The outside of Metcalfe Elementary, named after Willie Adele Metcalfe in 1960. Following the implementation of a new education bill in July, Metcalfe will have three years to increase its school grade or face closure or conversion into a charter school.
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D- And F-rated Public Schools In Alachua County Face Pressure To Improve Letter Grades

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Metcalfe Elementary serves 320 students, grades one through five, within Alachua County Public Schools and has been a staple within the community for decades. Yet, for the past eight years, Metcalfe has scored grades of C or lower, dropping to an F in 2012 and scoring a D for the 2016-17 academic year.

According to the 2016-17 Guide to Calculating School District Grades, calculating a school’s grade may include up to 11 components. There are four achievement components, four learning gains components, a middle school acceleration component, and components for graduation rate and college and career acceleration. Each component is worth up to 100 points in the overall calculation. The points earned for each component are then added together and divided by the total number of possible points. To score an A, schools must earn 62 percent of the available points or greater; a B is equivalent to 54 to 61 percent of points; a C is 41 to 53 percent of points; a D is 32 to 40 percent of points; an F is 31 percent of possible points or less. Schools are required to test at least 95 percent of students.

In the 2012-13 academic school year, Metcalfe began using the Continuous Improvement Management System (CIMS), which provides districts and schools with an online platform for collective planning and problem-solving.

The school improvement plans provided by CIMS outline strategies for administrators and teachers to help improve student performance and overall school grade. All public schools in Alachua County have improvement plans.

Metcalfe’s 2016-17 school improvement plan includes an eight-step process for improvement with goals and implementation strategies. Principals write specific plans based on their school’s need to help increase student achievement, said Supervisor of Elementary Curriculum Kevin Berry.

Metcalfe’s goals include increased scores in math and reading. Each of these goals also includes a list of barriers that inhibit achievement and available resources to help remove those barriers.

Some of these barriers include lack of prerequisite skills needed to master the grade-level material, lack of parental involvement and loss of instructional time in class due to discipline. Resources available to assist schools and students include district-developed pacing guides, school-wide positive behavior intervention support, and district- and school-created progress monitoring assessments.

With the help of after-school programs, such as 21st Century and Metcalfe Extended Day Program, students are getting more exposure and practice with class material. Berry said families are also showing increased support at home to help students.

“We anticipate Metcalfe showing a lot of growth,” Berry said. “We have every bit of confidence that they will show improvement.”

Gov. Rick Scott signed a new education bill in July 2017 that speeds up the timetable for consistent D- and F-rated public schools to raise their letter grades. Schools that fail to improve their grade from a D or F within three years will be required to close or convert to charter schools.

Berry acknowledges this shorter window for improving Metcalfe’s school grade, however, he said they still have ample time to implement plans for increasing its grade.

Along with new requirements from traditional public schools, the bill also includes provisions for charter schools.

Among other things, the provisions include a new $140 million School of Hope program to attract proven charter schools to areas where existing public schools struggle. It also removes caps on high-performing charter schools that want to grow in areas where existing public schools are low-performing, making it easier for them to expand and receive additional taxpayer funding.

Data from the 2016 Student Achievement Report in Florida’s Charter Schools shows a larger percentage of students from charter schools scoring passing grades or higher on various standardized assessments than students from traditional schools. It also shows that most charter schools in Florida have a lower achievement gap between white and minority students for almost every subject.

For instance, the achievement gap in science between Hispanic and white elementary school students is 11.9 percent for charter schools and 19.5 percent for traditional public schools. In English language arts, the achievement gap between African-American and white middle school students is 24.8 percent for charter schools and 29.9 percent for traditional public schools.

There are 15 charter schools in Alachua County and 45 public schools and centers.

Graph from Florida Department of Education showing the increased enrollment in charter schools in Florida.

Director of grants and project development and liaison for charter schools in Alachua County, Everett Caudle, said legislation in favor of charter schools has been a trend for the past eight to 10 years. The state continues to create an environment to make it easier for charter schools to open and expand.

Caudle said almost all charter schools in Alachua County are family-style operations, meaning they are locally controlled and have a small enrollment population.

“The concern is if we have larger for-profit schools come it could affect the county because they’ll want to make money,” he said.

Large charter schools looking to make a profit would cherry-pick students who are more likely to perform well and have less need, said Caudle.

“At that point, you have privately owned schools running on public funding,” he said.

He said one for-profit charter school expressed interest in opening a school in Alachua County last year but did not apply to establish a charter here. There are currently no applicants for new charter schools in Alachua County.  

The newest charter in Alachua County, Resilience Charter School, opened its doors in 2016. This is another locally-controlled, community-based charter, which serves grades six through 12.

Jenny Hill, director of Resilience, said she is not interested in competing with public schools in Alachua County. Like the other schools in the district, Hill said Resilience exists to serve the students.

About Lizzie Vasquez

Lizzie is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 239-206-7425 or emailing evasquez23@ufl.edu.

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  • Shai

    How does closing the schools solve the problem? The students will then be bused to other schools, likely farther from their homes, which is expensive and disruptive, and the teachers will be transferred. These schools are in transitional neighborhoods, serve ‘at risk’ populations, and need better tools!

  • Cathy DeWitt

    I agree with Shai about bussing. When my son went to school at Metcalf, it was a very short walk, a neighborhood school, which was an important benefit. He had some great teachers, who were both compassionate and competent. The music program in particular was valuable in immeasurable ways. Until we recognize the importance of music and the arts in education, and offer enough respect and benefits to attract good teachers, we will keep losing them, and our schools, thereby our kids, will suffer the consequences!