Wellington Ed Board Approves School Grant Applications

By Paul L. Gaba

The Wellington Education Committee on Tuesday approved nearly $275,000 in specialized grant spending by 11 public schools serving the community.

Most of the grant money was dedicated to new technology, paying for after-school math or reading tutors, or specialized reading or math programs used in the classroom.

The focus is to assist students identified as among the lowest 25 percent of their schools’ reading and math scores, lifting them to higher levels of success. The grant requests brought before the committee by various school principals are for the 2015-16 school year.

All of the requested grants were approved by the committee, except for a $6,441 line-item request by Wellington High School Principal Mario Crocetti. That amount had been requested to pay for 114 at-risk students’ SAT registration fees for the December standardized test.

Crocetti emphasized that there was a good chance of successfully encouraging the students to take the SAT, as it is scheduled to be offered on the WHS campus, and passage of the SAT counts toward graduation requirements.

The SAT includes three components: reading, writing and math. The request would have covered each of the 114 students’ $56.50 registration fees.

“This increases the chances of them showing up, because it’s on our campus,” Crocetti said. “We need an incentive here. Most of these students, beginning with their junior year in high school, know they haven’t passed our graduation requirements [in either math or reading], and many might not even be thinking of college at all.”

Offering the financial incentive could lead such at-risk students to attend college after all.

“Left to their own devices, their chances of taking the SAT in December are very slim,” he said. “I’d like to use the test as a goal; the SAT can replace the FSA [Florida Standards Assessment] or the FCAT [Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test] requirement.”

Crocetti noted that, while there is a definite need to work with students identified as being in the lowest 25 percent in math or reading, they are not the only ones in need of assistance. “We had 31 percent of our students who did not pass their [reading] exams,” Crocetti said. “Now, that top 6 percent there, does it matter if they’re not in the lowest 25 percent, if they didn’t pass? No. They need assistance as much as anyone else.”

But Wellington staff liaison James Poag said the grant guidelines stipulate that the money cannot be used for things such as standardized test registration fees.

However, the rest of Crocetti’s request — which included financing for after-school tutoring in high-needs classes, such as intensive reading, algebra 1, biology and United States history, and a dozen new computers for the reading classrooms — was approved by the committee.

“There is a tie between biology and U.S. history and reading,” Crocetti said. “They use informational texts. If you’re going to pass the exams, what goes on there in terms of critical thinking, helps in reading, and what goes on in reading helps in those classes as well.”

Palm Beach Central High School Principal Darren Edgecomb said one of the biggest successes his school had, thanks to previous village grants, was its Saturday “boot camp” math labs. He noted that a majority of the schools’ math teachers helped with the program.

“It was totally benchmark-focused with certified teachers,” Edgecomb said. “We had about 1,000 students who benefited from these grants. It’s important to provide a working-class education for all students. We have those students who need an extra push, and the needs are great.”

Emerald Cove Middle School Principal Eugina Feaman said her school plans to use grant money to continue its Reading Plus program, which last year saw 89 percent of its students make at least one year’s growth. They are also looking to add an iPad charging cart with 25 iPads to use in math classes, which will reduce the overuse of current iPad carts at the school.

New and additional technology was also the focus of Polo Park Middle School Principal Ann Clark’s presentation.

“We’ve had iPads provided through grants we’ve received, but we’d like more,” Clark said, noting the school would add 20 more iPads and an iPad cart for math instruction.

She added that the use of technology has been extremely valuable when working with students who have limited English-speaking abilities.

“Many of these students do not have computers at home,” Clark said. “More time on computers in our reading program has helped out. We’d also like to be able to open the media center after school, to offer services to students of low-income families that don’t have computer access at home.”

At Wellington Landings Middle School, Principal Blake Bennett said grant money has been dedicated to morning and afternoon math tutorials, plus four Saturday tutorials. The money has also been used to purchase “high-level interest magazines” for classes, which she said “really engages the students.”

Many of the elementary school principals will be using grant money to continue their use of the Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) System, a small-group, supplementary literacy program designed to help teachers provide daily small-group instruction for the lowest-achieving students at their grade level.

In LLI lessons, texts are matched to children’s reading ability. Students read every day at their instructional level with teacher support, as well as at their independent level with little or no support. The program also focuses on phonics awareness and instruction, reading fluency and comprehension, writing skills and vocabulary expansion.

“The village gave us the opportunity to start with LLI two years ago, and we’ve seen improvement in student achievement, in some cases three to four level gains, which equals a year’s worth of gains,” Panther Run Elementary School Principal Pam Strachan said.

Equestrian Trails Elementary School Principal Michele Johnson and Binks Forest Elementary Principal Michella Levy also noted the success of LLI and requested grant funds to continue using the program.

All six elementary school principals included hiring math and reading tutors in their grant requests.

Both Gail Pasterczyk of Elbridge Gale Elementary School and Elizabeth Cardozo of New Horizons Elementary School intend to use grant money to purchase new laptops and laptop carts for their schools.

“We have two carts already, and most of the time they are used in fourth and fifth grades,” Cardozo said. “We’d like to get one for third grade.”

“Having another mobile lab would offer more accessibility of technology to students,” Pasterczyk added.

Wellington’s Keely Spinelli Education Grant program was named after the longtime educator who touched the lives of children throughout the western communities. She taught in Royal Palm Beach and Loxahatchee Groves before becoming principal at Binks Forest Elementary School in Wellington. Each of the 11 schools receives up to $25,000 to help students struggling with reading and math, something to which Spinelli dedicated her life.