The stigma of being labeled a “failing school” can be hard to shed, but it’s not an impossible task. Just ask the students and teachers at Poinciana Park Elementary School in Liberty City.
We watched fifth graders learning basic laws of physics when we visited, but you could say the school already defied the laws of gravity by catapulting from an “F” to an “A” grade in one academic year.
“The feeling is wonderful, it’s outstanding, we have to keep up this momentum and we’re doing all the things plus adding additional things to insure we continue to maintain that “A”,” said principal Tania Jones.
How did they make that leap? One part of the strategy was to implement as many hands-on learning projects as possible. The turnaround also relied on professionals on the staff, the success coach, reading coach, and math coach. They are teachers who concentrate on intense interventional work with students who need the help.
“Oh my goodness, it was very tough, just coming into a situation where the scores were very low, some of the morale was not there, some of the students felt as though they could not be successful,” said Sakinah Lewis, the school’s match coach.
They raised morale with incentives, positive reinforcement, and with programs such as the 5,000 Role Models for Excellence organization. The biggest key to the school’s renaissance, the remarkable gains in achievement, was simply the hard work put in by students and teachers.
“Hard work, early mornings, late evenings, passion, making certain that we built that relationship, that we were able to communicate with the kids, with the parents, that they understood we had a goal, we had shared mission,” said Melissa Miller, the reading coach.
The faculty team used data to concentrate on the kids who were in the bottom 25 percent in grades and test scores. With one-on-one attention, the strategy worked.
“Before school, after school tutoring, Saturday academy, whatever it took to get the school to move,” Lewis said.
The teachers say now, there’s a palpable difference in attitudes among the students. They feel like they’re expected to succeed.
“Oh my gosh, it was so rewarding to see that we’re able to turn the impossible into the inevitable,” Miller said.
With the turnaround complete, Poinciana Park has a different focus: staying on top.