MIAMI GARDENS — It was probably one of the few occasions when a teacher running through the halls, screaming at the top of her lungs, was OK with the principal.
Upon learning that Norwood Elementary School’s fourth graders had aced the writing portion of the FCAT, Lavenia Mobley’s excitement got the best of her as she rushed to share the news with her class.
“She started screaming from the time she left this office. I could hear her all the way out of the building to the PE court,” said Francis Daddario, the school’s principal.
The school was one of four in Miami-Dade County where 97 percent of the fourth graders scored a 3.5 (out of six) or better on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The other elementary schools were Pine Crest Academy, North Beach and South Miami Heights.
“We had a feeling we were going to do well, but we didn’t realize that we were going to be at the top of the district,” Daddario said.
Norwood utilizes a multi-faceted approach to help all its students excel. The Title One-funded school, meaning at least 75 percent of its students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, has been rated an ‘A’ on the FCAT for three years in a row (2005 – 2007).
This year, the school saw its students earn a staggering 10,000 points in the accelerated reading program, a 50% increase over last year’s final tally.
Massive parental involvement is just one aspect of the school’s success. So many parents showed up to chaperone a second-grade field trip that several had to be asked to go home, and school events are so well attended that parents arrive early to find parking.
Another successful aspect of the school is preparation.
“We have a school-wide plan that the teachers have implemented for years where we really focus for an hour a day in fourth grade in writing,” said Janine Townsley, the school’s enthusiastic reading specialist. The petite dynamo has been at the school for 13 years. She and her team of teachers push the students to surpass the standards set by the state.
“We make it a team goal. Everybody in fourth grade knows the minimum score for the state is 3.5, but at Norwood our minimum score is a four. We want everybody to get a four,” she said.
And this year, almost every one of the school’s 76 fourth graders did.
“Everybody except a couple of students scored at least a four,” Townsley said.
Lee Hawkins, who has been a fourth-grade teacher for six years, said the preparation boiled down to “writing, writing, writing.”
The former Department of Juvenile Justice program director said, “We have a process that we utilize – very kid friendly – lot of repetition and lot of practice.”
Hawkins said the preparation extended beyond the students’ writing.
“Getting them to buy in and build up their self-esteem,” he said, was also a factor.
It is obvious that 10-year-old Dante Gonzalez has bought into the process. The future veterinarian and professional tennis player scored a perfect 6 on the writing test.
“My mom’s proud of me. My dad’s proud of me. Everybody’s so proud of me,” he said.
And the fourth graders are proud of each other.
“The children are just so excited about their peers’ accomplishments,” said Daddario, recalling the mob scene that greeted Dante, who arrived at school late on the day that the scores were announced.
“He tootles on in, very sleepy and goes around the corner…His whole class sees him through the sliding glass doors…they run out of the room, they all encircle him, they’re patting him on the back and screaming, you got a 6, you got a 6,” she described.
Jaylen Walker scored a 5.5 on the test and has caught the writing bug. The future writer, brain surgeon or NFL player enjoys reading Harry Potter books. Jaylen said practice helped him score well on the test.
In addition to having the students write daily, Townsley said helping the children to “get themselves into their papers” is important.
“There are some hidden things that the test is not scored on, like voice,’’ she said. “And I’ll say to them, ‘Where’s your personality?
Anybody could’ve written this. You’re such a funny kid, why didn’t I hear you in here?”
Norwood’s success extends beyond the walls of the school. Business partners like Sharp Business Solutions of South Florida,
Wal-Mart and the neighboring Miami Dolphins all contribute. Former principal Alberta Godfrey had her sorority (Zeta Phi Beta) adopt the school’s chess team.
Assistant Principal Collette Richardson said the school’s high attendance rate (96 percent) and parental involvement are certainly a part of the school’s success.
“We kind of think of Norwood as a private school,’’ Richardson said. “Our parents are very demanding; they expect great things from us. They give us their best product from home.”
Photo: Students and teachers at Norwood Elementary celebrate the school’s success on the writing portion of the FCAT. Pictured above are, in the back row, from left to right, Yashyawa Joseph, a teacher; Lee Hawkins, a teacher; Francis Daddario, the school’s principal; and Collette Richardson, the assistant principal. Pictured in the front row are students Carmonine Chery and Dante Gonzales, who each scored a perfect 6; and Janine Townsley, a teacher.