Palm Beach County schools get mostly As, Bs

The Palm Beach County School District’s overall performance score improved this year and it narrowly missed getting back the A-graded school district status it held for nearly a decade.

And while one school made a dramatic recovery this year, the number of failing schools in the county and statewide increased. Those F grades are forcing changes at one Glades school and could force a charter school in Boynton Beach to close.

“We are proud of the progress we are making as a school district and recognize we have challenges ahead as the state transitions to a new accountability system,” Superintendent Wayne Gent said Friday as the state Department of Education released the preliminary grades for all elementary and middle schools in the state.

Palm Beach County was an A-rated district for nine years until 2013, when changes in the grading formula and five F-graded schools caused it to fall 12 points short of an A. This school year the district again earned a B grade but came just six points shy of getting its A back. Palm Beach County earned more points than Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, Hillsborough, Pinellas or Duval counties. The school grades are based in large part on student standardized test scores.

Statewide, 195 more schools earned A grades, a 7 percent increase over last year. But State Deputy Education Commissioner Juan Copa said the number of F grades also increased. He attributed the rise in F grades to policy changes such as the lowering of the minimum number of students a school must have to be graded.

A total of eight Palm Beach County schools earned F grades this year including four district-run schools and four charter schools. A total of 15 schools, 13 district-run and two charters, earned D grades.

For the district-run Pioneer Park Elementary in Belle Glade, the Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba charter school in West Palm Beach and the Charter School of Boynton it was the second straight year with F grades.

Under state law district-run schools that get too many F or D grades are required to come up with “turnaround plans” with options like changing principals, converting to a charter school or even closing. Chief Strategic Communications Officer Alex Sãnchez said district officials have started implementing turnaround options at Pioneer Park. A new principal, former Forest Park Elementary Assistant Principal Pamela Buckman, has already been hired for next year and the district is creating “enhanced assistance” programs to give students more instruction.

State law also says that the school district “shall” terminate charter schools like Joseph Littles or the Charter School of Boynton Beach that receive two consecutive F grades unless the state Board of Education grants that school a waiver.

The school board earlier this year already forced Joseph Littles Joseph Littles to close because of poor academic performance and financial issues. Officials with the Charter School of Boynton Beach school could not be reached on Friday about their future. Jim Pegg, director of the district’s charter school oversight department, said the district would be pursuing closing down Charter School of Boynton Beach pursuant to the state law but the charter school has an opportunity to appeal its grade.

There were also plenty of bright spots locally and statewide. Sãnchez pointed out that among district-run elementary schools 64 percent of schools earned an A or B grade while among middle schools 61 percent of district-run school achieved A or B grades.

Copa said 116 schools statewide improved more than one letter grade including Hope-Centennial Elementary School in suburban West Palm Beach, which improved its grade from an F last year to a B this year.

“Half of it was the curriculum and the other half of it was emotional,” said Hope-Centennial Principal Awilda Tomas-Andres, who attributed her school’s dramatic improvement to everything from extra reading instruction to simply getting the community to believe Hope-Centennial was a good school. “I’m so proud that I can say ‘look at my teachers, look at my kids. I knew they could do it.’”

Grades for high schools were not released Friday. They are typically released in December each year.

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