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Warrington Middle Getting Needed Boost

The Escambia School District has been given one year to complete a state-approved turnaround plan for Warrington Middle School.
Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media
The Escambia School District has been given one year to complete a state-approved turnaround plan for Warrington Middle School.

After eight-consecutive low-performing grades for Warrington Middle School on statewide assessments, improvement efforts have been set in motion. The Escambia County School District has received state approval of its turnaround plan, and the school is one of four in the district to get a share of a $44 million federal grant.

“I accompanied the Superintendent to assure the board that the Escambia County School board was 100% behind these plans,” said Escambia School Board chairman and District 5 member, Bill Slayton, reiterating his colleagues’ commitment to Warrington Middle before the Florida Board of Education meeting last week.

“The school board is going to support this 100% and we have no doubts it’s going to be successful. But, we’re not going to give up on these students.”

The district has been given a one-year extension to pull the school’s grade up to a C.

Slayton reassured that the students there are important and that the district does not plan to take the easy out in helping them.

“We’re not going to just shuffle them off into other schools, where they get lost in the population,” he declared. “We want to solve the problem at Warrington Middle School and improve the quality of education in the community of Warrington.”

Slayton attended the meeting along with Escambia County School Superintendent Tim Smith and others, to update the Board of Education on the turnaround option plan for Warrington Middle and other required actions ordered by members of the state panel at their meeting in March.

“Hiring a principal that had experience as a turnaround principal, we’re doing that Tuesday night, Mr. Denny Wilson,” explained Slayton of one of the first tasks at hand.

In touting him as the right man for the job, Slayton noted Wilson’s work as principal of Oakcrest Elementary, which used to be a low-performing school.

“In the seven years he was principal, he took them from an “F” to an “A” elementary school. He’s done this before. He’s worked with these types of students. He’s very organized and he’s very dedicated to making this school successful.”

“I do want you to know that I was not volunteered for this position,” proclaimed Wilson in his short remarks to the state Board of Education.

“I requested of the superintendent to take on this challenge and opportunity. I look forward to using my skills in team-building. I look forward to leaving the district behind and getting back into a school and working with families and students.”

Wilson pointed out that he’s already has been working closely with Learning Sciences International or LSI, the external operator the district contracted with in April for $475,000 to help with the school’s turnaround plan. That plans includes 70% reduction of in-school and out-of-school suspension, and goals to increase proficiency by 5% in English-Language Arts and Science, and 6% in Math.

The new principal and LSI got started right away with staff interviews, with nearly three dozen positions to fill as of last Wednesday (July 14).

“We have 38 instructional positions that we’ve hired for,” Wilson said of their status at the time. “We have new ELA and Math coaches in place and we have a guidance counselor for each grade level and a behavior coach for each grade level.”

“It’s a totally new faculty and we have offered bonuses to teachers,” said Slayton. “The teachers have to have a Value Added Module (VAM) Score that’s very high and they’re getting a sum of money in addition to their regular salary.”

And, as stipulated by the state board, he said all of the new hires will have at least three years of classroom instruction.

“They are people of experience; there’s not one teacher there that is a new teacher. They’re all veteran teachers. It may be the most veteran staff of any middle school in the county.”

At Tuesday’s (this afternoon’s) regular meeting, the board is expected to approve some of the faculty hires and sign off on bonuses, including $30,000 for the new principal and $7,500 each to the assistant principals.

More incentive money is being made available through a new $44 million federal Unified School Improvement Grant announced last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The grant funds, which can also be used for literacy and school-based strategic initiative coaches, will be divided between 149 low-performing schools in 29 districts.

Nearly $1.2 million will be split among four Escambia schools, including Warrington Middle, Warrington Elementary and neighboring schools Holm Elementary and Workman Middle.

Slayton says it would be a bonus if any of the funds can be used to pay for any of Warrington Middle’s turnaround measures.

“This money is not necessary to do the things that we are requesting. Those things are already in the budget and are going to be taken care of. So, the money that will be coming in from this grant is an extra plus for us and the other schools.

The grant likely will be discussed at the school board meeting, which will be held at the J.E. Hall Center, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.