To fix a cluster of poor-performing inner-city schools, Broward has launched a plan that is big and bold — but also risky.
Instead of the usual fixes that school districts employ in such situations (a new principal, new teachers or longer school days, for example), Broward is turning several of its schools upside-down, and starting from scratch.
The goal, at least in part, is to create a new team of schools that provides not just the standard reading and writing curriculum, but also offers family counseling services, referrals to social service agencies and job training for Mom and Dad. The district says families in these neighborhoods, who are at times dealing with extreme poverty, will benefit from this all-in-one educational approach.
“What we’ve tried to do is balance all of that,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “We not only look at what’s in the best interest of our students, but also what’s in the best interest of the families and community.”
Bringing this vision to fruition, however, will require quite a bit of disruption.
At the end of this school year, two schools — Fort Lauderdale’s Lauderdale Manors Elementary and Arthur Ashe Middle — will effectively close, at least when it comes to the students they currently serve. Lauderdale Manors will turn younger, morphing into a pre-K school and parent resource center. Ashe, meanwhile, will grow much older, and transform into an adult vocational learning center.
Also starting this August: Lauderhill Middle will partner with Broward College for a sixth through 12th grade college academy — an initiative the district hopes will not only improve student performance but also expose at-risk students to the idea of college. Fort Lauderdale’s Dillard High School (which is not a failing school, and last received a C grade from the state) will also begin serving middle school students — many of them coming from the shuttered Arthur Ashe. And Fort Lauderdale’s Sunland Park Elementary will shift to serving pre-kindergarten through third grade.
All told, more than 2,000 students will be impacted.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
The sweeping changes have left parents and teachers at the affected schools overwhelmed, and, at times, skeptical. Though the district is in some ways forced to act because of Florida’s school accountability laws, Broward’s plan goes much further than the state requires. Under a state law that took effect in July, schools with a history of failing grades have to implement significant changes, but nothing in the law forces Broward to close Arthur Ashe and Lauderdale Manors. In Miami-Dade County, for example, the school district has eight schools that fall under the accountability law, but closures are not being discussed. At Campbell Drive Middle in Homestead, the district’s plan follows the typical practice of installing a new principal and staff while also pumping in additional resources.
Miami-Dade schools could not immediately provide its plans for all eight schools.
One important detail: if any of these South Florida schools do well when the state’s school grades are awarded in July, no action would be required under law.
Miami-Dade School Board member Lawrence Feldman, whose district includes Campbell Drive Middle, said he hopes the school performs well enough in July to make the issue moot.