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Warrington Middle looks to have successful year as charter transition begins

Denny Wilson and Tina D'Aversa.jpg
Sandra Averhart
/
WUWF Public Media
Warrington Middle School Principal Denny Wilson chats with Tina D'Aversa, who teaches eighth grade algebra and pre-algebra at the school.

It’s an exciting time for students and educators across Northwest Florida, who reported back to class Wednesday for the start of the new school year.

At Pensacola’s Warrington Middle School, there’s more of a concerted effort to look forward, after the disappointment of failing to get the C grade needed to avoid transition to a charter.

“I actually think we’re going to have a really good school year,” declared Principal Denny Wilson last week after his first meeting with teachers reporting back to begin their preparations.

Not knowing what his staff's response would be, Wilson acknowledged he was probably more anxious on this first day gathering than any other he recalls as a principal.

“But, I was pleasantly surprised just from the feel I got from the energy in the room,” he said.

Wilson made it clear that his vision for the new school year and their approach to it will be very different. That’s because there will be no grades for the new state assessment and they’re no longer under the gun to try to keep the school open.

“I really wanted all my teachers to reconnect with their why; why did we go into this work,” he said of their opportunity to just focus on being the best educators they can be.

“And, that it was going to be more important this year than maybe any other year, because there isn’t that outside, necessary big goal. Also, there’s a pressure that’s maybe been taken off, and it’s partly because we do know what the outcome is.”

That’s working with a charter company that will be coming in and taking over for the 2023-24 school year.

For now, though, Wilson is fixated on the task at hand, “Our goal is to continue the good fight, continue the work.”

“I’m feeling great about the new school year,” said Tina D’Aversa, who teaches eighth grade algebra and pre-algebra at Warrington Middle.

“We’ve come back more vibrant than ever, myself included, just with an attitude that we can’t be defeated.”

But, D’Aversa admits it hasn’t been easy recovering from the devastation of not achieving the C grade needed to continue as a public school.

“I didn’t realize how much it was going to impact me, because I was here for one year,” said D’Aversa, who came over from Beulah Middle School the year prior.

“But, it’s really about the kids and how hard we felt we worked. And, I’m a math teacher. I’m not supposed to have these feelings and emotions, and I just sat there and cried.”

D’Aversa believes it says a lot that she and many other teachers have come back to continue their work at Warrington Middle, even though they could have gone anywhere else.

In the run up to the first day, she and her colleagues have been discussing utilization of their new math curriculum and focusing on the new BEST (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking) Standards for state assessment tests.

Also, many of members of the instructional staff attended training for the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, which encourages teachers to get to know their students and build relationships with them.

D’Aversa says that connection is especially important for many of the youth at Warrington Middle, who face various challenges, including poverty, at home.

“We have a lot of students that have different types of family environments, and it’s more important there because they’re looking to us as teachers to help and support them,” she said. “And, as I stand here, I’m thinking about what I’m gonna do this year to let these kids know how much we care.”

For the 2022-23 school year, enrollment is expected to in the range of 800-850, about where it was last year, when the school benefitted from a plethora of additional resources.

“We will not have an external operator,” said Dr. Tim Smith, superintendent of the Escambia County School District, noting that the district’s one-year contract with Learning Sciences International (LSI) was finalized. Required by the state, the company provided instructional and curriculum support for teachers.

“The teacher bonuses are still in place,” state Smith in reference to the incentives from the state and district for teachers accepting positions at Warrington Middle.

And, in contrast to the start of the 2021-22 school year, which was disrupted by a spike in COVID-related teacher absences, student fighting, and numerous new hires, Smith is expecting this year to start with much more stability.

“This year we have a lot of teachers returning,” Smith began. “We have our entire administrative team of principal and two assistant principals returning. I think we’re going to start off with a very smooth, stable year at Warrington. And, really giving them, that administrative two years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they really do well.”

But, the superintendent reminds that however the students perform, the decision has been made and the school still has to go to a charter.

“Our hope is that we have a great year, our kids learn a lot and thrive and do well,” said Smith. “And, that when the charter comes in the following year, we have a charter school that has kids learning and thriving and getting ready for high school.”

In the coming weeks, Smith said the district will be working out the details of the transition with Charter Schools USA, which will take over operation of Warrington Middle School next year.

In the meantime, as this school year gets underway, Principal Wilson plans to focus on helping his students with the transition, while also pushing them to some of the school’s highest-ever proficiency scores.

“I want to show that we didn’t give up,” Wilson said.

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.