First part of a series.
Lakewood Elementary was once considered one of the worst performing public schools in Florida; after consistently receiving “D” and “F” grades from the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), it was labeled “factory to fail” in the 2015 Tampa Bay Times series of the same name that would win a Pulitzer Prize.
Thanks to a partnership between the school and Learning Sciences International (LSI), as well as a focus on improving student learning outcomes by teachers and administrators, the school is no longer a failure. In fact, it is now a model of success.
LSI is a national provider of K-12 school rectification systems, and in 2018 it began implementing its “Schools for Rigor and Equity” model in Lakewood. James R. Mills of LSI, who served as a leadership coach at Lakewood during the first year of the partnership, knew the group had their work cut out for them from the start.
“The majority of the students were over two years late when we got there,” Mills said. “When we did our first tests, we had about 87% of our students reading at the kindergarten level in grade three. I have worked with many schools over the years, and I have never seen anything so serious in terms of literacy development.
Around the same time, Area Superintendent Stephanie Woodford came to the school she would later fall in love with. In March 2018, he was asked to step in while the Lakewood manager was on leave. She told the Catalyst she “went there for five weeks to cover, and I ended up staying three years.” One of the reasons Woodford stayed was the nascent partnership with LSI.
Woodford ended up staying until the end of that school year and hooked up with LSI while he completed his initial assessment. When it was decided the organization would stay and tackle the issue, Woodford was also asked to stay. She would then become Lakewood’s next manager, overseeing its 2018-2021 rebirth.
“All of LSI, all of Lakewood, we’ve partnered with them for three years,” said Woodford. “Every three years they were hand in hand with us.”
She also realized that the school’s turnaround was not going to be easy.
“There was a lot of lack of structure and procedures,” said Woodford. “What I found was that a lot of the kids were significantly behind academically, so we had a lot of work to do.”
Even though the school received an “F” in its first full year at the helm, data showed the school also improved by 62 points. It’s also worth noting that data and analytics are at the heart of Lakewood’s transformation.
In Woodford’s second year, she said that “all of our data trends were on the rise” and they expected to achieve a high “C” or “B” rating from the FLDOE. Unfortunately, school grades have been canceled due to the pandemic. Last year, Woodford said they forecast the entire year as a high “B” but managed to pull off an “A”.
“As much as anyone will say ‘F’ to an ‘A’ in a year – it’s been three years of hard work and continued growth throughout those three years,” she said.
According to LSI, a strategic and personalized framework was implemented in collaboration with stakeholders in Lakewood, Pinellas County schools and the community. They then established a vision, set goals, and outlined the action steps needed to achieve those goals.
Woodford thanks LSI for helping identify issues and providing support to the coaches, which was vital during Woodford’s first year at school as they ‘fundamentally reinvented the school with a whole new staff. “.
This first year, 25 new staff members were hired, compared to just four this year. Woodford is quick to point out that this wouldn’t be possible without them.
“It made the biggest difference – the good staff at this school,” she said. “The teachers are just amazing, and it’s such a happy place.”
Woodford, who now oversees 30 schools as a regional superintendent, regularly takes other principals to visit Lakewood and discuss ideas, even those from other school districts. They talk through data, review schedules, walk through classrooms. Woodford thinks that seeing how the process works is more instructive than hearing about it.
Saturday: Part Two – An Overview of Lakewood Elementary School.