By Margery Marcus, LWV Broward County
The local Broward League interviewed the principal of Pinewood School. Their story is one most districts must consider. How do you balance student needs, financial support, and school choice in a diverse district. School grades reflect the socio-economic backgrounds of students. Remove a large group of higher income families, and a school’s grade goes down. Create a magnet program in a low income school, the grade goes up. Perhaps even more important, maintaining a reasonable balance of students from different backgrounds allows a culture of possibility and achievement to flourish. Without a view into a larger world, schools get mired in defeat.
The League will continue to watch Pinewood in the hope that the district will not abandon it. There is support coming for the school.
Remember Pinewood? A traditional Broward elementary school, it’s the “poor relation” sitting next door to a glossier and wealthier “A” charter school, North Broward Academy of Excellence (NBAE) run by Charter Schools USA. An “A” school in 2008, Pinewood has seen its grades steadily decline to “D’s” the last two years.
In light of the recent article by Jeff Bryant How Jeb Bush’s Florida Plan for School ‘Choice’ created an Industry of Corruption and Chaos (alternet.org), Pinewood looks like one of the “victims” of charter school expansion unchecked by legislative regulations.
Articles like Bryant’s highlight allegations that are hard to ignore. Corruption in Broward’s charter school scene remains to be proven, but it looks like the chaos he describes is taking hold here. And schools like Pinewood have to do the best they can in an atmosphere of unfair competition.
Pinewood, 37-years old, looks good for its age with its shiny hallways and immaculate floors. People take pride there, but portables in a parking lot are no match for the relatively new building next door with its inviting swimming pool.
Pinewood principal Karla Gary-Orange said the newer facility is a definite factor in drawing students away from her school. Additionally, NBAE’s K-8 model appeals to parents, who want to keep their children in one school rather than having to send them to another after finishing Grade 5 at Pinewood.
“It’s not just NBAE, though,” she said. Pinewood has been affected by competition from all the charters offering the K-8 model as well as the district’s own magnet programs which lure students with themes… and transportation.
Competition, however, is not the sole reason for the decline in Pinewood’s test scores. The opening of Discovery Elementary in 2012 dramatically affected enrollment, draining Pinewood of nearly 500 students.
Today Pinewood enrolls 550 students, grades pre-K through five. The student body is 95% minority, predominately Caribbean and Haitian, with a Free and/or Reduced Lunch rate over 80 percent. NBAE’s demographics are similar until factoring in enrollment for disabled students and English Language Learners. Pinewood has three times the number of the former and twice as many of the latter.
It has remained a stable fixture in its North Lauderdale neighborhood while the neighborhood itself has changed. The high rise condos nearby, once home to their owners, are now occupied by renters. In fact the whole area has a higher percentage of renters, 39%, than does the state, and its minority population mirrors that of the school (“city-data.com”).
Renters make for a high student mobility rate, the principal Karla Gary-Orange explained. Students who move often are at greater risk for academic problems, affecting the school’s testing grades.
In the six years she has been Pinewood’s principal, she has seen the school drop from a “B” to a “D.” The school district has provided on-going support to her, she said, and Pinewood is slated to receive over $2,200,000 in bond money to be spent on facility upgrades. No sparkling swimming pool in sight, though.
But a school is much more than the letter grade attached to it, and if a school can have heart, this one does. “Our pride in Pinewood is reflected in our bright and clean surroundings,” Gary-Orange said. She pointed out their low teacher turnover and growing list of parent volunteers as examples of school and community commitment.
Heart, however, only goes so far in a climate of chaos created by unfair competition. We are going to continue to follow Pinewood this year as either a cautionary tale or one of survival.