WORDS & PICTURES: Jessica Schubick
Palm View Elementary began the new school year on an exciting note after receiving excellent news over the summer when the Florida Department of Education released school grades for the state. Palm View showed the greatest gains in the School District of Manatee County, going from a D grade in the 2017-2018 academic year (and the 2016-2017 year), to an A grade in 2018-2019! Of Manatee County’s 60 schools, 20 received an A grade based on seven “buckets” of assessment including proficiency testing in third, fourth, and fifth grade English language arts, math, and science, as well as various methods of assessing learning gains. Palm View increased their ratings in all seven assessment categories.
Palm View’s A grade was a tremendous boost for the school – but it didn’t happen by accident. Principal Kaththea Johnson moved to Palm View last year after having been an Assistant Principal at Palma Sola Elementary and Daughtrey Elementary. Obviously, her first year at Palm View was a great success, but she won’t take all of the credit. Principal Johnson was quick to note: “It was not one person. We have a great community. We have great students and families; staff that was willing to roll-up their sleeves, tackle challenges, and do what was needed; and we had District support, in addition to state support. When you receive a D grade for the 2nd year in a row and you’re in turnaround status, you have to have reviews and visits from the state. So, that provided additional resources that we utilized. It truly was a collective effort,” she continued. “I was very blessed to be able to have this opportunity. Everybody was willing to work together. That’s probably the best part. There wasn’t any one isolated thing that worked. It’s multiple things – and it’s all-hands-on-deck.”
That said, Principal Johnson came in with a vision for helping the students of Palm View succeed. “Number one: we had clear goals from the beginning. We know what our school grade was; we tore our data apart; and we made goals based on our areas of need, as well as our areas of strength that we could play off of and make stronger. And then, we made sure that those goals were consistent and communicated across our whole campus and throughout the District. Another thing that we did was to focus a lot on collaborative planning,” she explained. “Bringing everyone together and focusing on learning the standards and making sure that the instruction that we’re providing is standards-based. My leadership team also plans with my teachers. We set-up a calendar and every week I paid my teachers two additional hours of planning outside of the day. They rolled up their sleeves and did it!”
Those collaborative planning sessions and conversations led to a focus on small group instruction. “What does that look like in the classroom? How can we support them in the classroom with that small group instruction?” Principal Johnson recalled asking her team. “Because when you get to small group instruction, then you’re targeting individual needs and you’re differentiating. And so that’s where a bulk of our learning gains come from and that’s where we had the most gains – in the bottom quartile for ELA (English Language Arts) we went to 92%, which is crazy!”
And finally, Principal Johnson made sure to focus on data: “From the beginning, my teachers knew who their students were; they knew where they were at when they came in, where their needs and where their strengths were. We focused our collaborative planning sessions around using our data and our formative assessments. Are students getting it? Who is getting it and who isn’t? Where are they struggling? What do I need to re-teach? Where do I need to support more? And what do we need to change or tweak? So, we really let data drive our instruction and our decisions.”
Asked what this achievement means for her students, Principal Johnson reflected for a moment. “For Palm View, number one, helping our students understand that they can be successful, and that failure is not final. We learn from our mistakes. We want students to know that they can be successful, and we want them to come to school and love learning. We want them to be lifelong learners. That’s huge. Proficiency is something we’re striving towards. But at the same time, you don’t want to take a student who is significantly behind and say, ‘If you’re not proficient tomorrow, you’ve failed. You’re done.’ It’s all about the growth and the goal setting,” she continued. “We want our students to be responsible for their own learning and we want them to set goals and problem-solve and grow towards their success.”
Upon starting the school year with this tremendous news, Principal Johnson was careful to remember that their journey was not complete. She added: “Obviously, we want to maintain the course; we don’t want to fall back. Especially this year, adding sixth grade! We have to make sure that we bring what we found successful last year to sixth grade this year.” That’s right, Palm View is not only achieving – they’re growing! The school has added sixth grade students to their campus this year. And they expect to have seventh and eighth grade students on campus within the next two years – growing their campus to a full elementary and middle school student body.
But that’s not the only addition to the Palm View campus this year. Palm View has also launched the “Woz Career Pathways” program – making it the first school in Florida to implement the full program, which will eventually (with the addition of the seventh and eighth grade students) offer instruction to all Kindergarten through eighth grade students at the school.
Sixth grade instructor Neirda Lafontant brought her background in civil engineering to Palm View this year to work with students on STEAM learning. Her excitement was palpable as she discussed the program: “The Woz program was brought about by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple. He felt the need to give hands-on experience to kids in the fields of STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics – in the hopes that he would plant the seed and they would pursue those in-demand careers in the future.”
Woz Career Pathways currently incorporates instruction in five STEAM-based areas (or “Pathways”): engineering design process, coding, drone technology, cyber security, and mobile development. As students complete the pathways, there are other pathways for them to explore, which are designed by level based on the student’s grade. The program is planning to add additional Pathway focus areas such as data science, animation, and artificial intelligence in the coming years. Current Palm View Kindergartners will be among the first in the nation to complete the full program. Current 6th graders will be among the first to complete the full middle school program. The Palm View instructors and leadership team expect this to be a great resume builder and career development experience for the students. Woz Career Pathways students are able to work with high-tech equipment – such as 3D printers, coding Ozobots and Spheros, manufacturing robotics, and more – in an explorative and instructive hands-on environment.
The program is also expected to be a great source for future students of Manatee Technical College’s skilled workforce programs. Principal Johnson notes: “The business world is snatching those kids up before they’ve even completed the MTC program! Now we’re starting even earlier, so hopefully students will recognize that this is something they’re interested in and pursue it.”
Ms. Lafontant explained that their first year in the program is all about learning and growing: “For this year, we’re seeing how the kids take to the program and trying to figure out how to make it as complete, as enjoyable and as understandable as possible for the kids, so that not only do they want to come back for the next level, but so that they’re telling their friends and they want to come and do it, as well. So that it thrives.”
Principal Johnson added: “The learning of the engineering process is the foundation. Then on the academic side, I need students to be proficient readers; I need students to be successful and college career ready. When we think about the content that they’re learning: how can we integrate that into their core math? Into their language arts? Into their core science and world history? You accomplish a lot by plugging into something that interests them, but also something that is going to prepare them for the business world… which impacts the community! And that’s what we want to do, too – we want to strengthen our community.”
“We’ll be bringing in guest speakers from the community and beyond; the students will be taking field trips; we’ll be doing competitions…” Principal Johnson continued. “We fully expect to expose our students to everything that other middle schools and high schools are doing.”