Visitors to Osceola Elementary School won’t miss a large sign near the doors leading to administrative offices. It’s an announcement: For the 2018-19 year, the school earned an “A” rating from the Florida Department of Education. Even more impressive is that, in one year, the school shot to the top from a “D” rating. “To say everyone worked hard to achieve this is not enough of an accolade,” says Tina Waldrop, school principal for the past eight years. “They deserve every bit of recognition.”
Tina distilled the school’s mission statement – Better Never Quits. Tina has worked with St. John County public schools for the past 34 years in various capacities. A St. Augustine native, she lives in the same neighborhood where she was raised. With 110 employees as well as 716 students, Tina knows providing leadership and effort on a continuous basis is key. Teachers and staff know the challenges inherent in educating future generations. They consider their work important and rewarding, she said. “You can’t coast in this business.”
The waiting room in front of the administrative offices holds three posters covered with post it notes and hand-written messages. “Collective Commitment” is the heading above the notes, where teachers and staff have anonymously written goals for their students. Among many aspirations, they want students to love learning, to feel loved, to have a growth mindset, to have determination, to be kind. These small declarations fuel big commitments.
Several strategies were used to improve the school’s rating, Tina says. For one, a part-time guidance counselor was hired to focus on parent conferences and calls. Attendance improved as did tardiness. While tardiness may seem insignificant, Tina insists that it throws children off balance for the day, leaving them feeling like they cannot catch up. Teams of teachers were created to focus on students with academic performance in the lower 25%. Some teachers were reassigned. Everyone was asked to mentor a low-performing student. As a result, one might find a custodian reading to a kindergarten class or an administrative assistant having lunch in the cafeteria weekly with a mentee.
Parental involvement increased, too. During Avid Curriculum Title One Nights, conscious discipline is discussed as well as ways to support a child’s learning. Those evenings, Tina says, the courtyard fills with parents, teachers, and staff. They enjoy one another’s company along with good pizza. Dads Take Your Child to School Day is a national initiative, and Osceola Elementary participates. Between 350-500 people meet in the school cafeteria for breakfast where the art teacher shares a lesson from a book based on Dads. Muffins for Mom is also popular. Grands Biscuit and Gravy breakfast is held in November and coincides with a bookfair. “Volunteers are always welcome,” says Tina. “Children need to interact with adults who care about them, beyond family members.”