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Thursday April 24th 2014

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Pointing Fingers and Finding Solutions

The Escambia County School Board took another step yesterday in the reconfiguration of Lincoln Park Elementary School. Although the school’s proponents lobbied for further consideration and additional support, the board moved ahead and approved new attendance zones to accommodate the students that will be leaving the failing school.

“This is an opportunity to find a solution,” said Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “Something has to be done.”

On Monday, Thomas had laid out the “turnaround” plan for Lincoln Park. As the school is expected to receive its second consecutive F from the state next month, the district is mandated by state law to take such action.

“Those aren’t our rules,” the superintendent said, “those are state rules.”

Last year, Lincoln Park failed to transcend its F status by two point—they received a 393, and needed a 395. Thomas said he had initially been encouraged that the school was set to bring the number up and avoid a second F.

“Should have been an easy lift,” he said.

While the state has yet to release grades for this year, the superintendent said it looks like Lincoln Park has taken a considerable step backwards.  He’s expecting it will receive 231 points this year.

“We’ve run the numbers,” Thomas said. “The school is going to be an F.”

The turnaround plan entails transforming Lincoln Park to a pre-k-through-second-grade facility; older students will be sent to other elementary schools in the district, and siblings that stand to be split up will be given the opportunity to transfer together.

The plan also calls for a fresh start, with a new principal and staff. State law requires that the school be disassembled and rebuilt from the foundation—the principal must go, though teachers may be eligible to reapply. The district is limiting the school to pre-k through second grade—younger students don’t take standardized tests—to avoid a third fatal F grade from the state.

“This is the recipe of the cycle that we continue to see at our lowest performing schools,” Lincoln Park Principal Christine Nixon told the school board.

Nixon, as well as other staff members and parents, implored the board to consider other options for Lincoln Park. They raised concerns about the amount of resources—such as math and reading coaches—that the district had focused on the school over the past academic year.

Pensacola City Councilman Gerald Wingate addressed the board, inferring that the district was not adequately serving African-American students. He allowed that such a notion “offended some people.”

“Just from your data,” Wingate said, “the F-schools that we have in Escambia County are predominately black.”

School board member Linda Moultrie also said that the elementary school would benefit from increased attention and resources. She cautioned against laying the failing school at the feet of its staff, arguing that the board and district administration “share in that blame.”

School board member Jeff Bergosh said that the district had provided Lincoln Park with the appropriate resources—“it’s not us”—and rejected such a position. He got “on the soapbox,” started “venting,” promising to “do the rest of it in a viewpoint.”

“Resource after resource after resource—you get it,” Bergosh said. “We did not fail. I reject that and it makes my blood boil.”

The conversation wrapped up with a 4-1 vote—Moultrie dissenting—to approve the attendance zones.

“I don’t think we’re pointing fingers,” Superintendent Thomas said. “We’re saying we accept who we are and it’s time for solutions.”