110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Al Everson
posted Jun 2, 2014 - 10:43:46am
A DeLand school with a failing grade and a very high percentage of economically disadvantaged children is coming under new scrutiny.
Troy Bradley, pastor of DeLand's Greater Union First Baptist Church, has challenged the Volusia County School Board to do more to improve Edith I. Starke Elementary School at 730 S. Parsons Ave., in the Spring Hill community.
"The School Board needs to give more attention to Starke. We don't want the school to fail," Bradley said. He said the School Board needs to "ensure that all students at Starke Elementary receive a quality education."
A committee of community leaders and concerned families has formed to raise their collective voices in favor of more attention for Starke, Bradley said.
Starke Elementary has a state-assigned grade of F because of the poor performance of so many of its students on state achievement tests. Approximately 400 children attend Starke in grades kindergarten through fifth.
"If Starke were rushed to the emergency room of the hospital, it would be admitted to the critical-care ward," Bradley told the School Board May 27. He said Starke is an example of an "unacceptable school standard."
Starke is a Title I school, meaning it receives extra federal funding for instructional staff and programs because of its disproportionately high number of students from low-income households.
Title I refers to that portion of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that specifies additional allocations of federal aid for a school in the midst of an impoverished community.
Volusia School District Superintendent Dr. Margaret Smith agreed Starke is troubled.
"Ninety-nine percent of the students get free and reduced-price lunch," Smith said.
Because Starke Elementary is a failing school — as defined by the Florida Department of Education — Smith pointed out the school has a longer academic day than other schools.
"Those students already get an extra hour. Those students go to school from 8 to 3," she said.
The purpose of the additional hour of instruction is to emphasize reading. The School District spends an extra $250,000 a year to pay for that extra hour of Starke's school day.
"That money especially goes for salaries," Smith said.
Smith said she had met with Bradley and some of his committee members, and they spent about two hours talking about the school and possible solutions.
Bradley said Starke has been shortchanged, lacking some basic personnel, such as a full-time principal and a full-time media specialist.
"You need a full-time principal that will build the staff," he said.
The principal of Starke, Kate Godbee, also serves as principal of Woodward Avenue Elementary School. The School Board settled upon the principal-sharing arrangement as a budget-cutting move.
Smith said Starke does have a full-time media specialist. And, even with a shared principal, the school is not lacking in administrative leadership, she said.
"Starke has an assistant principal and a teacher on assignment, who serves as an administrator," Smith said.
Whether Starke is a failing school or not, Bradley suggested the school needs to establish a program for gifted students. Smith said Starke Elementary does not have such a program, but Woodward Avenue Elementary and George Marks Elementary offer gifted programs.
Bradley also lamented the lack of a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) or PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) at Starke. Smith agreed there is a need for more ways for parents to become involved.
"In terms of the PTA, they don't have an active PTA, but the principal, Kate Godbee, said she has been working to have a more active PTA," Smith told The Beacon.
Bradley said he and others with an interest in Starke Elementary and its future will help the teachers and the children there.
"We want you to know we are committed to doing our part," he told the School Board. "Tell us what we can do."
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