Seeing Beyond l Throw support behind our teachers | columnists

When I was growing up, the end of the school year was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I admit it, I loved school. Summer was great, don’t get me wrong. But school was my jam.

I’m old enough to remember life before the Internet. That life included the envelope that was sent home with progress reports throughout the school year. The teachers marked it by hand for each student and we carried the same envelope home each time to get a parent signature.



Cortney Stewart


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Here’s the incredible part of that whole thing: we brought the envelopes back. We used the same envelope for an entire year; took it from school four times and brought the same one back.

That’s a miracle. But I digress.

The greatest anticipation, though, was when the final report cards of the year were mailed to your house. In the pre-Internet days, you couldn’t access your grades with the click of a button. There was no way to monitor the grade book in real time. Report cards were always met with bated breath.

Citrus County Schools just got their collective report card. And, well, it wasn’t exactly what we had hoped for.

For years the district has been on the A/B honor roll without fail. For the first time in over two decades, this year we didn’t make the cut. Only two points shy of a “B,” our school system’s 2022 grade was a “C.”

It’s disappointing to be sure. And there is definitely some accountability that should and will take place at the district office and in individual schools. A “C” isn’t what we’re aiming for.

But if the school district is the “student” in this equation and the public is the “parent,” it’s incredibly important that we approach this setback in the right way.

The first thing is not to panic. It’s not what we hoped for but it isn’t the end of the world.

Here’s why.

Nothing like this happens in a vacuum. And if we’re honest with ourselves, nothing has been normal in our world since March 2020.

Nothing.

School especially.

The last grade the school district was given came in 2019. That’s the last time there was enough data to collect to put together a report card. COVID-19 created chaos for everyone but schools took a particularly hard hit. For two years there is virtually no good intel on what our kids were learning or how they were learning.

Zoom calls were great. But we’ve all learned that they are no substitute for face-to-face human interaction. There is no context where that is more true than in the learning environment.

It’s important to break down what exactly determines the school district scores so we have a better understanding of what the grade actually means. There are five categories in the formula: achievement, learning gains, graduation, acceleration success, and focus on students who need support.

In a normal school year, that formula seems to adequately cover the main components of academic success. There’s an argument to made about the weight of the student support component – particularly given that some schools have a much higher percentage of those students than others – but that’s for another day.

What the formula doesn’t take into account is the myriad of other services schools offer to students that significantly impact their lifelong success. Access to the arts, athletics, and extracurriculars and student emotional and social support should at least play some role in how schools are graded. Academic proficiency is incredibly important. But test scores don’t tell the whole story.

So even in a normal school year, there is an argument to be made for a more holistic formula that addresses the whole student and a school’s propensity to meet students’ needs.

But that’s for the future.

What do we make of the disappointing score we just received?

First, consider that this score is assessing essentially two years of disruption. It isn’t a reflection of what our schools did in 2022. It’s really an appraisal of 2020 and 2021. Given what those two years have entailed for the world, it’s no wonder our schools slipped a little in test scores and academic gains.

COVID-19 is one of, if not the, greatest challenge teachers have faced in decades. And that’s saying something given the vast array of obstacles educators face – everything from disengaged and often enraged parents to the real possibility of a school shooting.

It’s a lot.

But COVID was unique in both its unprecedented nature and the mandated school response: online learning.

If we’re honest, despite heroic efforts by teachers and parents alike, the 2019-2020 school year was abruptly finished in March. There’s no way to fully assess the learning losses that took place during that time nor the fundamental building blocks that students simply never received.

That being said, the 2020-21 school year then started with kids moving into grade levels that they weren’t fully prepared for. Positive COVID tests and contact tracing kept kids and teachers out of school for weeks at a time. So even if a student never tested positive and was never contact traced, he or she still faced issues with knowledge acquisition and assessment because of teacher absences.

So do our students have learning gaps? Absolutely.

Is that a reflection of the quality of our school district? I don’t think so.

Citrus County Schools have historically been high performing and well managed. A disappointing report card that reflects the two most challenging years in education to date is no reason to think that we’ve somehow lost our way.

Panic leads to overcorrection. And overcorrection is dangerous, too.

There’s work to be done to be sure. This slip should cause some re-evaluation. But with Sam Himmel in command, I think we’ll see the appropriate measures. She’s a solid and proven leader. She will right the ship.

In the meantime, as a community, it’s paramount to throw support behind our teachers and not criticize them. If we want to see that grade improve, we’ve got to do our part, too.

Cortney Stewart is a Lecanto High graduate with political science, international affairs, and intercultural studies degrees who has lived and worked around the world.

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