“If not, we’re prepared to take it to the next level and work even harder,” he said.
Broward, on the other hand, is committed to its ambitious overhaul — no matter what the school grades say. In theory, that means the district could end up closing a school that actually showed impressive improvement this year, once all the FCAT scores are tallied.
Newasann Sutherland, a parent, is furious about what Broward is doing. Sutherland has three sons who attend Lauderdale Manors, and a fourth son attending Arthur Ashe. Though Broward has held a plethora of community meetings on the schools plan, Sutherland says the district never really listened to what the public wanted, and failed to adequately inform parents of what was actually happening. Sutherland complains that district fliers used to advertise community meetings didn’t mention the most important detail: school closures.
“It was a lot of manipulation,” Sutherland said. “The less we know, the more they can do.”
Others call Broward’s plan overly disruptive. Though state law dictates that failing schools must change in some significant way, some argue that what these struggling schools desperately need is a dose of stability. According to district records, the four schools at the heart of Broward’s plan — Lauderdale Manors, Ashe, Sunland Park, and Lauderhill Middle — have had 18 school principals in the last decade.
In the case of Arthur Ashe, mistakes by district leaders have seemingly doomed the school from the start. Even before Ashe was built, School Board members in 1999 faced criticism over whether the district had overpaid for the land it sits on — perhaps because that land was owned by a politically influential taxicab operator. Broward bought the land for $4.3 million — $2.5 million more than the taxi operator had paid for it six years earlier.
There were also questions about whether Broward even needed a new middle school in that neighborhood, as the population growth was happening out west. To fill Ashe’s classroom seats, the district asked nearby middle schools to donate some students, and those schools often sent over their biggest troublemakers, eager to be rid of them. At Ashe, fights predictably broke out.
“We have to say the district failed Arthur Ashe,” said neighborhood activist Joe Major. “Arthur Ashe did not fail the district.”
Asked about possible mistakes in how Broward previously managed these schools, district spokeswoman Tracy Clark said, “We have to look forward … there’s no time machine, we can’t go back in time.”
CHANGE OF SCENERY
Meanwhile, Broward’s executive director for educational programs, Leslie Brown, says the district’s school-revamping plan is indeed a product of community input. In neighborhood meetings, Brown said, people repeatedly asked for expanded pre-school offerings, and the new schools provide exactly that. The public also wanted children to be more aware of college, Brown said, which helped lead to the Lauderhill Middle partnership with Broward College.
At Dillard, where high school teens will now share the campus with middle-schoolers, Broward is pitching the format as modeled after its high-performing Nova schools in Davie, which also combine multiple schools on one campus. Dillard’s principal, Cassandra Robinson, is well regarded in the community, and that’s one reason that Glendora Thames is optimistic about her grandson Marcus attending Dillard as an eighth grader this fall. Thames was less-than-impressed with Ashe, which is where Marcus goes to school now.
The problems at Ashe, she said: a lack of challenging work for the students, and a culture where students felt emboldened enough to talk back to teachers, and speak in foul language. Marcus was starting to pick up bad habits, Thames said, and she welcomed the change of scenery for him.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Thames said. “I’m hoping that it’s something good.”
Miami Herald Staff Writer David Smiley contributed to this report.