By Bill Coats

A pair of charter schools tailored to the needs of low-income farm-working families received school grades of “A” even though nearly all the students took the Florida’s standardized tests in their second language, English.

RCMA Wimauma Academy, an elementary school, vaulted to the “A” from a “D” grade last year. Its middle-school sibling, RCMA Leadership Academy, achieved an “A” in its second year of existence, improving from the prior year’s “C.”

“Our teachers put in some tremendous work, and a lot of creativity,” said Mark Haggett, the director of both schools. “The students got energized, and the parents were super-supportive. It all worked together.”

The two schools are run by the non-profit Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which also operates 70 child-care centers in Florida’s low-income farm communities.

“We’re delighted to receive the A rating, but I have mixed feelings about celebrating this,” said Barbara Mainster, RCMA’s executive director. “Everybody at these schools worked passionately the year before too, but they were branded with lower grades. These test scores have not been a reliable measure of what schools really are accomplishing.”

Mainster suggested that a better measure was the fact that one-fourth of the most recent eighth graders at Leadership Academy are scheduled to enter high school this fall in the Collegiate Academy, a joint project at Lennard High School and Hillsborough County Community College. Those students are on track to earn associate degrees simultaneously with their high school diplomas. Meanwhile, 90 percent of the school’s eighth graders who took Algebra I earned credit for high school algebra.

Nearly all students in Leadership Academy and Wimauma Academy are Hispanic. At Wimauma Academy, 97 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on low family incomes. At Leadership Academy, 82 percent qualify.

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