Melissa Durrance doesn’t believe in waving the white flag, and neither do her students or teachers at Griffin Elementary.
The school is among the many others throughout Florida listed as turnaround schools, meaning they must follow special improvement plans to boost students’ academic performance.
“Let me be very clear,” said Durrance, principal of Griffin Elementary. “I am confident that our school can improve to a grade of C this year and remain open next year. My students and entire school staff work hard every single day to show that they are successful, and they’re not defined by a label like ‘turnaround school.’”
Despite making gains over the last several years, the school has not yet risen to a grade of C or better. This year, if students’ academic performance doesn’t improve enough for the school to raise its grade and be released from its state-mandated improvement plan, only two options remain:
- Close Griffin Elementary and transfer students to higher performing schools
- Close Griffin Elementary and reopen as a charter school
Polk County Public Schools must indicate by Nov. 1 which of the two options would take place if Griffin Elementary does not achieve a grade of C or better.
PCPS will chose the option to close the school and transfer students to higher performing schools.
The fate of Griffin Elementary won’t be known until school grades are released in the summer. The Florida Department of Education calculates school grades using mandatory statewide exams — known as the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) — which take place during the spring.
“This really places Griffin Elementary in a difficult position,” said Patricia Barnes, the regional assistant superintendent who oversees the school. “Obviously, we are doing everything possible to help them strive for success. However, the district must declare by Nov. 1 what we would do if they do not make the grade of C or higher.”
“It’s very unfortunate and risks sending the wrong message that we don’t have faith in them. Last year, we were confident that a grade of C or higher was nearly within our grasp, but the pandemic interrupted this.”
Last year, the pandemic forced the cancellation of statewide exams. School grades could not be calculated, and turnaround schools like Griffin Elementary remain under their improvement plans.
Durrance said she wants everyone to know that her school community is doing everything possible to earn a C grade or better to keep Griffin’s doors open for the 2021-22 school year.
Under its improvement plan, the school has spent the last few years using an outside company, Educational Directions, to provide additional guidance, training, coaching and management expertise. PCPS is also supplying extra coaches to help with Exceptional Student Education, English language arts (ELA), math and science.
The school hired support personnel to provide extra help to students in core subject areas.
Teachers and administrators are digging deep into each student’s performance data to identify which subjects or skills need greater attention. They are setting academic goals for students and carefully monitoring their progress.
“This year, the pandemic has given us even more challenges to face,” Durrance said. “Most people would agree that the best way to learn is through face-to-face instruction. Roughly 30 percent of Griffin’s students, or nearly 100 students, are pursuing online learning. We are keeping a close eye on our online learners and giving them as much help as possible, so they can keep pace with our campus learners.”
With statewide exams approaching in the next several months, there is still much work to be done.
“We were very optimistic last year about our chances of performing well on the FSA,” Durrance said. “It’s disappointing that we couldn’t take the exams to show how far we’d come along. But it hasn’t changed our focus. Our school theme is ‘One Team, One Dream — NO EXCUSES.’”