McIntosh Area School proposes crucial improvement plan after receiving failing grade last year

File photo: School district meeting on April 26, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

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Posted September 26, 2022 | By Caroline Brauchler

Representatives from the McIntosh Area School (MAS) presented an academic improvement plan to the School Board of Marion County during Thursday’s administrative work session after receiving a failing grade from the state for the 2021-2022 school year.

Anticipated goals for the school to achieve include improving test scores in reading and math among students in grades K-2, improving test scores in English Language Arts (ELA) and math among students in grades 3-5, and raising the overall school assessment grade from an ‘F’ to a ‘B’ in the next grading cycle, according to David Friedlander, principal of MAS.

“While we are extremely disappointed in the school achievement results, we are embracing it as an opportunity to rebuild,” Friedlander said. “We have undertaken a critical assessment over how to do a program staffing and review on assessment data from the last few years to chart a path forward that will make us stronger than we have ever been.”

The duration of the school day has been extended by 20 minutes to accommodate a 90-minute instructional block for ELA, 60-minute blocks for math and fifth-grade science and a 50-minute period of Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) for students of all grade levels, according to the academic improvement plan.

MTSS allows for teachers to intervene to identify areas in which students struggle academically or behaviorally so that issues may be addressed early and quickly. The school also has purchased and implemented new curriculum across all grade levels and subject areas to better meet Florida’s benchmark standards for learning.

After evaluating data from the previous school year, the school’s team found critical learning discrepancies in test scores for reading and math across all grade levels. The data reflects multiple points surveyed, including the Math Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) and iReady reading comprehension data, said Friedlander.

“We will provide the resources opportunities for each child to meet or exceed their grade level potential and experience learning gains,” Friedlander said. “We expect our student performance will meet or exceed our goal of 54% of students achieving a score of at least Level 3 or higher on statewide standardized ELA, math and science assessments.”

The school also hired additional staff members, including Assistant Principal Colleen Beals. One of her responsibilities will be to strategize a Professional Development plan that will train staff to discuss student achievement data weekly, study instructional strategies, use new curriculum and best utilize small-group instruction.

MAS has and will continue to struggle with enrollment, as the school currently has a total of 55 students, which is 9% fewer than projected. The school has as few as five students in its fifth grade class and six students in its fourth grade class, according to Deborah McKay, president of the MAS Board of Directors.

“In October of 2023 it will be our 20th year of being established as the MacIntosh Area School,” McKay said. “The school is designed by class size from K-5 to support 108 students when it was initially instituted, but we have not in the history of the school been able to make that number.”

McKay said that a huge contributor to the school’s poor enrollment is the nearby Micanopy Area Cooperative school, which opened 10 years ago and sits just north of MAS over the Alachua County border, drawing in many of the students who formerly would have attended MAS as a school of choice. To combat low enrollment, she said that the school will continue to implement extracurricular and after-school programs as incentives for those considering attending the school.

“We have been approved for a 4-H program, which our parents asked for, that has started. We have a running club, which is our highest popular club for fitness and it’s after school, and now Spanish and now the arts,” McKay said. “Our families not only want those enrichments, and we are planning to put them into the academic day this year, but we had to make them clubs to accommodate the student achievement grade that we that we earned.”

School Board Member Nancy Thrower remarked on the challenges faced by the school, most notably its remote location, which presents an obstacle in getting students to and from school and delivering the resources they need.

“McIntosh is a great little town out there. It’s isolated. It’s not easy to get to and the kids need services,” Thrower said. “You are part of our school system, and we want you to be successful. It’s important for your school board to hear what you need from us through whatever channels you’re to go through.”

The principal, assistant principal and board president all shared the same hope that if the school follows its improvement plan, that during the next grading cycle they may raise its grade not only to a passing grade but ideally up to a ‘B.’ The representatives from MAS were required to create the plan in accordance with Florida Statute Section 1002.33, which requires all schools that received failing grades create and implement strategic plans for academic improvement.

“We welcome any and all board members to come and visit our school to see exactly what goes on out there,” Friedlander said. “We look forward to that opportunity to meet with you.”