By BARRY MILLMAN STAFF WRITER, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.
Whether you recall Newton’s Third Law or you don’t, its simple, immutable formula is probably still etched into your brain somewhere, a gift from some caring but long-forgotten high school science teacher: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
When Hurricane Charley buzzsawed its way through Charlotte County last August, its 140-plus mph winds obliterated one-third of the schools in the district.
But the storm’s power to tear apart bricks and mortar and knock down buildings had precisely the opposite impact on the determination and resolve of the district’s leaders and staff.
“I think everybody went overboard,” said Charlotte County School Board Chairperson Barbara Rendell. “Everybody wanted to make sure no student was going to be more of a victim than they already were. We couldn’t do anything about their houses that got wrecked or even their schools that got wrecked. But no way were we going to let them become academic victims. No way.” You can say that again. On Tuesday, when Governor Jeb Bush and the Department of Education Secretary John Winn jointly announced the top 10 school districts in the state whose students scored the biggest gains in mathematics, overall mathematics proficiency and writing proficiency on their 2005 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, Charlotte was on all three lists.
The district’s impressive trifecta came hard on the heels of two other scholastic accolades from the governor and education chief last week — one naming the district as one of only 10 among the state’s 67 counties to maintain an overall “A” grade for four consecutive years, and one placing it among the top 15 for improving the reading skills of its lowest-achieving students.
“It’s vital for students to be proficient in math and writing skills to excel when entering higher education or the workplace,” said Bush in a statement accompanying the release of the three latest lists. “I commend the efforts of the districts who are leading our state to greater student achievement.”
“It’s great to see so many districts receive high scores,” added Commissioner John Winn in the statement. “It’s important to recognize the districts that are making gains, a significant measure of student achievement.”
Charlotte County school Superintendent David Gayler said Rendell’s assessment of the cause and effect of the storm on the district’s will to succeed was dead on.
“I think Barbara nailed it,” he said. “It was an intense year. There was a synergy after the storm — the whole became greater than the sum of its parts. It was harmful in a lot of ways, of course, but the storm was also very energizing. To see what can be accomplished when everyone heads in the same direction, wanting the same thing, is phenomenal. It was a synergistic year.”
For Rendell, that synergy can be summed up in a simple, immutable formula. “Every teacher, every support staffer, every administrator and every parent just pulled together and said, ‘Charley, you’re not going to get our kids,’” she said. “Not this year. No way.”