RIVIERA BEACH — For months, the Joseph Littles – Nguzo Saba Charter School, the only African-centered public school in the state, has faced the possibility that its doors will close for good on June 30.
Art Johnson, superintendent of Palm Beach County Schools, announced in February that he will recommend that school board members terminate Nguzo-Saba’s charter at the end of the school year, due to financial distress and a failure to meet academic standards.
But in a stunning twist of fate, Nguzo Saba has posted the largest gains on its third-grade FCAT scores of all 106 elementary schools in Palm Beach County. The test scores were released May 27, revealing the dramatic increase in the school’s scores. Nguzo Saba saw a huge gain in the percentage of third-graders who earned a passing grade in math: an amazing 73 percent compared to only 13 percent last year.
On the reading test, 64 percent of the third graders scored at or above grade level, compared with just 21 percent last year. Only the third-grade reading and math scores have been released thus far.
“I’m hoping the others (test results) will look like the third grade,” said Delores Smart, principal of the school. “That would be wonderful.”
Smart implemented changes such as working with groups as small as one or two students, extending reading time to two hours per morning, holding classes on Saturday, and extending the school year.
“We’re going to be in session until June 30,” Smart said. School officially ends in Palm Beach County on June 3.
“Our lowest students, we’ve asked their parents to bring them back, and we’re going to do some remediation to get them caught up and bring them closer to grade level. We did that last year,” she said.
The dramatic gains might sway the school board to give Nguzo-Saba another chance. The school board is set to decide the charter school’s fate at a hearing on June 9. In light of such drastic improvements, it may be more difficult to justify closing the school.
Asked if the superintendent plans to move forward with his recommendation, despite the improvements, the school district’s spokesperson, Nat Harrington, issued the following statement: “Nguzo Saba students’ recent dramatic improvement on the FCAT is commendable. The district takes into consideration a charter school’s entire financial and academic performance when making recommendations about the school.”
The school’s principal said she is hopeful that board members will acknowledge the achievement.
“I’m hoping that when they see us out here working very hard, they will give us a chance to showcase what we really can do,” Smart said.
The school has consistently been given a “D” grade since 2004, but school founder Amefika Geuka and Smart said the school’s population mainly consists of students with severe behavioral problems, and those who have been deemed “intellectually incapable of learning.”
Geuka and Smart said they believe in their students’ ability to learn, however, and cite a collective effort between students, staff and parents, which has resulted in the dramatic increase in test scores.
Smart says her students in particular are to be commended. “We kept telling these kids every day…we’ve got to show them that we mean business. We have to show people that you are learners and that you can do it.”
Photo: Amefika Geuka