At Ridgeview and Doctors Inlet, Students' Education Is Grade-A

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Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

Well-wishers kept telling John Westmoreland he was not sufficiently excited.

When state grades were announced Tuesday, the school where he serves as principal, Ridgeview High, earned an A from students' 2008 scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, improving two grade levels from a C in 2007.

The gravity of the accomplishment just took a while to sink in, he said.

"I was really surprised. I thought maybe if we're lucky we'd get a B," he said. "It didn't really hit me until midday."

The next step was celebratory food.

"We went to get some Popeye's chicken," he said. "We're extremely excited. This is pretty good stuff."

At Doctors Inlet Elementary, principal Anne Miller was on vacation this week, but came to work on Tuesday because she knew school grades were expected. The news was worth cutting into her off time.

Like Ridgeview, Doctors Inlet earned an A from 2008 FCAT scores, also jumping from a C in 2007. And like Westmoreland, she was surprised.

"It's hard to tell [from the scores, which were released earlier]," she said. "I knew we would get at least a B. But I didn't know this."

Miller was proud for her students and their progress.

"It's not about the grade," she said. "It's about the kids."

Countywide, school administrators were raving about the kids' accomplishments. Out of 35 schools, 28 received A's, up from 20 that received the top grade in 2007. One school received a B; six schools received C's. The newest school in the county, Coppergate Elementary, which opened in August, got an A.

"I am elated," said Superintendent David Owens. "We had some obstacles to overcome and some challenges to meet and we did it. The scores truly reflect the caliber of education our children are receiving in Clay County. My hat goes off to everyone ... including the entire Clay County community who has always placed a strong emphasis on education."

As a whole, the school district went up 3 points in the percentage of students meeting high standards in reading and math, up 2 points in the percentage of students meeting high standards in science, up 6 points in the percentage of students making learning gains in reading and up 5 points in the percentage of students making learning gains in math.

Also, the percentage of the lowest-achieving students making learning gains in reading and math increased by 4 points.

"Overall, we are very pleased," said Sharon Chapman, assistant superintendent for instruction. "Learning is our business and we will use the data to continue to strengthen the learning process for our children."

In the past year, Ridgeview High and Doctors Inlet administrators and teachers targeted struggling students, identified the subjects they were having trouble with and provided intensive assistance. That effort will continue for the 2008-09 school year, they said.

"We have different kids with different needs," Miller said.

At Ridgeview, some teachers gave up their planning periods for nine weeks to help out in intensive reading classes, Westmoreland said. Also, tutoring was offered during lunch period.

"We hired some good people, some good new teachers," he said. "And the veteran teachers kind of stepped up to the plate. You can have all the doggone computers and pretty frills, but when that classroom door closes, it's the teaching. That's were the rubber meets the road. …