BY ALLY ANALORE & SHANI TRACEY, Neighborhood News Bureau
ST. PETERSBURG — In 2014, five south St. Pete elementary schools were labeled failures by the Tampa Bay Times: Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose. To help these schools improve, Pinellas County Schools collaborated with the Juvenile Welfare Board and staff from all five schools. The outcome was the Transformation Zone, a model of support that has been implemented to provide low-performing schools an opportunity to turn around and close the achievement gap within students.
This model encourages educators to work collaboratively to promote stronger schools. They are working to improve student achievement and culture by creating systems that are supportive to both scholars and families.
The foundation of the Transformation Zone is produced on school turnaround research and evidence-based practices. Pinellas County Schools use this evidence to create innovative approaches for school turnaround and to enhance learning for students.
In the past three years, Fairmount Park Elementary has teetered between D and F grades with 2018 landing on a D. Melrose and Maximo have seen an improvement in culture and their overall school grade, both receiving C grades last school year. However, Campbell Park and Lakewood continue to have failing grades.
As the new school year approaches, The Weekly Challenger reached out to the principals of the five schools in the Transformation Zone. Kristy Moody, principal at Fairmount Park and Kathleen Young Parker, Campbell Park’s principal, took time out to review their strategies for this coming year.
Campbell Park Elementary
TWC: What other schools have you been a principal at?
Young Parker: I was the principal at Lakewood in 2003, and I was there for five years. I was at Highland Lakes for two. This year will be the start of my 15th year.
TWC: Have all the schools been the same?
Young Parker: No, Lakewood was very similar to this school, and the others were very affluent schools.
TWC: Between Lakewood and Campbell Park, have you seen many similarities? Is that experience what made you come to Campbell Park?
Young Parker: I’m actually from St. Pete. I took swimming lessons right here in Campbell Park. I grew up on 16th Street South, so I was very familiar with the community and with the neighborhood. A lot of the parents who are bringing their children are people I went to high school with.
TWC: What are some of the biggest disadvantages or challenges that the students here face that other students in other places don’t?
Young Parker: We have quite a few students that come with trauma. It could be the death of a parent or having a parent that is incarcerated. A lot of different issues where sometimes they might not act the most appropriate because they are not really equipped to deal with it. You and I can verbalize when we’re upset, but a lot of times when they’re experiencing trauma, they may not react in the most appropriate way. So, that could be a disadvantage for some of the students.
A lot of our scholars–we like to call them scholars because they need to know the importance- that they can learn–they are smart. A lot of our parents are working parents, and it makes it really hard for them to be really involved. We’re trying to come up with ways that they can be engaged without physically having to be on campus. That’s one of the goals this year.
Engagement doesn’t have to look like coming to a PTA meeting or coming to a staff meeting. We want the engagement to be where it’s an extension of the school.
TWC: Are there any specific programs that you have to encourage those things you mentioned? Making them feel loved and excited about school?
Young Parker: Well, there’s not a program, but one of the things we’re really working on is Positive Behavior System called PBIS. With that, we celebrate the good things that they’re doing. From celebrating if a student does well on a test or a bi-weekly assessment or a math test, we want to celebrate that.
A lot of times, we point out all the things students are doing wrong, but we never celebrate the things that they’re doing right. We want to celebrate good behavior, celebrate academics. Our goal is to have some type of celebration once a month. Having guest come in and different things. We have a committee.
TWC: Who is in charge of that committee?
Young Parker: One of our teachers, her name is Kimberley Latimore, and she’s actually our behavior coach. Her and Kimberley Noorbakhsh.
TWC: How do you feel about the grade the school received recently?
Young Parker: Of course, we were disappointed. At the same time, we are excited about next year. I told my teachers yes, we didn’t do as well as we expected, but at the same time, no crying over spilled milk. What are we going to do differently?
We’ve actually worked together a lot this summer putting different things in place so that when our students return, we can hit the ground running. A lot of our intermediate teachers are all new to Campbell Park coming into this school year. Not new to teaching, but new to Campbell Park.
We did a lot of recruiting from out of state this year. So, a lot of our teachers that are coming in are not homegrown. They are from out of the area, and a lot of them have experience with this demographic.
TWC: Going into this next year, what are the things you all are trying to improve on?
Young Parker: We’ll do something called By The Numbers. We actually know every student and where they are on day one, and we are already developing plans for each individual student. So, when children come in, we already know they’re on a level one, but they need support with comprehension.
We’re already building plans for those students, so we are not going to lose time trying to figure out what [a child] is struggling in. We already know that. So, having that information, we try to match the children with the teacher’s strengths.
We have spent a lot just kind of looking at the data and figuring out the next steps because not every kid needs the same thing. Some of them are level two; some are level three. We have a lot of students who are level one, but the level ones are so vastly different.
TWC: How do you figure out where the students are? What are the metrics?
Young Parker: Multiple Assessments. We use FSA, which is what we do the school grading on. We also use something called MAP, which is our district assessment. We take that several times throughout the year, and we also pulled their guided reading and learning record data.
We use something called data mining where you look at all different pieces of data and the data, a lot of times, show you the same thing. Once you put it all across, you’re seeing it’s very clear that the student is really struggling in this area. Each assessment really tells you the same thing.
