The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board welcomed an update from Cypress Trails Elementary School Principal Bruce Saulter on Monday, Oct. 3.
“We are the only Title 1 elementary school out in the western communities,” Saulter said. “We are also the only Title 1 school in the entire district that has been A-rated consecutively for the last five years. We are very proud of that accomplishment.”
He explained that the only other A-rated Title 1 school in the district dropped in rank after the pandemic. “Even last year, despite COVID-19 with no school grades, we would have kept our A,” Saulter said.
Cypress Trails currently has 493 enrolled students, which is an increase of 70 students over the last four years. The school has a diverse population, with 42 percent Hispanic, 27 White, 21 Black and the remaining 10 percent of students listed as “other.” The Hispanic student population is the fastest growing at the school with 13 percent of the student population still learning the English language. Another 14 percent of students have disabilities, most of which are learning challenges.
The school implemented a full inclusion model for students with autism, so they are not separated from the main student body. The school also offers an Environmental STEM choice program, which averages about 20 students each year.
Saulter is particularly proud of the teacher retention at Cypress Trails. “We’ve grown our own. We have interns that have become teachers. When we have an interim position, like maternity leave, we hire those interns, and that’s the strategy we are using,” he said. “We are proud to be able to offer such a large, experienced group of teachers.”
Twelve percent of Cypress Trails teachers have one to three years of experience. Fifteen percent have four to seven years teaching, and a massive 73 percent of teachers there have more than seven years of experience in the classroom.
Cypress Trails is technically still considered a Title 1 school, which requires that 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The past two years, school lunches were free to all students. The school then fell two points shy of the 70 percent requirement, but still received a slightly reduced Title 1 budget.
“It really gives us the ability to be strategic with our school improvement plan, with our family involvement, and it gives us the extra funds that we can use in a great way,” Saulter said.
Money from such programs is helping the school make strides to catch up to their pre-pandemic achievement levels.
“We cannot teach aimlessly. In math, we took a huge dip — the entire district did. That is something we are really targeting,” Saulter said. “Typically, reading scores are higher than science scores. Our theory was that students lacked the background knowledge, vocabulary and critical-thinking skills. That’s why we have a STEM lab and focused on the instructional part, and the fruits of that labor are starting to show.”
Due to the new testing format issued by the state, there will be no school grades for the coming year. The three-part testing schedule will no longer be a high-stakes test, and instead be used to track growth during the school year.
Since tight budgets mean that the school cannot afford a school-wide field trip, they have structured a creative partnership with Lion Country Safari for a special family science event. The six-day event addressed a different grade level each day, and both children and parents were able to rotate through hands-on science activities and experience a special science presentation by Lion Country staff. They also received take-home activities to continue learning.
“We got creative with our budget and used family involvement money,” Saulter said. “We are the guinea pigs with Lion Country. We are hoping this will give them new opportunities at other schools, too.”
Also at the meeting, Central Instructional Superintendent Vivian Green brought updates on events at other RPB schools, but also took the time to address the Royal Palm Beach High School students in attendance.
“We are very fortunate in Royal Palm Beach to have the finest principals in Palm Beach County in our schools,” she said. “I want to thank the aspiring leaders from Royal Palm Beach High School for visiting tonight as well. As a school leader, one of your important responsibilities is to act as a PR person for your school. It’s your responsibility to sell your school, to market your school, to tell your school’s story, to fight for your school. Coming to community meetings such as this and supporting your school is a part of that. It’s a great experience, and I’m glad to have you here.”
RPBHS Student Council President Javier Rivas, who also happened to be homecoming king, provided an update on the school’s homecoming activities.
“It was a great success. It happened right before the hurricane, and we actually got to have it. We are truly blessed and happy,” he said. “We created a great environment around the school, and I can see it lasting throughout the year.”
He noted that a lightning storm stopped the football game, and festivities were moved into the gym to continue the fun and camaraderie at the sold-out event.
The next Education Advisory Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14 and will feature a presentation by Royal Palm Beach Elementary School Principal Tracy Ghettie.