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By MIKE CAPSHAW
Chiefland High School captured academic bragging rights when it became the first high school in Levy County to earn a school grade of A from the Florida Department of Education on Tuesday.
School grades are calculated by a new formula this year that includes participation in advanced coursework and college readiness, something Levy County School District Superintendent Bob Hastings recommended in a letter to the state years ago.
"I am just ecstatic for Chiefland but not surprised," Hastings said. "Because (the FDOE) instituted this year to incorporate rigorous coursework and dual enrollment, we felt really good about Chiefland. I think those things capture more of what high school is all about."
Grades combine two major areas: accountability and FCAT scores. Accountability encompasses things such as dual enrollment and numbers of Advanced Placement courses offered, while FCAT points are earned in nine categories, with points awarded for percentage of students meeting high school standards and making gains in certain subjects on the test, among other things. Both areas account for 50 percent of the school's overall score.
Chiefland received a score of 507 on the FCAT and a 648 on high school accountability for a total of 1,155. Both the middle school and elementary received grades of A as well, resulting in Hastings calling Chiefland an "A community."
"We are excited to be the first stand-alone high school in Levy County history to receive an A," said Chiefland High School principal Bill Tovine. "We may have a second, third and fourth, but there will always be only one first."
By comparison, Bronson High School scored a 477 FCAT and a 569 on accountability for a 1,009 total. That earned a school grade of B because BHS's score is weighted 70 percent FCAT and 30 percent accountability as a school that combines the middle school and high school. Williston High School scored a 462 FCAT and a 556 on accountability for a total of 1,018 and a school grade of C, a strong improvement from last year's F grade. Williston scored enough to warrant a B but were docked a grade for not showing improvement in a few key areas.
Combination schools Cedar Key — which has elementary, middle and high school combined, and Yankeetown, which has pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, also received A grades.
"All of our schools made improvements because they are good schools and I'm very proud of them," Hastings said.
Tovine learned about the grade Monday evening and called an "all hands on deck" mandatory faculty meeting Tuesday morning to announce it to the staff. Last year, the school received a C grade, but we're "close to being a B school." Two years ago, CHS was a B school. This year's 507 on the FCAT was the school's highest score ever, but a few points shy of the A grade of 520 for the FCAT side of the equation.
Tovine is in his second year in Chiefland after spending three years in Citrus County at a school that was graded "A" for three consecutive years. He's been impressed with the rapid improvement since arriving in Chiefland.
"We only had one A.P. offering when I got here and now we're at four," Tovine said. "We had the capacity in our school for more A.P. courses and have students attending dual enrollment across the street (at College of Central Florida-Levy Center), plus we've added more CTE (Career Technical Education) testing. Those are all important toward your score.
"Accountability is the biggest thing. We've got good kids and good parents, so that makes it easy."
Immediately after Tuesday's announcement the attention shifted toward how Chiefland can maintain its high-level of success.
"What we have to do now is sustain the A, and we've already had meetings about that very thing," Tovine said.
Chiefland appears to be headed in the right direction. It has added advanced math and reading courses this year, as well as creative writing, an area where the school improved 12 points since last year's tests.
A total of 140 schools in Florida earned grades of A, up from 46 schools last year.