TWC: Was it intentional to recruit teachers that aren’t from St. Pete?
Young Parker: No, it wasn’t intentional. We can only interview the people who want to be here. There are a lot of people locally. I feel like these schools kind of have a stigma where they feel ‘I don’t want to transfer south,’ or ‘I don’t want to go here.’
We have a lot of people that are moving to the area that love turn around work. I don’t know if you’ve heard of common ground schools. They’re big up north or Teach For America? Several of the teachers that we hired have done that type of work where they have worked in predominantly African-American, poverty, F and have seen tremendous growth, and their schools have really excelled.
I think three of those teachers have worked for Teach for America and worked with that type of turn around. Those were the kind of teachers that sort of rose to the top because when they came in for their interview, you could tell they had passion. At the same time, they knew their standards. They knew their curriculum.
We’d give scenarios about how they would handle certain situations, and most of them just nailed it. When we started talking to the principals, they all said great things about them. We’re excited about the possibilities of what next year can hold.
TWC: What type of improvement do you see in these upcoming years?
Young Parker: My goal for the school is C or better. That is my goal, and I don’t want to just look at learning gains. Learning gains are wonderful, but I want our students’ proficiency level to move up. Campbell Park was a C last year because of learning gains; I believe the year before that, just so you have a point of reference.
The year before last year, I don’t have the numbers directly in front of me but let’s say they were at nine percent, at three and above. Then the following year, we moved to 22 percent at three and above, but you still have 78 percent of them that are not on grade level. They met it because of learning gains and not really because of proficiency.
Where the school that I came from, 82 to 87 percent of their children was on grade level, and so that is a HUGE gap. We want our students to not just move from a one to a two, but we really want, in the end, to get them at proficiency level so that they can be competitive, and that they can go to the best schools.
Fairmount Park Elementary
TWC: How does Fairmount Park ensure that students are prepared for success?
Kristy Moody: Academically, we need to provide a curriculum that is really interesting. When you achieve success, you get hungry for more success. So, giving a core curriculum that is interesting teaches children topics and opportunities for meaningful reading, writing and problem-solving.
We use data to figure out where children have gaps or where they have accelerated to take them to the next level. We have a lot of student services. Our social workers do an amazing job at helping families get housing or connecting with services. We have a family navigator here to support our families. There are a lot of things she can assist with.
We also have a mental health counselor. We have a school counselor. That whole team supports children and families. We try to be proactive in helping our families know that there is a lot to offer and a lot of resources that we can connect them with.
TWC: Fairmount is part of five schools that are receiving a little more intensive support. How do you provide that support?
Moody: We have a longer school day for students, and we have an extended planning time for teachers. We have an extra hour and 15 minutes of the student day. We use that time to be intentional with reading intervention and acceleration. We have high performing children too. So, you need to keep them going.
Teachers have extra planning time too where they can come together and make sure that they are planning great lessons. It doesn’t matter whose classroom you are in if you are a second-grade scholar, you are going to get a great experience because the team planned together.
We also have extended learning. We call it Promise Time where we give additional tutoring even after the school day.
TWC: Did you see an improvement with the extended school day?
Moody: We did improve our school culture. Last year, walking in classrooms felt really good. Children were excited. The affirmation of children knowing that they worked hard in the classroom is redeeming for children to see.
TWC: There are five pillars of school turnaround: Teaching and learning, aligned staff, culture and climate, leadership, and systems and operations to support efficient processes for implementation How do you implement these pillars at Fairmount Park?
Moody: Positive behavior support plan. You teach children what is expected of them. You can’t be mad at a child for doing something if they don’t know exactly what they want you to do or how they are going to be successful. It is just being really clear.
We also want to name opportunities where children are setting great examples, where they are persevering. We did a lot of work last year celebrating growth. For children who made growth, we gave them a certificate, which is validating. It is not different from other schools, but we just made sure that we are intentional. We said what we wanted; we are going to help you get there.
TWC: Have you seen an improvement at Fairmount with the intensified support?
Moody: Definitely. We made a lot of growth the first year, but this year (2017-18), we improved our letter grade, which was exciting. The whole school culture really shifted this last year. Even on the first day of school, we had children in classrooms learning and teachers teaching.
We have had much less student discipline and have had a much greater focus on the idea that this is a place to learn. Children know that they are going to struggle, but they know that when they are struggling, that is when they are growing and learning. We saw that growth in our data, and we also could feel it around the building.
TWC: What is your letter grade now?
Moody: It was an F the year before, and now it is a D. We are on our way up.
TWC: What would you change about the program?
Moody: I wouldn’t make changes to the program. I just think we have to keep going. We have to do a better job for children, and we have to make sure we are meeting their needs. It is just very purposeful and important work, and I think we are on the right path.
Every day, we just have to do a little better than we did before, and make sure that we are giving children a great education. We feel very supported by communities and families. I feel supported by the district staff, and we as principals work very closely. Everything I want, I have.
Ally Analore and Shani Tracey are student reporters in the Neighborhood News Bureau of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Visit http://www.nnbnews.com/ for more info.