Marion County School Board Chair Nancy Thrower discusses her disagreement with closing Evergreen Elementary during the May 25, 2021, school board meeting. (Courtesy of Marion County Public Schools)

Marion County School Board Votes To Permanently Close Evergreen Elementary

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Evergreen Elementary School students left school Wednesday for the last time this year.

They were also likely the last group of students to ever exit the school that has educated kids in Ocala for 32 years.

Marion County School Board members voted 3-2 in a decision to close Evergreen Elementary during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

School Board Chair Nancy Thrower and board member Eric Cummings both voted in favor of keeping Evergreen Elementary open, while Beth McCall, Allison Campbell and Kelly King gave the majority needed to close the school.

Thrower, who represents the district where Evergreen Elementary is located, said she voted “no” in protest of how the events that led to this point unfolded. She mentioned that at one point Evergreen was an “A” rated school and that the closure was the result of years of questionable decision making and turnover from upper leadership.

“The teachers didn’t bail on Evergreen Elementary School,” Thrower said. “I would more accurately say that the decisions made above us failed them.”

The elementary school, located at 4000 West Anthony Rd. in Ocala, FL, has received a failing grade in relation to its’ students academic performance every year since 2013. The last year the school received a “B” grade was 2009. Its last “A” grade came in 2007.

The Florida Department of Education and the state of Florida mandates that schools receiving either an “F” grade for one year or a “D” for two consecutive years must develop a “Turnaround Plan” to improve the school’s grade. Options for this plan include district control, takeover by an external operator, reopening as a charter school, or closure.

On May 22, 2017, Evergreen implemented a plan that contracted Educational Directions, LLC for about $400,000 to improve the school over the course of two years (2018-2020). The Florida Board of Education and the Marion County school board terminated the contract after receiving a “D” grade after the 2018-2019 school year.

Jayne Ellspermann, LLC was contracted as the external operator for the 2019-2020 school year but Florida State Assessments, which are one of the primary determinants of a school’s grade, were waived due to the onset of the pandemic.

Board Member Campbell expressed a different view of the situation. She said she wanted the community to know the students at the Evergreen had the necessary resources during previous school years.

“These students did have highly effective teachers working with them. They did have multiple resources at their disposal. They did have multiple administrators spending time on that campus on a regular basis,” Campbell said. “I don’t want the community to think that we left them high and dry.”

Board Member McCall cited declining student enrollment, inadequate student learning gains and a lack of teachers to reopen the school as reasons for her vote of closure. In similar fashion to board member Thrower, McCall said that responsibility rests at the state level.

“I am disappointed in the department of education and the fact that when they could have used our data a year ago to keep Evergreen open,” McCall said. “They chose not to use our data.”

McCall said that the decision to close the school now is with foresight of a potential failing grade the school could receive for the 2020-21 school year when the annual accountability reports are released sometime around July or August. She said closing the school now would give parents adequate time to prepare for next school year.

Evergreen students will be assigned to different elementary schools this summer in anticipation of next school year. Under the department of education’s school closure requirements, students will be reassigned to schools that are “higher performing.” The district is also required to monitor the progress of these students for three years while reporting this progress to the department of education.

About Alex Flanagan

Alex is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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