She saw children spread out across classrooms, working with manipulatives. They were playing, but they also seemed to be learning. There wasn’t a worksheet in sight.
“When I saw that, I told my husband, ‘Whether I get that job or not, our kids are going here,'” she said.
She got the job, and her three children left a nearby private school to join her.
While she may not have known it at the time, she was about to join one of the most successful teams of rural educators in Florida.
Looking through state accountability reports, it’s hard to find a school that enrolls as many economically disadvantaged students and matches the academic results of this charter school, which sits a few blocks off the main drag in a small fishing village on Florida’s Forgotten Coast.
State records show 99 percent of the students in the school are economically disadvantaged, and it serves more minority students than the lone public school run by the local Franklin County district. When the most recent round of school grades came out last month, the ABC School received its fourth-straight A. Fewer than a dozen schools in the state achieved a similar feat.
Teachers and administrators say having an assistant in every two classrooms (one per grade level) goes a long way toward explaining the ABC School’s results. The aides allow teachers to do things they couldn’t on their own, working with students one-on-one or in small groups. They help prepare weekly reports on student learning, and can present material in different ways, doubling the chances lessons will click with students.
The aides help overcome another challenge rural and small-town schools face: Recruiting qualified teachers. After four years as an aide and two years substituting, Cassidy began teaching middle school math this year. Chimene Johnson, the principal, said it’s fairly common for assistants to make that jump.