July 9, 2008

Edison’s ‘F’ Grade Caps Off Bad Year

By Trenton Daniel, The Miami Herald

Jul. 9--Hearts sank in Little Haiti on Tuesday after word broke that Miami Edison Senior High School earned not the anticipated C grade from the state, but a painful F.

The lowest grade is a setback for an inner-city school that only last year celebrated a high-D mark after a string of F's spurred talk of closing the classrooms.

This past school year opened with promise but culminated with a much-publicized melee between students and police just days before the FCAT. Having spent months studying for the exam, students found themselves distracted.

On Tuesday, the F grade was met with shock by some, though it was not unexpected. School supporters weighed in on ways to improve the school.

"I think the school grade is not a reflection of the character of the kids," said Sunny Isles Beach city attorney Hans Ottinot, an Edison alumnus long active at his alma mater.

Ottinot and others pointed out that Edison's 900 students come from family backgrounds atypical of the American household. At the school at 6161 NW Fifth Ct., 60 percent of the students get free or reduced-price lunches because they come from disadvantaged homes. Immigrant parents often juggle multiple jobs, giving them little time to spend with their children, and English is seldom the first language spoken at home.


Seeking to move ahead after five years of F's and then a D, Edison found itself again at the center of unwanted publicity. In February, students clashed with police. The kids were upset over allegations that thenAssistant Principal Javier Perez manhandled a student. Perez was later assigned to work on projects within the School Improvement Zone, a district program for failing schools.

In the end, more than two dozen students were arrested; at least 10 officers and six students were injured. Charges for almost all the students were later dropped.

One advocate for Little Haiti kids said she thought the melee rattled them, contributing to the drop in the school's grade.

"What I told them was for you to relax and focus on your test," community activist Carline Paul said, recounting the immediate aftermath of the fracas. "They didn't do that, obviously."

One student who graduated last month, Chrisford Green, said the grade caught him by surprise. He conceded, however, the fight weighed on his classmates' minds.

"I don't get how we got an F. It's just not clicking right," said Green, 19, who helped organize post-melee rallies outside the school. "You know, there were a lot of distractions -- the protests, Perez. I'm not saying it was a factor but it could have been slightly a factor."

Ottinot attributed the grade drop to a variety of factors, ranging from possible complacency to not enough classroom discipline. All this, he added, at a time of critical cutbacks in state funding.

"You can't point to just the students, or the administrators or the teachers," Ottinot said. "You have a lot of factors."


Just down the street at the Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church, where some of the students go to pray, the head priest said Edison could benefit by interacting more with parents, faith-based groups, and businesses.

"It should be a community effort," said Father Reginald Jean-Mary.

As it happens, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew plans to reach out to Edison's neighbors, a district spokesman said Tuesday.

"The superintendent will be exploring ways to devote more resources and to redouble efforts to Edison and other academically challenged schools," said John Schuster, a Miami-Dade Schools spokesman. "The superintendent has always taken a view that it's necessary to address the whole community and he has worked very hard to bring together the faith-based community, the parents . . . and other community leaders, including the business community."

Edison is among 39 schools in the School Improvement Zone, Crew's intensive-care program for chronically failing schools. This marked the third and final year of the initiative, which provided extra staff and a longer school year. Earlier this year, Crew sought a new program for many of the same schools. But that plan was put on hold in the wake of budget cuts from the state and resistance from several school board members.

A change in Edison's leadership already has happened -- though not related to the grade drop.

Principal Jean Teal left Edison this spring to oversee the North Central area as regional administrative director. The move came with a salary bump, from $116,742 a year to $154,785.

Robin Atkins, senior assistant principal at Miami Central Senior High, will take over as principal.

Even with the F grade, Edison did make some strides this year.

In April, the school was an honorable mention for the College Board Inspiration Award. The award honors schools that have improved the academic environment and helped students bolster access to higher education despite social, economic and cultural challenges. It won $1,000 to go to help fund programs that urge students to attend college.

Miami Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.


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