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Board Grants Waivers For 3 Miami Low Performing Schools

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Miami superintendent Alberto Carvalho high-fives students at Edison High School. (Source: CBS4)

Miami superintendent Alberto Carvalho high-fives students at Edison High School. (Source: CBS4)

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MIAMI (CBS4) — The Florida Board of Education agreed Tuesday to allow eight low performing schools, including three Miami-Dade schools, the chance to continue under district management for another year rather than be closed or turned into a charter.

The three Miami-Dade schools granted waivers were Holmes Elementary, Edison High School and Miami Central Senior High School, the school President Barack Obama visited earlier this year to highlight the work being done nationwide to turn around failing schools. The school has undertaken many reforms in recent years, including replacing the principal and a majority of the core teaching staff.

All but one board member, John Padget, voted in favor or each waiver. Dr. A.K. Desai described his approval of waivers for four Duval County schools as “a reluctant yes.”

“The message to be taken home is loud and clear from the board,” Desai said. “We are giving you this opportunity for a year, but the expectation is all the promises made today must be kept.”

The meeting, held in Tampa, was attended by community leaders and officials from Duval, Escambia and Miami-Dade counties, the three districts where the persistently low achieving schools were in danger of being closed, transformed into charter schools or placed under private management. Many expressed frustration at the current state of the schools, but argued they should still be kept open.

“The law says I must send them to school, and the law also gives them a right to a high quality education,” said Eunice Barnum, one of several Duval County parents who came to the meeting. “I’m asking for your assistance, to help my district figure out how to educate my children.”

The percent of students proficient in math and reading has increased, but remains low. In math, for example, 47 percent of students scored at the proficient level of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in 2011, compared to 23 percent in 2003. Reading proficiency is flat at 16 percent.

“If elementary schools are swift boats, high schools are major mega aircraft carriers,” Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the board. “The rate of turn is slower and, in fact, if you are to institute sustainable reform in these schools, you ought to give it more time.”

Nikolai Vitti, who has been leading school turnaround efforts in Miami-Dade County, said that in the coming year there will be a focus on literacy, more implementation of reading coaches, common planning among teachers, working with the middle schools that feed into the troubled high schools, creating a college-going culture, making teacher changes and the expanding the use of technology in the classroom.

“I’m simply asking you to give credit for the progress that has been made over a very short period of time,” Carvalho said. “Senior high schools are hard to turnaround.”

Board members expressed their support for the district’s plan.

“We don’t have to look at the alternative because there can’t be a better alternative than this,” Roberto Martinez, vice chair of the board, said after Carvalho’s presentation.

Padget was the only member to vote against the waiver, citing low reading proficiency rates.

“It’s a big year, a big assignment that you’ve given yourself and you have to succeed,” Padget told Carvalho. “We don’t want to see you here a year from now.”

Board members were less confident in the plans for the four low performing schools from Duval County. The district’s superintendent, Ed Pratt-Dannals, said they will be hiring new principals, focus on improving literacy, and bringing in new teachers from the Teach for America program, among other changes.

The schools requesting waivers to continue under district management were: North Shore K-8, Andrew Jackson High School, Jean Ribault High Schools and William M. Raines High school. At Andrew Jackson High School, just 13 percent of students were proficient in reading in 2011.

“I don’t think you’re on the same track as Miami-Dade,” board chair Kathleen Shanahan said. “I’m going to vote to support this, but this is the toughest vote for me.”

Ayanna Thomas, who will be a senior this year at William M. Raines, fought tears as she pleaded with the board to give the schools another chance. She said her fellow students have a lot of potential and that what they need is better preparation for the FCAT and adults who believe in them.

“I’m just asking that you all give us something to shoot for,” she said.

(© 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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