Davis not stopping at No. 8

Has plan to continue ‘Elevating Clay’

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 7/11/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Now, roughly halfway into his term, Superintendent Addison Davis, has made good on at least one of his campaign promises, if not more.

The Clay County School District has …

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Davis not stopping at No. 8

Has plan to continue ‘Elevating Clay’

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Now, roughly halfway into his term, Superintendent Addison Davis, has made good on at least one of his campaign promises, if not more.

The Clay County School District has been a “B” school district since 2015. Despite the previous superintendent’s best efforts, Clay County was unable to reach the highly-coveted mark of an “A” after 2015. Davis, though, not only led the county to “A” school district status once again, he brought Clay County into the Top 10 school districts in the state.

“I wanted us to be an “A” school district again and I wanted us to be in the Top 10,” Davis said. “Next up is the Top 5 and then after that, St. Johns County [the No. 1 school district in Florida].”

While being a “B” school district isn’t necessarily bad – some districts rank much lower – it was important to Davis that Clay County strive for the top mark. According to Davis, there are many factors that went into achieving this goal, but the most important was making the education system culture in Clay County healthy once more.

“For the last four years, Clay had been a “B,” so what we really had to do was focus on curriculum, support for our students in our classrooms, making sure we had the right educators and leaders in every one of our schools and just creating supports all the way around,” Davis said. “We provided the parents, the teachers, the faculty and everyone involved the resources they needed to support our students intellectually, emotionally and socially.”

“We knew we had to change the culture and we did,” Davis said. “We created a culture of care.”

According to School Board Chairman Carol Studdard, it’s this culture coupled with extensive training that allowed Davis’ administration to succeed.

“It’s the atmosphere Mr. Davis has created and the training he brings to all faculty of the district that really got us to where we are today,” Studdard said. “He created an atmosphere of, ‘we are going to continue to do better,’ that has everyone, instructional and non-instructional, working together to be the best district we can be.”

Studdard said she is elated for the district’s new “A” grade, as well as No. 8 statewide ranking.

“In the year and a half that Mr. Davis has been superintendent, we have progressed just as I hoped we would. I think he has done an excellent job in focusing on improving our district and I believe he’ll continue to do so,” she said.

Many schools in Clay County improved their grades in this year’s state ranking. Middleburg Elementary, Oakleaf Junior High, Oakleaf Village Elementary, Oakleaf High and Doctors Inlet Elementary moved from “B” to “A” while Clay Hill Elementary, Montclair Elementary, Keystone Junior and Keystone High, Lake Asbury Elementary and Orange Park High moved from “C” to “B.” But Davis finds Wilkinson Elementary School and McRae Elementary School’s new achievements to be the most impressive.

Wilkinson moved from a “C” to an “A” and went up 96 points.

“When you move two letter grades, it shows the staff is doing great work,” Davis said. “It really shows that the community is actively engaged in their child’s learning.”

McRae moved from a “C” to a “B,” but more importantly, this elementary school increased by 123 points. This was one of the biggest point increases in Florida this year.

Wilkinson and McRae aside, though, Davis finds himself impressed by the gains of the school district across the board.

“I think, overall, some of the greatest analysis is the fact that we increased the number of “A” schools by five and decreased the number of “C” schools by nine,” Davis said. “When you’re moving “C” schools to “B” schools and “B” schools to “A” schools, the systems are working, and that’s all hats off to the hard work of our teachers, leaders and the support staff of our district.”

Despite the positivity surrounding this year’s school district report, there were some not-so-great surprises. In its first year of operation, charter school St. Johns Classical Academy received a “C.” Located near three competing schools that scored better grades, the school released its principal, Michelle Knapp, and brought on Melanie Williams of Fleming Island to serve as principal.

While the community has raised concerns about the “C” grade, Davis said he doesn’t have as much involvement with this school as he would with a standard public school.

“They have a board that drives the work for them,” Davis said. “They hire the people and decide on the curriculum, and from my side, I’m not involved in that process.”

SJCA’s “C” comes as a bit of a surprise for various reasons. The school, which received $2 million from the Clay County School District to help fund its $12 million construction project, has been at the center of school board meeting talk for the past few months. At the June 28 school board meeting, Betsy Reagor who represents the teachers’ and support personnel unions in Clay County, said the simply school failed the county.

