Sumter schools earn performance honor

Second-grade student Lynda McCraine-Garcia works on an assignment at The Villages Charter Elementary School Intermediate Center. The charter school makes up almost 38% of Sumter County district enrollment.

Sumter County School District has been designated an Academically High-Performing School District for the first time in five years. The honor is based on three criteria: school and district grades for the 2018-19 school year, financial audits for 2018-19 and class size compliance for 2019-20. Superintendent Rick Shirley credited teachers, principals and other administrators. The Villages Charter School Education Director Randy McDaniel and Assistant Superintendent Deborah Moffitt credited Shirley. “Rick Shirley and his staff deserve all the credit,” McDaniel said. “It’s obviously a district award.” The charter school makes up almost 38% of district enrollment and has had an “A” grade every year since 2003. It is one of three schools in the county with an “A” grade, along with Lake Panasoffkee and Bushnell elementary schools. The county has two schools with “B” grades and three with “C” grades and no schools with “D” or “F” grades.

“We’re very proud of that award. We’re a Sumter County school,” McDaniel said. “We have a friendly rivalry in sports, but we really want all students to achieve.”

The charter school is glad to do its part, he said.

Shirley said it is nice that the state recognizes the district for the hard work by its educators.

“Of course, we can always get better, and we’ll continue to do that as well,” Shirley said.

He called this a transition year. The state suspended standardized testing, on which school grades are largely based, in the spring when it extended school closures through the end of the 2019-20 school year. Testing is scheduled to resume as usual this spring.

He said the 2021 school grades will include measures of students’ academic growth and improvement based on test scores from 2019.

“Last year ended uniquely,” Shirley said. “This year began uniquely. We don’t know how that will play out statewide. It’s going to be different because so many more are doing distance learning.”

McDaniel and Moffitt said the goal is for all students to succeed.

“The superintendent has always held us all to high expectations,” Moffitt said. “If the standards are not set high enough, you’re not going to achieve that goal.”

The goal is for all students to meet standards of proficiency, they said.

“He’s never said it’s OK for only half of our students to meet them,” Moffitt said.

She credited dedication to the teaching and education profession and dedication to students and good relationships among all educators, staff, students and families as keys to being able to accomplish the goals.

“We teach what the kids need to learn,” Moffitt said. “We try to provide an environment where students want to be and remain.”

The county had an 87.2% graduation rate for the Class of 2019, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Sumter is one of 17 districts of the 67 in Florida to earn the designation that the State Board of Education approved Wednesday.

Florida also moved up to third in the national rankings in the 2020 Quality Counts report by Education Week for student achievement from kindergarten through 12th grade. The state was ranked fourth in 2019.

Florida is ranked second in the nation for improving the high school graduation rate — 86.9% of the Class of 2019 — the state education department said in announcing the ranking.

The K-12 Achievement index is comprised of six indicator areas: Achievement Levels, Achievement Gains, Poverty Gap, Achieving Excellence, High School Graduation and Advanced Placement. To develop the measure, Education Week used performance data, from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, College Board data and graduation data from the U.S. Education Department, the state said.

Staff writer Dayna Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5408, or dayna.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.