so on the new Cut Score scale.

Not only will this impact the level of preparedness needed for students, Cartwright said it also calls for a readjustment of how those scores are calculated in the scoring of school grades. The Florida Department of Education held workshops around Florida to discuss how to best adapt the grading program, including one in Orlando on Jan. 5.

Cartwright said the state is now seeking public commentary on the school grade revisions, before they hold a formal presentation on the matter in Tallahassee on Jan. 23.

For more information on these and other looming changes in Florida schools, and how you can get your opinion heard, visit www.fldoe.org/arm/rsg.asp and submit your comments by Jan. 20.

“When I heard we got the A, I just started crying,” Edgewater High School reading teacher Theresa Rodgers said. “I was so happy and relieved.”

Edgewater, which had improved from a D school in 2009, to a B in 2010, earned its first A grade in history in 2011.

Edgewater Principal Michele Erickson credits the improvement to continued dedication to the education of all of its students, as well as a particular focus on helping students struggling with low reading scores and improving preparation for students taking AP, SAT and ACT tests.

“We focused on improving the education of all students by concentrating on different pockets of need,” she said.

Early in 2011, Edgewater moved into a new building, which posed as both a blessing and a struggle for the school, Erickson said.

“Our biggest challenge was definitely changing buildings so close to testing season last year,” she said.

Rodgers said, however, that post testing, as the school has settled into their new facility, the new technology available has helped to spur student interest and learning.

“I really give a lot of credit to the students for really trying their best, and to the entire staff at Edgewater for everything they do,” Rodgers said. “It really does take a village.”

Rodgers hopes students will gain confidence from last year’s success and carry it with them this year.

“I hope it gives them a sense of pride and go-getter attitude come test time, that they can go in thinking, ‘I go to an A school, I can do this!’” she said. “…I know for me, I’m thrilled to say I work at an A school.”

Cats claw their way to top

Collaboration and community support are two of the keys, Principal Timothy Smith of Winter Park High School said, that led to the success of both his, and all Orange County high schools in 2011.

“I think what we’re seeing with the grades that we’ve earned are a reflection of our super students, hard-working staff and supportive parents and community,” Smith said.

Having earned high-performance grades of As or Bs for the past 13 years, Smith said there is a long-standing tradition of excellence at WPHS that continued in 2011. To bump them up from a B to an A, he said the school put an added focus on improving students’ reading comprehension across subject matters.

To do that, departments form professional learning communities in which teachers get together and collaborate on ideas of how they can all improve their teaching methods, a practice, he said, the School Board has promoted for many years.

Betsy McClure, a reading coach at WPHS, said that collaboration between teachers helps students with multi-subject comprehension in the long run.

“We’re really working hard on being consistent with the criteria we’re teaching,” she said. “Promoting reading in cross-content areas helps them make the connections between reading and other subjects.”

One of the biggest challenges facing education in general, both principals Smith and Erickson pointed out, is that of budgetary concerns. Luckily, they both noted, thanks to Orange County residents voting to increase the property tax rate for school funding, neither school has faced large-scale cutbacks.

“The community has made a strong stand of support by increasing the millage rate, especially in this economy,” Smith said. “It really shows how education is such a community-wide team effort.”

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