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A Pinellas County school sees learning gains, school grade improvement during the pandemic

a large, tan-colored building is set between two trees.
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Midtown Academy in St. Petersburg saw its school grade jump from a 'C' in 2019 to an 'A' this past school year. The elementary school staff often take students downtown for field trips.

Principal Keila Victor said building a community — or as she puts it, “a village” — for her 300 students is the most important part of her job.

Editor's note: When the Florida Department of Education released its grades for schools this month, some in the greater Tampa Bay region showed significant improvement. WUSF is taking a look at how some of these schools were able to turn their grades around.

Midtown Academy opened in 2019 on the site of a closed charter school.

That year, it received a ‘C’ grade from the state based on how students performed on standardized testing.

But during the past school year, the public elementary school boosted its grade to an ‘A’.

Principal Keila Victor said parents screamed on the phone after hearing their children’s improved scores.

“When we received our FSA scores, I made some personal calls to some families, just so that they can celebrate with us,” she said. “They were just so excited, and the kids were excited as well. So, it's a wonderful thing to see their hard work pay off.”

Victor said building a community — or as she puts it, “a village” — for her 300 students is the most important part of her job.

One way she does this is by getting students involved in some of the school's decisions.

“Students take an interest based survey, and they're paired up with a teacher,” she said. “A few years ago, we didn't have a playground. We had a group that wanted to get that playground. So, they invited city officials, the whole nine [yards], and we ended up with the playground. So, they become little change agents.”

A group of people in black shirts and jeans pose at an entranceway to a building
Pinellas County School District
Midtown Academy Principal Keila Victor (top left), says her staff keep a close eye on student progress to make sure every student is improving.

Victor said Pinellas County will have enough bus drivers to cover every route this upcoming school year, calming fears officials had about driver shortages.

She also said the nationwide teacher shortage isn’t hurting her school as much as she expected.

“With vacancies, I am feeling it. But I will tell you that I'm in a better position now than I was in 2019, believe it or not. I think one of the reasons, first of all, we're an ‘A’ school and we're just magnificent,” she said, laughing.

But Victor said this might also have to do with the new school starting to build its reputation.

“The other reason is, I think that people are now finding out about the school. And so we're getting more applicants, we're being more aggressive in terms of seeking out others,” she said. “And so I think it's making a positive impact.”

Victor said the school is growing and the opportunities Midtown Academy is making available for students are growing, too.

Jack Prator is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for summer of 2022.