Escambia County Public School officials are being forced to make tough decisions about the fate of Warrington Middle School following years of underperformance.
Now state officials can follow in the footsteps of OJ Semmes High School in Warrington.
Warrington has earned 500 grades for four consecutive years, prompting state mandates to either close the school or become a charter school. JO Semmes twinned earned degrees f.
“Warrington is a cautionary tale,” Sen. Manny Diaz, commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, met with Superintendent Tim Smith in October. “I want to be clear of course, and I heard clearly from this board that it is urgent not only to take care of the issue at Warrington, but that we do not have a second issue in this area. OJ Semmes.”
Smith told the Journal News on Tuesday that the solutions for OJ Semmes are not simple. He said national problems, such as teacher shortages and pandemic-related achievement gaps, have affected schools with students in poverty more severely. JO Semmes was struck by the severity of the seizure.
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Will OJ Semmes have a similar fate?
OJ Semmes received an F for the 2021-22 school year. It was the second year in a row of the covid-19 pandemic. Two years before the school pandemic, he had managed to save the school from C .
The school hasn’t received the same deadline as Warrington yet, but every year it gets progressively stricter requirements, attendance, and more severe consequences from the state, according to Smith.
State Smith suggested that OJ Semmes’ trajectory be corrected early on, so he doesn’t follow the same downward spiral.
State Board of Education Chair Tom Grady noted that the Warrington district’s treatment raises “the question of doubting the success of OJ Semmes” at all.
Smith said a lot of OJ Semmes’ recent problems stem from not having a full, cohesive staff of teachers to work with.
“Without question, our biggest challenge at OJ Semmes is finding the people who work at that school,” Smith told the board. “The teacher shortage is critical and school poverty is high, hitting harder than normal.”
Smith said he understands the challenges of attracting teachers to low-performing schools, considering teachers walk into a “war intensive” location.
A hundred students are leaving
Because of the school’s low grades, students at both OJ Semmes and Warrington Middle School are now eligible for a state scholarship program that allows students to transfer to a public high school by paying for transportation out of the district.
For the 2022-23 school year, Oakcrest Elementary School, OJ Semmes School and Warrington Middle School were among 21 schools across the state that qualified.
This year, approximately 100 JO students transferred to the Semmes high school in the performing arts district.
Warrington Middle experienced a similar situation. The school is home to about 1,000 students, but only under 600 are attending today.
Although this exodus of students seems to be a negative thing, it actually helped the schools in consolidating the classes and eliminating the need for some difficulties to teach the place, according to Cicero.
No time at all, time adds up
In addition to teachers not having enough time to fill classrooms – most classes were led by long-time substitutes last year – student attendance was also around low.
Smith reported that the average daily average attendance that year was about 90%. This was then compared to the average for Warrington Middle School pupils, which came in at 86%.
He attributed some of the absences to students contracting COVID, which robbed students of unseasonable training time.
Smith said the child was not isolated when at Kingsfield High School, there was a time when every first-grade teacher immediately came out with the virus. During the extended quarantine period, the entire first grade was taught by substitutes.
When the students themselves developed weaknesses, they were confined to computer screens. This has become especially problematic in the lower grades, where students have lower attention spans and are almost totally dependent on parental support.
The time outside of school has all added up, Smith said, and the impact has been seen in statewide assessments that are the basis of school grades. However, said schools are still held to the same academic expectations by the state as they were in earlier times.
“It’s clear to me what happened,” Cicero said. “Sometimes I don’t think it’s well known.”
Looking forward with the help of leaders
Some of the key solutions for OJ Semmes start with strong leadership, according to Smith, including a new principal this year at OJ Semmes and more support from the school improvement bureau.
He also charged the district with strategies to help teachers and students, such as educational leadership, school walks, professional development, daily teacher education and increased student policies.
“There are several steps that have been taken to support, and I would say aggressive support, for our teachers, and our staff and our students at OJ Semmes,” Smith told the board.
Smith said that although there is still “a lot of work” to be done at OJ Semmes, he is hopeful that if the district can keep the current staff supported and well-organized, the school’s results will improve.