Local Business Leaders Rally to Save Failing School
A group of local business leaders is on a mission to save Broward County's lowest-performing school.
But they're up against a tight timeline: poor performance on this April's standardized test could mean Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Lauderhill will be converted to another use.
"There's a sense of urgency to turn this community around," said Jenna Ingraham, a member of Leadership Broward, an organization of area professionals who launch projects to benefit local nonprofits. Ingraham and her five teammates are helping the F-rated school develop the "Dream Academy," a mentoring and tutoring afterschool program for 60 at-risk kids. The program — in place since October — works with students in grades 3, 4 and 5 to boost their reading and writing test scores. It also pairs them with mentors for additional support.
"If we can bring in people to help students dream, that can be life-changing," said Ingraham, 34, a public relations executive from Fort Lauderdale.
For the last two years, the school has earned a failing grade on the state's A-F accountability system. School grades help parents compare campuses and affect everything from property values to teacher salaries. Under state mandate, schools that receive three low grades or two F's in a row must either convert into a charter school, be turned over to a private company to run or significantly change in another way.
Failing schools like Lauderdale Manors were turned into a parent resource center and pre-K program last year while Sunland Park became a pre-K through second grade school. Depending on the change, students can remain on campus or be reassigned to another school.
Last year Martin Luther King Jr. was one of 13 schools to receive an F grade and two years ago it received a D. Only 27 percent of the school's students in 2013 were reading proficient.
Schools are awarded points for students who score satisfactory or higher and make annual learning gains.
"We were the lowest achieving school last year," said John Hoolihan, a school coordinator for the Dream Academy. "It's an incredibly high bar."
Hoolihan said the Dream Academy will expose students to new career paths through mentors and create more opportunities through partnerships with the business community. He says most of the students live within the school's two-mile radius and many have never seen the beach.
The leadership group is rallying to recruit new mentors, develop a curriculum and bring in in-kind donations or money.
Sachin Mehrotra, a Fort Lauderdale banker, is trying to raise money to take students on field trips to the beach and the Kennedy Space Center. He also wants to find businesses to sponsor afterschool meals for students, 99 percent of who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
"It's hard to focus when you're running on an empty stomach," he said. Fifth grader Max Andre said the two-hour Dream Academy sessions, which are held three days a week, have helped him learn that "even if you fail, you can try and try again."
If you're interested in helping the Dream Academy, call 754 322 6550.