Rachel Hazel, interim chief academic officer for Volusia County Schools, speaks Monday at a community meeting. (Poto by: Duane C. Fernandez Sr. | hardnottsphotography.com)

Principal, district shares plans to turn school around

By Andreas Butler

The recent release of school grades showed several local schools that serve Daytona Beach’s Black children struggling.

Palm Terrace Elementary, located at 1825 Dunn Ave., was one of them along with Westside Elementary and Champion Elementary.

After a school gets a “D’’ grade for the third straight year, the Florida Department of Education mandates that a third party come in to assist with operations to bring the school up to standard.

Palm Terrace got a D grade but was two points shy of a C. The school had improved 45 points or six percent from last year.

Turnaround assistance

Learning Sciences International (LSI) based in West Palm Beach was selected by the Volusia County School district to assist Palm Terrace out of three finalists.

According to its website www.learningsciences.com, Learning Sciences provides standards-based, research-driven tools, technology, books, and professional development solutions for school improvement, school turnaround, school transformation, student-centered classrooms, observation and evaluation, curriculum, and leadership practices, resulting in rapid gains in student learning.

On Monday, a community meeting was held at the school to discuss the grade and what’s next.

‘Significant improvement’

Learning Sciences, school administration, faculty, parents and community members all got to speak and ask questions.

“Our approach is professional development for teachers and leadership coaching and support for the administration. We help with system structures and all the other components that go into the school,” commented Eric Paul, leadership coach for Learning Sciences.

The company will have a full-time faculty coach working with teachers daily and a leadership coach working with the administration 12 days a month.

“I’m an athlete at heart. It was like playing a championship game and losing by one point. Nobody likes to lose,” said Palm Terrace Principal Tucker Harris.

“I reflected and thought about it. We saw significant improvement. We just have a few more areas to improve in.”

‘A shared vision’

All consider the endeavor a partnership.

“LSI is a true partner. They aren’t here to take over or change anything, but to make things better. Their vision is a shared vision with our vision,” commented Rachel Hazel, interim chief academic officer for Volusia County Schools.

Paul added, “We are all educators. We are all looking at the same thing. It’s truly a good collaboration between partners.”

Learning Strategies has been at the school since May.

Help for students, teachers

Palm Terrace has put practices in place to improve the following: behavior controls, addressing student’s emotional needs, and structure of the school day.

“Teachers struggled with a lot of behavior issues when I first got here. We have put in measures to deal with that. We have increased attendance and reduced referrals,’’ the principal said.

“We deal with the emotional needs of the children by listening to them. We have structured our school days to where teachers can focus more on teaching and students can get extra help and instruction.’’

Paul echoed, “They have done a lot of work in being ready to learn and their teachers having classroom control. It’s just a few more areas to improve in.”

Teacher vacancies

Teacher retention was also discussed. Volusia County has a high number of vacancies. The school district hired more than 500 teachers last year. It’s unclear how many they lost. Palm Terrace has vacancies too.

“Teacher retention is a problem not only in our county but it’s a worldwide problem. We’ve attended conferences on this matter. We knew this was coming because a couple of years ago we had a bubble where a lot of teachers retired,” Hazel responded.

Student challenges

Palm Terrace faces several challenges when it comes to its grade.

The school has a large percentage of minority students, 97 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch, and a high number are tier I students, which deals with achievement and behavior.

“There many things that comes with poverty. Unfortunately, this county has high poverty numbers. Poverty brings challenges when it comes to learning. We’re aware of that. We try to address it along with social justice and inequality. We try to show our children love and give them hope,” Harris noted.

“When you do that, they learn. We try to help them be safe and full. I treat students like my own kids. We try to make an impact not only in student achievement but also touch lives.’’

The community also has stepped in and helped the school with resources.

“We have a ton of support, which has been amazing from the community and business community,’’ Harris said.

Company track record

Learning Sciences International has a track record turning around underperforming schools.

Most recently, it helped improve Mosley Elementary in Palatka and both Fairmount Park Elementary and Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg.

Paul added, “All those schools saw significant increases. Two of them jumped a letter grade from a D to a C. Lakewood didn’t jump a grade but improved significantly from being one of the worst-performing schools.”

A parent’s perspective

Brittany Parks, who has children attending the school expressed thoughts.

Parks told the Daytona Times,” The school is slowly making improvements. More time is needed. I think they are on the right track.

“The school does face several challenges. Children in the school also face several challenges that other kids don’t face. I don’t know what to think about the third-party operator yet,’’ she added.

This article originally appeared in the Daytona Times.

Palm Terrace improvements in place

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