DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Maude Saunders Elementary School faculty and staff are preparing for a curriculum overhaul as they work to recover from last year’s school accountability grade of D.
Two days before welcoming students back to Maude Saunders, Principal Pam Jones met with faculty and staff to discuss the specific state-mandated changes the school is required to meet.
The requirements come following the 2016-17 school accountability grades in which Maude Saunders earned a D in the core subjects of math, science and English language arts.
The school is also among Florida's 300 lowest-performing elementary schools based on student reading skills and learning gains.
Jones said that the scores aren’t as bad as they appear, with both scores just 1 percentage point away from receiving an acceptable grade.
Regardless, the school will now have to extend its school day by 30 to 35 minutes to focus on intensive reading remediation and enrichment.
"The lowest 300 requires an hour, but we already had an extra 30 minutes built into our school day for reading," Jones said. "So we just added the two together."
One of those additional requirements will be for the school to upload student performance data to state officials throughout the year. In addition, the Walton County School District hired an interventionist and tutors to work with Maude Saunders’ students writing and ELA skills.
However, Jones said the district continues to forward her emails from the state that list additional requirements that must be met.
“We’re still learning the requirements,” Jones said. “Most of that will be through our school improvement plan.”
Superintendent of Schools Russell Hughes said the district is working with the school to help meet those additional demands, such as professional development for educators.
“I’m confident in the leadership of Pam Jones and I’m going to stand beside her," Hughes said. “We don’t need the state to make these demands, because we would put those demands on ourselves.”
Jones and Wyndy Crozier, the assistant principal, said they were not at all surprised with last year’s school grades. The women, who were both transferred to Maude Saunders from Freeport Elementary School last year, said their first priority starting at the Title I school - a designation given to schools that serve the state's most economically challenged areas - was to identify students eligible for Exceptional Student Education (ESE.)
“We identified 40 to 45 students who were made eligible for ESE,” Jones said. "We couldn’t provide them with the ESE services because they were not identified as ESE yet. Now that we have so many identified ... we are hopeful."
Nearly 90 percent of Maude Saunders students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, but school personnel did not want to use socioeconomic challenges as an excuse for the school's performance. Instead, they said the grades were linked simply to student learning gains and curriculum.
"In the past, the learning gains of the students help your scores tremendously," Crozier said. "Last year was our year of learning and trying to find where we were. We did the legwork of identification (ESE students) so they can receive help this year, and that’s where your learning gains come from."