The miracle at Lakewood Elementary

“Dr. Wobbly arrived shaky, remains shaky, and has yet to demonstrate the subject matter expertise or commitment needed to lead the zone effectively.”

BY DR. GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — Before the COVID-19 pandemic — with one exception, Lakewood Elementary — schools in the Transformation Zone (Campbell Park, Melrose, Maximo, and Fairmont Park) were on par with state mandates to continue to improve the educational experiences of our Black and Brown children. The progress was led by the former Transformation Zone Director Nikita J. Reed and embraced by the scholars, educational leaders, teachers, coaches and staff of the various schools.

Three events coalesced to change the trajectory of progress at the four aforementioned schools: Ms. Reed left the district, Dr. Wobbly (Webley) replaced her, and COVID-19 resulted in virtual learning.  In an article I wrote regarding Ms. Reed’s departure, I stated: “The learning curve for Ms. Reed’s replacement is going to be a steep one… [I]ssues of culture, ethnicity, and local community norms will predictably be challenging…”

Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped by Lakewood Elementary on Aug. 12 to deliver $1,000 to the teachers for achieving an A grade in the 2020-21 school year. [Pinellas County Schools]

Dr. Wobbly arrived shaky, remains shaky, and has yet to demonstrate the subject matter expertise or commitment needed to lead the zone effectively.

While student progress/achievement at Campbell Park, Melrose, Maximo, and Fairmont Park Elementary schools regressed during the pandemic, ironically, Lakewood Elementary’s composite scores earned the school an ‘A’ letter grade.  Previously, Lakewood’s record was less than stellar: 2017=D, 2018=F, and 2019=F. Testing was suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic. And now the miracle of 2021 – an A.  How did it happen, and who was the miracle worker?

Lakewood Elementary was at risk of being taken over by the state based on its history of failure.  An outside operator was managing it in an attempt to ward off a takeover.

There are two schools of thought regarding the miraculous improvement.  One school posits they cheated. This position holds that there is no way numerically one can attain the A status given the population of students zoned for the school.  Since the population demographics did not change, the dramatic turnaround in one year is inconceivable.

The other school of thought suggests it is possible given the grade is a function of fifth-grade student performance, and the school received special attention from the district at the expense of the other four schools in the zone.  For example, the school population was reduced by nearly half from 600 plus students to just over 300.  Problem students were transferred to other zone schools, and new students were not enrolled.  Additionally, Lakewood Elementary had more human working support capital than the other four schools and a significantly lower teacher-pupil ratio.  A significant number of students had been retained, resulting in a longer period to master the skills.

Lakewood Elementary also hosted high-level state and city officials. Education Commissioner Richard Cochran, Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego, School Board members, and a member of St. Petersburg’s City Council all attended the high-level meeting supporting the school’s leadership and staff.

Those who allege cheating suggest the scores may have been impacted by who proctored the tests, individuals feeding students answers, and a host of other factors.  Nonetheless, the incredible turnaround is enough to make the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Ronnie Milsap, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder all wonder: how did it happen?  It is the kind of thing that makes you go, “Hmmmm!”

Far be it from me to suggest anyone cheated.  Rather, if this miracle is, in fact, real, it appears the district has figured it out.  Therefore, it is time to replicate.  However, replication should not be at the expense of other schools.  All the Transformation Zone schools should receive the same treatment.  Expense should not be an excuse given the significant funds the district receives based on our demographic.  The money is there.  Let’s reevaluate how we spend and allocate the dollars.

The leaders and teachers who had to work with double the population, diminished support staff in the form of coaches, behavioral specialists, etc., and a wobbly leader deserves better.  They deserve a qualified, committed advocate and a supporting voice.  They do not have that with Ms. Reed’s replacement, who dismantled effective processes, installed all-white coaches, and has little regard for diversity and inclusion.

So, what exactly has Dr. Wobbly (Webley) done for the Transformation Zone or the district?  I am sure, like me, other inquiring minds want to know.

9 Replies to “The miracle at Lakewood Elementary”

  1. Thomas Muirhead says:

    Hello,

    As a teacher that has worked at Lakewood Elementary for the last 3 and a half years, I am very disappointed in your complete failure to accurately assess this schools improvement. You show a clear lack of information, or a complete negligent approach in your revealing of the information (hiding of information) that should be included. In 2018 Lakewood Elementary was the worst of the Transformation Zone schools. It had the lowest rating of all schools in the zone and was one or the worst rated Elementary schools in the state. It’s battle to recover was always going to be longer and harder. Clearly, you have an agenda that it would never happen (especially after Ms. Reed’s departure). I can tell you when you cast it as having happened in a year, you show a complete lack of any knowledge of how this school has been transformed over the last 4 years. Please remember in 2020, schools did not test and Lakewood was projected a C/B. In 2019, the school received a close D/F which was affected by student scores included in the school grade, that attended other schools. This was under Ms. Reed, whom you see so happy to praise and did do an excellent job. Please remember sir it was Ms. Reed that left the Zone, the Zone did not remove her. I was lucky to work closely with Ms. Reed on our writing program at Lakewood Elementary and hold her in very high regard as well. Prior to Ms. Reed’s departure, she had seen the concrete changes at Lakewood, she (and later Dr. Webley, that you hold so much disdain for throughout your piece) had help institute. Why sir are you so offended that those testing results came after Ms. Reed left? They are still partly to her credit. You are doing Ms. Reed a disservice as well when you make unfounded accusations about Lakewood Elementary. I am very disappointed in your clear bias and divide on the matter. Have you spoken to her about what she saw at Lakewood prior to her departure? Have you asked her about our writing program? Our Math gains? She saw the projections before leaving.

