Charter School at top of class with 18th ‘A’

Second-grade student Chloe Davenport works on a math lesson during class at The Villages Charter Elementary School Intermediate Center.

The Villages Charter School staff and students successfully navigated a challenging school year during the pandemic, as shown by school grades released by the Florida Department of Education this week. The department awarded VCS with its 18th straight A grade. VCS Director of Education Randy McDaniel said he was amazed at how hard students and staff worked while also dealing with all the changes caused by the pandemic. The Florida Department of Education did not issue grades for the 2019-20 school year. For the 2020-21 school year, it gave the districts and schools the option to opt in or opt out of grading.

Out of the 67 districts in the state, only 11 opted in to receive grades. The Sumter County School District opted out of grading, as did all of its eight public schools. The Marion County School District also opted out while the Lake County School District opted in, receiving a B.

Only 630 schools opted in out of 3,392 schools in the state. VCS is one of 324 schools in Florida that received an A grade.

The decision for VCS to opt in was made early on, McDaniel  said.

“We worked hard, and were optimistic about the result,” he said.

McDaniel gives the credit for 18 years of repeated success to the teachers and students. He said VCS separates itself from other schools because of its constant attention to detail and the fundamentals.

“We’re always looking for ways to get better,” McDaniel said.

VCS uses programs that track and research where improvements can be made and makes adjustments as necessary throughout the year.

“We’re honest with ourselves,” McDaniel said. “We know where we can get better.”

The Villages Charter Elementary School earned its own 18th straight A as well.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for our staff and students,” principal LeAnne Yerk said.

Yerk said extra tutoring sessions helped students fight back against challenges such as shuffling between in-person and online learning.

She said she gives kudos to everyone involved for their work through the year, especially the “excellent guidance and staff.”

“It was a juggling act, but we worked as hard as we could,” Yerk said. “It was quite a lot with a global pandemic going on.”

Yerk said the school hopes to fulfill its goal of extending the streak next year. They use tools throughout the year such as diagnostic research by testing that identify individual student trends in learning.

“We’ll be digging into the data and addressing challenges individually with students,” Yerk said.

The Villages Charter Middle School earned its 18th A, and principal Peggy Irwin is pleased with the result.

“The school grade reflects the hard work and dedication of our teachers and staff to ensure that each child has an outstanding educational experience,” Irwin said. “The grade also reflects the hard work of our students and their dedication to learning.”

The Villages High School got its 15th straight A.

“Last year was the epitome of a team effort,” principal Rob Grant said, adding that students and staff “made things happen.”

“The effort that they both put forth was monumental,” Grant said. “They’re all rock stars in my book.”

Grant said VHS hopes to keep improving and continue the streak with new programs that monitor student progress.

He is also pleased with the smooth start to the current school year, which he said is “as normal as possible.”

“We have students working hard in the classroom and on the field,” Grant said. “Still, of course, in a careful and precautionary manner.”

Staff Writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or garrett.shiflet@thevillagesmedia.com.