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School spotlight

Twelve Florida schools receive blue ribbon recognition

Twelve Florida schools were recognized Monday as National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. More than half are schools of choice: four are magnet schools and three are charter schools. The awards are made in two categories: either on a school’s progress in closing achievement gaps for disadvantaged students or for high overall student achievement measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. The four magnet schools in Florida designated as exemplary high-performing for 2018 are: George Washington Carver Middle School and Herbert Ammons Middle School, both in Miami; Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary School in Tarpon Springs; and Stanton...

From bullied and failing to Hope, honors and college

GROVELAND, Fla. – The sign at their church trumpeted the opening of a new private school: HOPE ACADEMY NOW ENROLLING For Adaijah Jackson and her mother, Sheila James, the word Hope was all they saw. “It was an answer to prayer,” Sheila said, smiling and shaking her head at the memory. “The timing was just perfect.” Adaijah (pronounced ahd-asia) was desperate to leave the neighborhood school where she had nearly failed 10th grade. Sheila was a single mom with two children and a job working the overnight shift at a convenience store. She never thought she could afford Hope. But the school told her about...

School choice gave this educator a LiFT

SEMINOLE, Fla. – Kim Kuruzovich’s daughter Gina has moderate autism, speech apraxia and dyslexic tendencies. She began a suite of therapies at age 2, then, at age 4, saw a psychologist for an educational evaluation. The expert wasn’t encouraging. “He told us, ‘You can look forward to Gina putting pencils in a box,’ ” recalled Kuruzovich, who has more than 20 years of experience teaching students with disabilities. She and husband Mike drove home in stunned silence. It took a couple of months, but they snapped out of the haze and chose to ignore that doctor. It was the start of Kuruzovich...

Choosing the right school helped turn tragedy into triumph

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In the damp, rising heat of a late-morning graduation ceremony in May, with historic Farragut Hall as a backdrop, a hush crept through the crowd of students, relatives, friends, and faculty as they anticipated the next name. Marquis Lambert The roar was pent-up and prolonged, louder than one family could possibly deliver. This was the sound of the entire Admiral Farragut Academy family cheering and tearing up for the senior who 10 months prior had been a celebrated football player one day and was fighting for his life in intensive care the next. As Marquis walked slowly across...

Siblings find safety, inspiration & second family at charter school

Dylan Stanton was routinely bullied at his former school. A boy in his third-grade class hit him, pushed him off benches, stole his money. Once, he rammed Dylan face-first into a fence. At the same school, another student once held a sharp metal file to the throat of his older sister Kaitlyn. Not surprisingly, they did not thrive there. But now, Dylan, 11, and Kaitlyn, 13, are safe and learning on an accelerated path, thanks to Renaissance Charter School at Tradition. It’s a K-8 charter school in Port. St. Lucie, Florida, which they’ve attended for two years. “My friend kept telling me about...

Florida’s Principal Autonomy initiative showing signs of success

When Robin Brown took the helm as principal of West Riviera Elementary School in Palm Beach in 2017, the school was struggling. It had been designated a “D” by the Florida Department of Education. Realizing the situation, Brown made critical changes. She assigned 28 teachers to the grade level she felt they were best suited to teach, strengthened the school’s leadership team, collaborated with education professionals who have done effective work in school turnaround programs, and reached out to business leaders who have saved failing companies. As a result, the school rose two letter grades to a “B” this year. Brown, who participated in...

From shy to self-confident, with a charter school’s help

JACKSONVILLE – Dana Roberts had high hopes for her 5-year-old son, DJ, as she readied him for his first day of pre-school. Remembering her own pleasant school experience, she expected her bright, inquisitive little boy soon would be challenged by caring educators who would coax away his shyness and address his difficulty sounding out letters and grasping a pencil. She trusted that once he settled among children his age, he would begin to forget the taunts and bullying he suffered from teenagers at the family’s apartment complex. Instead, she found DJ’s teacher overwhelmed and too busy with other students to pay attention...

School choice amidst the sugar cane

CLEWISTON, Fla. – It’s hard to think of anywhere in Florida more off the beaten path than the string of blue-collar towns on the rim of Lake Okeechobee. They’re snugged between the grassy, 30-foot-high dike that corrals America’s second-biggest lake, and a 450,000-acre sea of sugar cane that rolls south towards the Everglades. This is not palmy, beachy Florida. This is burning fields and smoking-sugar-mills Florida. This is also school choice Florida. The half-dozen towns that ring Lake Okeechobee are home to 10 private schools that serve more than 600 students using school choice scholarships. Four charter schools in the area...