Royal Palm Beach High School was the school in focus at the Monday, Sept. 12 meeting of the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board. The meeting featured a presentation by RPBHS Principal Michelle Fleming.
The school’s presentation began with student dance performances. They performed jazz, contemporary and tap pieces.
“We’ve only been in school six weeks, and this contemporary piece they just learned last week, so I am very proud of them,” dance education teacher Michele Blecher Cramer said. “Ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and musical theater allows them to have a well-rounded dance background.”
Fleming stepped up to the podium to provide a report on her school, which currently has 2,347 students enrolled.
“It just makes me smile from ear to ear to see my students here. Thank you for allowing them to be a part of the meeting tonight,” said Fleming, who has been in the position for 10 months. “Not quite a year, but what a year it has been. Our theme this year is ‘High Expectations, High Standards, No Excuses,’ and our new tagline is ‘The Royal Way.’”
Fleming explained that keeping enrollment numbers up allows the school to continue offering as many programs and options for students as possible.
“Through a pandemic, we have been able to maintain a B grade, and for a large, comprehensive high school, that is no easy feat,” she said. “We increased 113 points in one year. It really shows how hard the teachers are working and digging deep to really bridge the pandemic gap. High school is critical. We are the last one to get them before they go out into the community.”
Fleming shared data highlighting the graduation rate of 91 percent for the Class of 2022 and more than $2 million in scholarships earned. The year boasted 28 Florida Academic scholars, 25 Florida Medallion scholars, nine Gold Seal CAPE scholars and 29 Gold Seal vocational scholars.
“We’ve changed the metric so it’s not only upper-echelon students allowed access to college-level courses,” Fleming said. “This year, we are at 70 percent of students in one or more accelerated course.”
The school offers accelerated courses that include Advanced Placement classes, eight IB courses and 14 AICE courses. Students also have access to a number of choice academies, such as the popular medical and HVAC academies. There are also 53 different clubs at RPBHS.
In other business:
• The former chair of the committee, Dr. Bill Thallemer, recently accepted a position with the School District of Palm Beach County, and acting chair Jennifer Sullivan was appointed as the new chair. Meghan Crosby is the new vice chair, and the council welcomed RPBHS Student Body President Javier Rivas to the committee for the coming year.
• Central Region Superintendent Valerie Zuloaga-Haines provided the committee with an update.
Palm Beach County is the 10th largest district in the nation with a nearly $5 billion budget, she said.
“Our graduation rate is at the highest it has ever been at 95.9, we will say 96 percent, and 66 percent of our schools are rated A or B. We now have 180 district-operated schools, with two additional schools being built,” Zuloaga-Haines said. “The district earned a grade of A last year. Of the urban districts, only Miami-Dade and Palm Beach earned an A.”
When compared to the rest of Florida, Palm Beach outperformed the state in English language arts for third through 10th grade. In math, county students were also better in grades six and eight. On end-of-course exams, the district was above the state in geometry, biology I and U.S. history. While there was some success in science, it remains a struggle for students.
“Science is something we are working on district wide. Science, as a district, underperformed in the state across the board, with the exception of very few schools. It’s something systemic that we need to work on,” Zuloaga-Haines said. “The science test is technically almost a reading test with knowing the content of science. You have to be able to read, and it is basically informational text.”
Zuloaga-Haines described the replacement for FSA testing, the BEST Standards, which stands for Benchmark for Excellent Student Thinking. Implementation begins this year in ELA for grades three through 10, in math for kindergarten through grade eight, with Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST) progress monitoring.
“Because we have new standards, we have new resources. When you have new standards, you have new assessments. This year is unique. They are utilizing the year as field testing,” Zuloaga-Haines explained. “Some schools will be selected, and those will be used for a baseline. Students will not receive official scores on the writing assessments.”
She went on to explain that instead of one test at the end of the year, students will now have progress monitoring three times a year.
“This year, the state is really seeing, and so are we, the importance of VPK and early childhood learning for our students,” Zuloaga-Haines said. “We worked on the transition from elementary to middle school, now they are looking at the transition from VPK to school.”
To conclude her presentation, she shared videos and statistics to show how this fall’s referendum asks the public to continue the 1.0 mill referendum that was approved in 2018. The new referendum is on the Nov. 8 ballot but is not a new tax. For more information, visit www.strongschoolspbc.com.
• Javier Rivas presented his first report to the committee, which included a snapshot of the recent leadership training camp he attended.
“It’s really a great opportunity for me to be able to sit on a board and experience this. I’m really appreciative of this,” Rivas said. “[The camp] was a good way of finding new leadership, and we all had to realize that we couldn’t all be leaders. We had to learn from each other. We couldn’t just hold on to the spotlight. If you know anyone who is interested in leadership, I really recommend they look into the leadership training camp.”
Rivas also weighed in with his approval on the advanced course options mentioned earlier in the meeting.
“I’m a student who struggled in school a lot. I have an IEP. I have personal accommodations, and seeing those AICE classes was very frightening. It’s showing kids who have disabilities, who don’t have the best learning, that you can do it no matter what,” he said.
• The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 3 and will include a presentation by Cypress Trails Elementary School Principal Bruce Saulter.