“No other school in Clay County had worse success,” Reagor said. “You took money out of my schools [referencing public schools] and gave it to this school.”

Not only did SJCA’s English Language Arts gains come in dead last, with a score of 40, but its math gains were the worst in Clay County as well, with a score of 24. The next lowest score in the county was Ridgeview High, which had a 39. SJCA also received the second lowest Science Achievement score with a 36. The lowest score in District science achievement was 28, which was Charles E. Bennett Elementary.

While Davis believes the report of SJCA and its subsequent “C” to be unattractive, he does believe the school will correct its course.

“I hope and believe they will continue to emphasize focus on teachers and obtaining the right leaders to drive this work,” Davis said. “From our perspective, we are here to help in any way we can.”

Williams comes to SJCA with an extensive background in educational research and teaching at public schools, charter schools, private schools and universities. She is developing an improvement plan that will be unveiled in the new school year.

“We are going to be more intentional in our second year in making sure that we are properly preparing students for state exams [which determine school grades each year], while maintaining the integrity of our mission as a classical school,” Williams said.

Williams attributes SJCA’s first-year “C” grade to students being new to the school and getting their feet wet. According to Williams, many of SJCA’s students came from a diverse background not familiar with the structure of classical education and state testing.

“[Acclimating to classical education] will take time since we have students who come from diverse backgrounds, whether it be non-charter schools, homeschool or private,” Williams said. “We are developing a school culture with a classical tradition and it is a very content-rich and rigorous curriculum. It’s challenging for many at first so we see this first year as their acclimation to our climate.”

This past year, 350 students called SJCA home and this upcoming school year, that number will be twice as large. Because of this, Williams said SJCA might face the same acclimation challenge it faced this past year.

“In our third year, I project that we would see data that would reflect increased performance in state tests,” Williams said, explaining that by year three, she expects the majority of SJCA students to be comfortable not only with the classical curriculum taught at the school, but the state tests each student is required to take and hoping to pass. “I would also like to say that we are trying to remain true to our mission while at the same time, balance the responsibility of preparing our students for state tests.”

SJCA isn’t the only school in the county whose grade might have come as a surprise.

One school in Green Cove Springs took a very unfortunate dive in its school grade. Charles E. Bennett Elementary, which previously sat was a “C,” dropped to a “D” this year. Currently, the leadership that contributed to the “D” is in place, but Davis said his next step is to look deeper at the data and set a plan of action.

“As of right now, that current leadership is in place,” Davis said. “I’m going to take a couple of days to really look at the analytics of that school. The school dropped from a “C” to a “D,” which is unfortunate and not attractive at all for us, and in fact, it is the lowest 300 school in the state.”

“We have to figure out what we can do differently but I can tell you that we will make sure that we have strong resources through support staff, instructional staff, leadership and ensure they have the ability and knowledge to properly instruct that school,” Davis said. “That will be a great focal point moving forward.”

Another facet of Davis’ plan to elevate the Clay County School District was to look at programs that provide students rigorous learning opportunities while taking care of the whole child. Earlier this year, he announced a plan to set up a Montessori school within Swimming Pen Creek Elementary.

He said the Montessori school had “soft opening” a few months ago and was welcomed with great success. Davis and the school district are excited for the Montessori school’s full-opening with the upcoming school year.

“This classroom will be a multiage classroom and utilize a model that has worked throughout the nation in providing another beneficial way to help children who require a different sort of education,” Davis said.”

Within the first month of announcing openings for students, Davis said every seat in the Montessori classroom was filled to a point that a waiting list had to be developed. This Montessori classroom isn’t the only new program calling Clay County home this upcoming school year, though. The 2018-19 school year will mark the first year of the Lakeside Junior High Pre-AICE program.

This program will serve as a feeder for the AICE program currently at Fleming Island High that provides students an advanced education while earning college credit.

“Lakeside is a high-functioning school. It’s an “A” school. It’s central to Clay County and they had the extra seat, which is why we landed on this school as the home of our first Pre-AICE program,” Davis said. “They have the right teachers, the right assistant principal, the right principal and the right knowledge of the curricula to make this program as successful as it can be.”

Davis and his leadership team are so confident in the success of the Pre-AICE program that they are already assessing Green Cove Springs and Oakleaf Junior high schools as the next two sites for this program, presumably targeting a 2019-20 school year opening.

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