BROOKSVILLE — After two years of trouble at Moton Elementary, the only D-rated school in Hernando County for the past two years, state education leaders have stepped in to help.
Representatives from the Florida Department of Education visited Moton — long-plagued by high teacher turnover and student behavior problems, and ranked twice as one of the state's lowest-performing schools — for the first time last week as part of an improvement plan.
During the visit, principal Joe Frana, who took over the school in October 2016 as the third permanent principal in less than a year, made a case for Moton. He told a room full of state and district officials that the school is improving, then laid out what he believes to be the reasons why.
Afterward, school, district and state representatives fell into mixed small groups to do walk-through evaluations of nearly every classroom, using a standardized evaluation tool to collect data that will be used to track and adjust instruction.
Frana this week called the visit "very powerful." He told the Tampa Bay Times that recent improvements at the Title 1 school — a school with a high concentration of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — stem from teamwork among education leaders at every level.
"We have a dedicated group of people that are really working together to problem solve the concerns at Moton," he said. "It's a working relationship between the district, the school and the state. ... Everybody has the same goal in mind, and that is the success of our students."
Aid from the district, required by law earlier this year to form and submit to the state a plan of support for Moton, has come in full force, according to Gina Michalicka, executive director for academic services for the district. Since the school year began, she and other district leaders have visited the school monthly, and sometimes bimonthly, to observe classrooms and collect data to be shared with Frana and teachers so the school's action plan can be adjusted as needed.
She said district-level academic coaches, tasked with training school-level counterparts, have leaned hard into Moton, often spending a week at a time to work side by side with the school's math and literacy coaches and help teachers plan. Frana said other opportunities for professional development, both during and outside of school, also have been made available to the school staff.
"You can see the evidence when you are in the hallways. ... The student work and the writing that is displayed, you can see the improvement," Michalicka told the Times.
Frana said teachers are required to post data on their classes and students on a community bulletin board to not only track, but also encourage, growth.
"Our focus is knowing our data and owning it. ... Wherever students are at the beginning of the year, we make it our goal to move them," he said. "They aren't all going to move at the same rate or at the same time, but they all need to move and improve."
Frana said efforts have been made to address behavior problems at the school, too. He said disciplinary write-ups have decreased since last year after the implementation "positive behavior strategies," which include the celebration and reward of good deeds, and the reading of a daily pledge focused on school-wide behavior expectations.
The next state visit to Moton will be in January, after students have taken one of four benchmark tests given during the school year to track learning.
Superintendent Lori Romano said the goal of the improvement plan is for support to trickle from the state, "all the way down into individual classrooms." She said seeing engaged students and enthusiastic teachers during the recent walk-through proved to her that the collective efforts are working.
"It took time for the school to get to the place of being a double D school, and it's going to take time for it to improve," Romano said. "But what we are seeing is evidence that it is."
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com. Follow @mareevs.