    Before going any further with your completely contrived lies and accusations of cheating, I must ask, besides your claims has anyone reported cheating to you? Anyone at the school? Anything from the children? Their parents? You sir may not realize, but it was our students that earned this A. Your accusations without any formal source and simple conjecture are reprehensible and work against the 4 years of work it has taken to transform Lakewood Elementary. You are attempting to divide a community that is united around a school transformed. You sir are being negligent with your duty to be honest and not report outright lies and falsehoods.

    There is just far to much to cover about how Lakewood Elementary achieved it’s A over a four year period, despite a pandemic. If you would actually like to have that discussion I would love to and I have included my private email. If you want to know how a school is truly transformed maybe talk to the people that worked everyday for the last 4 years to make it happen, along side Ms. Reed and Ms. Webley (Ms. Woodford, Ms. Nellenbach, LSI, Mr. Mills etc).

    Lakewood Elementary took a direct outreach approach to getting proper education directly to our students in the middle of a pandemic. If you would like to learn more about how we overcame, what so many other schools struggled with during the pandemic, I would love to sit down and explain to you the numerous roles myself and other educators played to make sure that the students of our community received an education during a pandemic regardless of their situation. Maybe you could go to other Transformation Zone schools and help them achieve what we did. Did you know that by the end of the year, Lakewood had safely returned over 90% of our 4th and 5th graders? Did you know that a majority of our school grades came from 4th and 5th grade? Also, we did it without exploiting resources from other schools’ sir.

    I will not even begin to discuss your clear bias against Ms. Webley or your cute pun. I do not believe your issue is with her and I know for a fact you do not know Lakewood Elementary. If you had visited us 4 years ago and visited us now, you would see the transformation, you wouldn’t hide behind irresponsible conjecture and outright falsehoods. We have enough political wrangling putting down our accomplishments and diminishing them that we don’t need to be undermined by educational advocates in our own backyard. I am disappointed and your piece is poorly informed and lazy. I truly expect better from your publication that I have read often, while transforming Lakewood these last 4 years.

    As one final note. Our writing scores were the best in the zone. They carried our ela gains. It is not possible to cheat, or feed answers for an essay exam. You have not even looked deep enough into the data to begin to understand what has taken place at Lakewood. Just very sad.

    1. Lori W says:

      Mr. Muirhead thank you for all that you do! Thank you also for explaining all of this to people who clearly have a different agenda. Hopefully none of our students will read this article to see the hate and disgusting things they say.

  2. Cedric Gordon says:

    Excellent article . Our children deserve better,

    1. Lori W says:

      Mr. Gordon this article is nothing but garbage! I work at Lakewood Elementary school and can tell you the administrative staff and teachers worked tirelessly to see these kids work at their potential. These kids need to be told that they are smart and worthy not only at school but also at home. Dr. Wobbly is not shaky and is very committed to seeing our kids get the best they can get. Your entire school needs to be onboard to be able to get results like this. We did not ship kids out and for the record our student numbers have never been at 600 in the entire 5 years that I have worked at this school. If you live in our zone you come to our school. This article sounds like the man is annoyed that a person of color was not chosen to run the transformation zone so I see this a reverse racism. Hopefully none of our students will read this garbage and believe it.

  3. Britt Hinkle says:

    Don’t overlook what happened to the principal in Gulfport Elementary. She was not supported dr. wobbly (purposely lower case) and ran off by requesting support and resources for her school. She was labeled a non conformist.

    1. Carrie says:

      Wrong. You have no idea what happened with that principal. It should have happened sooner.

    2. Tabby Joakim says:

      No, the principal that you speak of was cruel, demeaning and unqualified for Gulfport. Wendy set an atmosphere of unprofessional behavior, division and intimidating staff. If you know her track record this is nothing new for her. Wendy was not an appropriate replacement and having more than 50% of long time staff leave was a testament to her poor leadership.

  4. S Wilson says:

    “Things that make you go hmmm”, that right there. Where is the data? The true data, from several years and supporting gaines of individual students and groups of students as outlined in the State achievement guidelines for testing. Were there changes in the grading guidelines for that year? In 2019 the students were at home. Everyone has a right to an opinion. Invite me to that community data meeting , There are vital questions to be answered without assumption.

  5. Thomas Muirhead says:

    Thank you to the Weekly Challenger for printing another perspective, to the “The Miracle at Lakewood Elementary.”
    I respect Dr. Davis and the attention he brings to the Transformation Zone. I also understand the importance of provoking uncomfortable conversations. I thank him for clarifying his position. I ask that Dr. Davis and anyone else questioning Lakewood’s transformation consider the more than three years of hard work scholars, teachers, paraprofessionals, staff, and leadership at Lakewood committed to this outcome. This was not a one year miracle. I may feel a bit “sensitive” as Dr. Davis explores schools of thought about Lakewood’s accomplishments. I am very proud of the family we have formed at Lakewood. I am honored to work alongside so many talented people and brilliant scholars. I will not remain silent when someone challenges our accomplishments or our integrity. Exploring schools of thought that only suggest our ‘A’ was undeserved or worse unachievable ignores what has actually taken place at Lakewood Elementary. I believe we are a model for turnaround in the Transformation Zone.
    Accountability through assessment is important to ensure quality standards-based education is delivered to scholars, but a school cannot be assessed by a grade alone. I believe Dr. Davis would agree with that. It is the people, culture, and climate that define a school. I ask the members of our community that are considering enrolling at Lakewood to visit our school and see the transformation for themselves. Our students, teachers, staff, and administration are already working hard each day to prove our grade was no fluke.
    Thomas Muirhead
    Lakewood Elementary

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