Hillsborough School Leaders’ New Focus for Better Results

By Marlene Sokol

TAMPA — Encouraged by rising high school graduation rates, Hillsborough County School District leaders have turned their focus to the younger years — in some cases, younger than kindergarten.

At a School Board workshop Tuesday, Superintendent Jeff Eakins and his senior staff described goals and efforts aimed at kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency by grade three.

“It’s not enough to be about finishing strong at graduation,” Eakins told the board. “It’s about starting strong.”

The graduation rate rose over the last three years from 73.5 to 82.9 percent, and district leaders are optimistic about another increase when the 2018 results are released. Eakins has pledged to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2020.

But much of that improvement happened because high schools got better at helping students recover missing credits and pass tests they can substitute for the 10th grade Florida Standards Assessment in English language arts, a graduation requirement.

True progress, officials said, will happen if students can get on track and stay on track in the early years.

Eakins’ administration has been working for the last two years to get more students into quality preschools. The district added nearly 400 slots this year in its elementary schools and is working with outside organizations such as the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County to give teacher training to private providers.

Early reports show the percentage of children entering kindergarten with the desired skills – such as recognizing their letters and numbers – is up from 46 to 50 percent.

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