Western Academy Charter School in Royal Palm Beach was recently revealed to be among the highest-rated schools in Palm Beach County — outperformed on state testing by only the county’s elite magnet schools.
According to an analysis put together by The Palm Beach Post, the ranking puts the not-for-profit charter school near the top of the 207 county public schools that received school grades this year. In the sixth position, it was the highest-rated charter school in the county, and tops in the western communities.
“A lot of it has to do with the programs we have in grades K through five,” Principal Linda Terranova said. “Our Project CHILD model that we use is very student-centered, very focused on learning and how students learn and making them responsible for their learning.”
A statistic that was part of the ranking but did not necessarily dictate the place a school fell was the percentage of economically disadvantaged students who attend each school. In the top-20 list, Western Academy had one of the highest percentages, with 42 percent of its student population falling into this category.
Being economically disadvantaged is often considered a marker for lower achievement, but Terranova fights against that stereotype.
“I’m always telling the teachers, ‘It doesn’t matter how students come to us, but it really matters how they leave us,’” Terranova said. “So, in the time they’re here, whether it’s nine years that they’re here or two years that they’re here, we’re always focused on what can we do to bring them up to where they need to be grade level-wise, and standard-wise, so that they can be successful.”
The community as a whole is an element that aids in the success at Western Academy.
“We do get a lot of parent support and community support at our school,” Terranova said. “The teachers work extra hard. They go way above and beyond what’s necessary for the students who we do get coming in who need remediation. They do a lot to help the students, so that speaks a lot right there. Really, we focus on what the students need. If they need remediation, we figure out a way to give it to them. If they need some additional support, tutoring before school, after school, whatever it might be, we find a way to get them what they need.”
The list was based on the Florida State Assessments from the 2016-17 school year, Terranova said, which included English language arts, math, science for fifth and eighth grade, as well as high school credits received through classes such as algebra and geometry.
“We do those, and we have a 100 percent passing rate on those, so it included a whole battery on the state tests,” she said. “The ranking that they did specifically looked at English language arts and math scores.”
With the school’s addition of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) program three years ago, the focus on math and science has seen the student scores in those areas rise at the school.
“We’ve remained consistent. We have an excellent math program, especially our middle school math program,” Terranova said. “We’ve had high math scores on the state test for middle school. We’ve had 100 percent passing with algebra and geometry. What we saw a marked improvement in this year was our eighth-grade science scores. They were very high at 85 percent.”
The recent analysis was the first time Terranova saw an actual list that put their name publicly among the top schools in the county, but there is preparation every year that the school implements to ensure the success that the school has achieved and upheld in the past, and continues to uphold as an institution for its students.
“We get together as a leadership team in the school, the teachers in my leadership team, then we get together as teacher teams,” she said. “We do vertical planning. We get together, and we take that data and say, ‘Where do we need to focus? Where are our weaknesses?’ because we always have them, and just keep trying to focus on those.”
This school year, the focus for Western Academy is English language arts and continuing to maintain the areas it has strengthened in the past school year.
“It’s really continuing to work on that writing component to help drive up those reading scores,” Terranova said. “And we’ll continue to work on science as well.”
Along with the school’s rank, Terranova said her school sets itself apart from other charters schools in the county.
“We’re a free public school, as they all are, but we’re a not-for-profit charter. So many that you see out there are for-profit, management-run, company-run charter schools,” she said. “We’re not like that. We’re a small, independent, community-based school.”
Western Academy serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is located at 650 Royal Palm Beach Blvd., Suite 400. Learn more about the school at www.westernacademycharter.com.
ABOVE: Western Academy Principal Linda Terranova, Ana Lopez, Patti Meoak, Stacey Hare, Jose Rivera, Diana Paulenka, Terry Anderson, Katherine Gombos and Assistant Principal Jessica Manriquez.