State okays Hillsborough district’s plan for two troubled schools

·3 min read

Hillsborough County superintendent Addison Davis projects dramatic improvement in student test scores at two district schools that have declined in recent years and faced possible state shutdowns.

Davis took that message Thursday to a meeting in Jacksonville of the State Board of Education, which was asked to approve an extended relationship with MGT of America Consulting for Oak Park and Foster elementary schools and six others.

The Hillsborough School Board will vote Tuesday on the arrangement, which the State Board approved. Depending on how well test scores improve, MGT can earn as much as $4 million a year.

Oak Park and Foster, both in East Tampa, are in a group of struggling schools that, under Davis’s leadership, have been renamed the “Transformation Network.”

Foster, with 377 students, received an F from the state in 2019, when grades were last given. That followed a five-year string of D’s.

Oak Park, with 422 students and F grades in 2018 and 2019, has not had better than a D since 2012.

Davis attributed some of the schools’ problems to past leadership. He also described student poverty rates of more than 96 percent.

As an alternative to shutdowns and other corrective measures, the state has allowed districts since 2018 to get help from what it calls “external operators” like MGT. Disappointed in the results of their first partnership with Phalen Leadership Academies, the district turned to MGT, which is controlled by Tampa Republican and onetime state legislator Trey Traviesa.

Davis has praised the MGT group over the course of the year, citing the assistance they provided during the pandemic and then, after schools opened, their hands-on presence in the schools.

Based on midyear assessments through I-Ready, a system purchased from a private vendor, Davis said the students are moving closer to where they need to be for their grade levels in reading and math.

One of many data points he cited: More than half of the fourth-grade students at Foster were three or more years behind when the school year began. Now, he said, that number is projected to be 26 percent. And students throughout the school are on track to produce better results in six out of seven of the areas that count toward the school grade.

“We are reducing the number of students that are multiple years behind in reading and math,” Davis said. “This is the hard work of our teachers — they’ve been heroic — and our leaders. And we’re very confident that most of these schools will have double-digit gains when (scores are) released in July.”

Shaylia McRae, chief of the Transformation Network, cautioned that much of the improvement in the school grades this year will come from growth, even though proficiency rates might remain relatively low.

“We’re trying to pull kids that are two and three years behind up towards grade-level proficiency,” McRae said. “You’re not going to get there in one year. That takes time.”

Because I-Ready is not a precise indicator of results on state tests, it would be impossible to predict what the scores will be. The Florida Department of Education has decided that, although results will be posted, it will not assign grades or other consequences unless schools request them.

“I think it’s very fair,” Davis said later in the day. “With all the disruptions, all the protocols for COVID, the inconsistencies, people being in and out due to COVID, it’s been hard. So for them to give us grace and compassion this year is definitely needed.”

In addition to Oak Park and Foster, MGT works with Folsom, James, Kimbell, McDonald and Robles elementary schools, and with Sulphur Springs K-8.

Davis said celebrations are planned at both schools. “We see the movement and I’m so happy for the leaders, so happy for the teachers, and our families,” he said.

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