The school year just started, so there’s still time to celebrate last year’s achievements and to use them as springboards for this year. 96% of Broward County Public Schools earned an A, B, or C grade, and 13 schools jumped up at least two letter grades.
Superintendent Robert Runcie is visiting those schools this week, on what he calls “a tour of excellence,” to shine a light on their accomplishments.
"To number one, recognize and celebrate excellence as we see it, number two, send a message out to all our schools in Broward County that these are schools we need to focus on, we learn from them, and share some of their best practices," Runcie said that morning at Watkins Elementary School in Pembroke Park, which jumped from a D to a B grade.
Best practices here include an intensive dual language, Spanish-English immersion program for little kids, when their brains are still fresh. It’s not just about getting kids up to speed in those languages, they’re also speeding up the cognitive development for the students in the class.
"You're kinda, like I said, stretching your brain to think outside of what's the norm for you, so it's having them look at things differently, perceive things differently and it's just building them all around as studnets," said Watkins Elementary principal Lori Mendez, describing the benefits of the program.
They have the same Spanish-English program at Boulevard Heights Elementary School in Hollywood. That school also made the leap from D to B.
"The success that we had? I attribute to a great part, to the dual language program, but again, that's just one piece of the puzzle," said Boulevard Heights principal Juan Alejo.
There are many other pieces, including tracking the progress of each student all year long with data, then providing individual attention to improve deficiencies. The school district has invested heavily in technology, using computers as tools, often personalized for individual kids.
"So the students have lessons that are assigned specifically to their needs," Mendez said.
Alejo said at the elementary age, the biggest key is making sure students are reading at or above grade level.
“They have to reading to learn, instead of learning to read, by the time they’re at the end of second grade,” Alejo said.
There’s no magic formula for raising school grades. If there were, Runcie says, everyone would use it. Instead, there’s a process that involves a ton of hard work, a process that seems to be working.
"Sticking with the program, we don't come in every year trying to change strategies, looking for the latest gimmick or program to throw in a school, we're building on what works," Runcie said.
That process never stops. The B schools are shooting for A’s, the A schools are trying to maintain their status, and the lower-rated schools are hoping this is their year to raise their status.