Downtown Miami Charter School Makes the Grade

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Charter school shows how to make a high risk school an “A” school

Rebecca Dinda, Principal of Downtown Miami Charter School

The school is outperforming many of its counterparts locally, is in the top 15 of Dade County schools for math gains for the lowest 25 percent (90 points in 2012-2013 compared to state requirement of 50 points) and in the top 50 schools state-wide.

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As students prepare for the big end of year exam, it’s important to reflect what goes into a grade. In the past several years of controversial grading issues in Florida, one Miami school stands out as a tremendous success story – Downtown Miami Charter School (DMCS). Although situated in a town where visitors may rub elbows with the rich and famous, the school is populated with a much more humble population. Many of the children who attend DMCS are below the poverty level. In fact, 90 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch. In many schools, that means these children will perform below their peers who have a higher income level. Not so at Downtown Miami Charter School. The school has maintained an “A” for the past two years despite 55 percent of schools dropping a letter grade last year. Based on this year’s data, DMCS is on track for another “A”. The school is outperforming many of its counterparts locally, is in the top 15 of Dade County schools for math gains for the lowest 25 percent (90 points in 2012-2013 compared to state requirement of 50 points) and in the top 50 schools state-wide. DMCS was in the top 25 Dade county schools for math gains (and top 75 state-wide), with 85 points.

How do they do it? While many make excuses, the staff and families at DMCS decided not to buy into the failure mentality and instead took a different approach. Some of the school’s initiatives that impacted an increase in achievement gains were: mandatory extended day for students who were predicted to be below grade level, Saturday School, parents limiting television and video game viewing and instead, increasing academic practice into their home routines. Teachers focused on implementing high yield instructional strategies and involving parents more by increased parent conferences. In addition, they intensified rigor and accountability by teaching more explicitly: using more note taking, summarizing strategies and providing consistent feedback to students on their individual progress. All students are accountable for daily participation and rewards and consequences are provided consistently through the school’s implementation of the Scholar Success Program. Students focused on reading, completing increased homework and practice outside of school and participated in the Charter Schools USA Reading Challenge where they earned rewards for reaching their outside reading targets. DMCS also implemented the STRIVE 65 Character Education Program and the Youth Crime Watch-Anti-Bullying Campaign through bi-monthly developmental guidance lessons. Additionally, students who had behavioral concerns were provided with additional counseling programs. To increase parent and community involvement, the school implemented the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) to increase a positive male presence and influence within the school.

Academic Results
Clearly, over the past two years, the “A” grades have spoken for themselves. This year, benchmark tests are showing even more amazing results. In comparison to the entire Charter Schools USA network of schools:

  •     DMCS made the largest reading proficiency gains
  •     DMCS made the 4th largest math proficiency gains
  •     DMCS made the largest science proficiency gains

Cultural Results
The school has adopted a culture of excellence. From a humble beginning in 2004, when the school grade was an “F” and the morale was not very good, the 2013 parent survey paints a very different picture. In the survey, 100 percent of parents expressed agreement with the following statements:

  •     An atmosphere of respect and trust exists between students and school personnel
  •     When visiting my child's school, faculty members (teachers;administrators) are genuinely concerned about my needs.
  •     Students feel safe at our school.
  •     Students are disciplined in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct.
  •     My child is happy at our school and I would recommend it to a friend.

Lessons learned

Schools in high-risk areas where economic conditions are poor and community environments are challenging do not automatically translate to poor performance and failure. The lessons learned through the years at DMCS are that an absolute commitment from teachers, students and parents can produce a high level of success for students. In this case, education truly is the great equalizer that allows students an opportunity to recognize their abilities and build on their achievements to make a better life for themselves.

#Charterschoolsusa; #downtownmaimicharterschool; #csusa; #charterschools; #RebeccaDinda

Media Contact: Colleen Reynolds, APR – 239-849-6400 – public relations counsel for Downtown Miami Charter School

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Colleen Reynolds
Edge Communications
+1 (239) 849-6400
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