Fessenden Elementary makes great strides

By • on August 10, 2011

Fessenden Elementary School principal Anna DeWese knew a complete overhaul of the mindset of teachers, students and community was needed after the school received a D grade last summer.

DeWese, along with assistant principal Gay Street, began meeting with teachers and targeting four of the main FCAT areas: reading, writing, math and science.

With ideas from district administrators, Fessenden teachers and staff went into the 2010-11 school year with a new attitude. And in January, DeWese asked everyone to try a new concept.

This concept required students to stay an hour after school ended, teachers and aides to volunteer an hour of their time, and parents to buy into the new plan to help boost FCAT scores in all areas.

It was 63 days of intense after-school tutoring.

“Ninety percent of the teachers and students bought into the idea, as did 100 percent of the paraprofessionals (teacher aides),” DeWese said, adding that the parents also played an important role in the revitalization.

The end result: Not only did Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores skyrocket, but Fessenden’s grade rose to an A this summer, an accomplishment that was recently honored by the state.

Fessenden was one of only 17 schools in Florida to raise from a D or F to an A.

Raising the bar is a difficult task.

The school grades for elementary and middle schools are derived from student performance on the FCAT in eight categories:

The percentage of students scoring proficient, or 3 on a 5-point scale, in each of the four main subjects: reading, math, writing and science.

The percentage of students who made learning gains in reading and math.

The percentage of lower-performing students — the bottom 25 percent — who made learning gains in reading and math.

So, each school receives eight percentage figures. The perfect score would be 800 — 100 percent in each of the eight measurements.

Fessenden’s score in the eight FCAT categories rose from a combined 468 percentage points last year to 539 points this summer — an impressive 71-point jump.

“Achieving these kinds of results takes a coordinated effort at all levels and I couldn’t be more proud…,” Education Commissioner John L. Winn said in a news release.

Fessenden registered, on average, nearly a 9 percentage point gain in each of the eight FCAT categories. DeWese has dubbed 2011-12 with a new catch phrase: “New Beginnings.”

Three other Marion County schools also dramatically bolstered their school grades.

One of the top gainers statewide was Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary, which raised its total by 107 percentage points — from 473 to 580 — for an average of 12 percentage points per category.

Principal Brent Carson said Stanton-Weirsdale had been an A school in recent years; when it dropped to a C last summer, the teachers, staff, parents and students took it personally.

Carson said everyone made it “a personal challenge” to boost the grade back up. And they did so in a big way. Out of 3,250 middle, elementary and charter schools in Florida, Stanton-Weirsdale’s 107-point climb was about the 20th highest.

Hammett Bowen Jr. Elementary had the second-highest overall jump countywide — 86 overall percentage points — and was one of only three Marion schools to meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress designation. Madison Street Academy and Dr. N.H. Jones also met what is known as AYP.

“We owe it to quality teachers, supportive staff, involved parents and fantastic students,” said Hammett Bowen principal Leanna Dixon of the school’s rise from 517 to 603 points, pushing the school grade from a B to an A.

Evergreen Elementary School — which had been a F school in 2010 — jumped 79 percentage points, from 357 to 436, to raise its grade to a C.

“We’re starting to move back up,’ said Principal Cassandra Boston, adding that her teachers, paraprofessionals and parents deserve a lot of the credit as well. “I’m extremely proud of my kids.”

Belleview-Santos Elementary had the county’s fifth-highest jump, moving up from 457 percentage points to 513, and from a C to a B.

Statewide, three schools actually had more than 200 points in total gains. The highest jump was Miami-Dade County’s Somerset Academy Charter Elementary School, which gained 223 points — averaging 27 percentage point gains in each of the eight categories.

Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.

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