August 02, 2019

New year, new focus for Babcock School

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

  • By BRIANNA KWASNIK Staff Writer
  • Jul 28, 2019

Students at Babcock Ranch Neighborhood School will head back to school Thursday to a campus with a renewed purpose.

The charter school, located in the Babcock Ranch community straddling Charlotte and Lee counties, recently dropped from an A grade to a C, according to the Florida Department of Education. It was the largest grade drop in Charlotte County this year.

Principal Shannon Treece says the drop is a bump in the road that does not define the school or distract from its mission.

“Is it hard to swallow when you get something other than an A? Absolutely,” Treece said. “People have to understand it does take time, that’s part of developing a school and starting from scratch.”

The state grades each school in Florida based on 11 different categories related to factors like test scores and student learning gains from the previous year. Babcock scored a total of 414 points, about 52% of the possible total. Under the current scoring, that’s 2 percentage points from a B and 10 points from an A.

“It was a very real challenge. I’m very transparent with our parents,” Treece said. “People that commit to coming out here understand we’re doing it different, so it’s going to take some time.”

As a charter school, Babcock receives government money but has more flexibility in how to spend it than regular public schools. The school began in 2017 with grades K-6 but has since added seventh- and eighth-grades and plans to eventually add high school grades.

Treece said the school is taking an entirely different approach to education, compared to public schools. Babcock is focused on project-based, hands-on learning, rather than memorizing material from a textbook, she said. Last year, for example, students made their own underwater robots.

She attributes the grade drop to the increase in enrollment, which required teachers to familiarize themselves with new students and how to handle and close potential academic gaps.

In 2017-18, Babcock had only 156 students enrolled. For the 2018-19 school year, that number jumped to 355.

For this upcoming school year, there will be 425 students enrolled. The building has a capacity for 520.

Currently there are 252 students on the waiting list for Babcock Ranch Neighborhood School. Families are able to sign up for the lottery system for enrollment online.

The Babcock Ranch community was developed by Kitson & Partners, which doesn’t seem concerned that the grade drop will have any effect on Babcock’s efforts to appeal to families.

“Our student population more than doubled last year and that brought significant challenges in terms of the annual grading system,” said Lisa Hall, public relations manager for Babcock Ranch, “But our teachers and staff rose to the challenge of helping students who started off behind the curve close the gap by the end of the year.”

“We are incredibly proud of our school and have no doubt that it will continue to be a significant draw for young families,” said Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners. “When they step into a classroom they will see the enthusiasm, the engagement, and the learning that goes on there every single day.”

Treece said prior to the new school year, officials had to step back and consider what made sense for them. Though they could have filled the school to capacity, they don’t want to lose sight of their goal of student growth, and growing the “whole student.”

The school staff anticipated possible challenges as much as they could, but ultimately, Treece said, the staff had a steep learning curve with new students coming in. They had to give them a baseline assessment to see where they were at academically, and then, develop a plan to help them prepare for the Florida Standards Assessment exams.

“We knew we had a lot of kids coming in with academic gaps,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of two to three years before they take their state assessment.”

A challenge the school faces, Treece said, is finding balance: adding needed resources to the school, while still adding new students.

“We also knew we couldn’t add 200 more kids again. It’s about balance,” Treece said.

This year they decided to slow the growth and give students and teachers a chance to acclimate.

“We want to continue to stay the course, not lose the mission of what the school was developed for,” Treece said.

Some of the resources the school added this year were staff support positions, including: additional paraprofessionals, an additional ESE teacher, IT coordinator, and a math intervention coach.

“How we respond is going to define us,” she said. “We’re not going to move the academic rigor bar, we’re going to figure out how to get them there.”