On Monday, August 5, Hernando County School Superintendent, John Stratton, and his executive team visited seven area schools to honor their achievements over the past year. Accompanying Stratton and his team were School Board members Linda Prescott, Kay Hatch and Jimmy Lodato. Each of the schools either improved its letter grade or maintained its "A" school rating. The group presented the staff at each school with a banner and a plaque congratulating them.
Each year, the state Board of Education assesses all the schools and evaluates their achievements. Each school is then assigned a certain number of points which translates to a letter grade ranging from "A" to "F."
The schools that the group visited were Brooksville Elementary School, which went from a "C" to a "B" rating; Powell Middle School, which went from a "B" to an "A" rating; Suncoast Elementary, which went from a "D" to a "C" rating; and Weeki Wachee High School, which went from a "C" to a "B" rating. The other three schools - Challenger K-8, Chocachatti Elementary School and Hernando eSchool - all maintained their "A" grade over the past year.
At Weeki Wachee High School, principal Troy LaBarbara and his staff were enthusiastic about the visit by the dignitaries. They gathered in the cafeteria to hear Mr. Stratton congratulate them and to pose for pictures.
LaBarbara has been principal at Weeki Wachee High School for eight years and
oversees an instructional staff of sixty-seven teachers, along with support personnel, and an enrollment of 1,300 students. Along with the achievement of becoming a "B" school, Weeki Wachee High School can boast a graduation rate of 97% this past year, an increase of 9% from the previous year. LaBarbara attributes the school's success to several factors, but primarily he stresses the teamwork of the teaching staff and the fact that the teachers truly care about the students.
"The number one thing that the teachers do here is that they build positive relationships with kids," LaBarbara stated.
The teachers put into practice the school's Vision Statement - "All members of the School community are responsible for ensuring learning and academic achievement for all students."
Another important part of their success formula is that the teachers test the students frequently to see how each one is doing. For example, every week they test the students on the state mandated standards and evaluate which students did well and which didn't. They evaluate what skills need to be re-taught. Teachers who have done well teaching certain phases of a subject will take students from other classes who have not mastered those subjects and teach them for fifteen minutes. This is where team effort on the part of the teachers comes in.
"Teachers receive professional support and help from other teachers," stated LaBarbara.
The teachers also do an evaluation of every student every four-and-half weeks to see which ones have a D or an F grade in his or her classes.
"Then we sit down and evaluate how we can best help those students raise their grades. We look at different strategies for remediating, such as small group or one-and-one instruction or making phone calls home to the parents," LaBarbara continued.
Another strategy that has worked well at Weeki Wachee High School is that every teacher works with five students who are in the lower percentile of achievement. They talk to the students, develop a relationship with them and encourage them.
Not only are the students evaluated but so are the teachers. Every quarter teachers are assessed to see how they are doing within their classroom organization. A group of teachers go in and observe what each teacher is doing and what the students are doing. Then the teachers are given feedback as to how they measure up.
Weeki Wachee High School's next goal is to become an "A" rated school. For that they need an additional fifty-seven points.
"I want to achieve that within two years, but my staff wants to do it within a year. My teachers are very highly motivated!" LaBarbara concluded.
All seven schools are to be congratulated for their achievements. It is a testament to the culture of excellence that is promoted and embodied from the highest level at the Hernando County school administration down to the individual schools and teachers.