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From an ‘F’ to an ‘A’: An inside look at Lakewood Elementary

Mark Parker



Part Two in a series

Sandwiched between a former gas station-turned-mechanic shop and an abandoned church lies a success story for the area and the students it serves – Lakewood Elementary School.

Located off 6th St. South, on the south side of St. Petersburg, Lakewood shares the same obstacles as the surrounding community. The school partnered with Learning Sciences International (LSI) to aid in its turnaround, and according to statistics provided by LSI, about 5,000 crimes occurred within a three-mile radius of Lakewood last year. Out of a student population of 379, 89% are minorities, 82% are economically disadvantaged, 15% are homeless or in foster care, and 100% of the student body is enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs.

On Friday, former Lakewood principal and current area superintendent Stephanie Woodford led a group of principals on a behind-the-scenes tour of the school and the processes that changed it from an “F” grade to an “A” grade in just three years – most of which occurred during a pandemic. The school was bright and open with inviting courtyards, and colorful murals adorn many of the outside walls. All of the classrooms the group popped into were similar – students enthusiastically learning, progress and data charts blended with other wall decorations, and the children apparentlyexcited that guests came to see them and their school.

Woodford, who now oversees 30 schools as an area superintendent, has taken many principals both inside and outside of the district on these tours. She has guided local politicians and anyone interested in learning about the school or its rapid rise from an “F” to an “A,” as she believes seeing how the process works is more enlightening than just hearing about it.

“I really think you have to see it,” said Woodford to the Catalyst. “It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s another thing to walk in the rooms. When you leave, we really want you to have felt the school – not just hear about the school.”

Student data and analytics are paramount to Lakewood’s newfound success and during Woodford’s first year as principal, 25 new staff members were brought in that bought into the new process and extra work. Woodford said that “made the biggest difference – the right staff at the school.”

Brittany Duquaine and her first-grade class were one such example.

Duquaine said she analyzes each student’s learning data individually and then tailors lesson plans for each student accordingly. Each student has a binder where she stores this information, and Duquaine’s walls are also plastered with this data and students’ progress. That keeps the children aware of where they and their classmates stand and areas they need to improve. Accountability is another theme that has permeated through Lakewood’s turnaround.

Student data adorns Ms. Duquaine’s first-grade classroom. Tracking students’ progress and analyzing data are at the heart of Lakewood’s turnaround.

“Everything is exactly what each kid needs to move them because no kid is exactly the same,” said Duquaine. “It works. It may take a second when you first do it, but they’ll use this all year.”

Woodford told the visiting principals they should take the same approach with their teachers as Duquaine does with her students. That means getting to know them and spending time with teachers individually to find out what their needs are. “But you can’t do that from the office,” added Woodward.

“They (teachers) want you in their room,” she said. “They want you to see what they’re doing; they want you to celebrate. That motivates the extra work.”

Woodford said Duquaine rarely has behavioral issues because of the structure she has in place, and the students “want to be in her room.” Woodford pointed out that Duquaine was having some one-on-one time with a student (“she never misses that,’ Woodford said) when the group popped in.Combining individual, need-based learning while not neglecting core instruction has also been paramount to Lakewood’s newfound success.

“Everybody is moving,” said Woodford. “She’s not just focused on who’s behind – but she knows who she has to work with on that.”

Tuesday: Part Three – the conclusion of our inside look at Lakewood Elementary.






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