Students Use Vouchers to Leave School With ‘F’ Grade

Principal Understands Families’ Departures, Works to Improve Site

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Inside one of Florida’s lowest-rated public schools, classes once were too large, teenagers ruled the hallways, and some teachers didn’t give a lick.

That was the view of some students of Miami Edison Senior High School, a school that has performed so poorly on state tests in recent years that students can use Florida’s Opportunity Scholarships to leave and enroll in private schools if they prefer.

But the new leaders of this urban campus say just about everything at the school has changed.

Barbara Mallard, the principal of Miami Edison Senior High School, and Jean Coty Ridore, left, the vice principal, review preliminary data from state test scores.
Barbara Mallard, the principal of Miami Edison Senior High School, and Jean Coty Ridore, left, the vice principal, review preliminary data from state test scores.
—Photo by Barbara P. Fernandez for Education Week

They even hope that Edison’s report card grade—three consecutive F’s, making its students eligible for the state tuition vouchers—also will improve when the state releases new grades in June.

First-year Principal Barbara Mallard says students had a right to be disgusted with the way things were. She estimates upwards of 200 students have been opting out of Miami Edison for private schools each year since students at the school became eligible for vouchers in 2002. Others may be transferring to other public schools, and some may be leaving school altogether.

“I can relate, and understand what those kids were saying,” Ms. Mallard said during a recent interview at the school. “What we saw [two years ago], we were appalled, to be perfectly honest with you.”

Ms. Mallard, a native New Yorker who doesn’t mince words, has tried to clean up the campus and sought to replace much of the faculty. She was brought in from elsewhere in the Miami-Dade district as the school’s vice principal two years ago as part of a new leadership team.

One-fifth of the school’s 109 teachers were new this year.

Roughly 90 percent of Edison’s students are Haitian or have parents who are. Almost every student comes from an economically modest background.

On the Rise

The school, built of stucco and painted white with bright red stripes, feels cold inside, with few windows in the corridors. Many of the inside walls could use fresh paint. “And it’s a hundred percent better than when I walked in,” Ms. Mallard said.

She said that students in the past complained of large classes for good reason. Edison now enrolls 1,300 students in grades 9-12, down from 2,400 in recent years.

Students say the improvements are clear.

“I came here to skip,” confessed 11th grader Orville Aiken of his early days at the school. “The atmosphere was different.” But he praised Ms. Mallard. “She’s a good principal,” he said. “She listens. She doesn’t take sides.”

“We have better teachers now,” said 10th grader Talisha Marcellus.

Eleventh grader Trillion Ingram added that when he first came to Edison, “there were a lot of kids [in the hallways], a lot of drugs going around the school a lot. There used to be graffiti all over, everywhere.”

To help Edison rise, the school receives extra staff training as part of a Miami-Dade County school improvement zone, a program begun by Superintendent Rudolph F. Crew, who became the leader of the 355,000-student district in 2004.

The school has added more social workers to work with immigrant families. Students attend class for an extra period each day, and some take intensive reading classes.

Even if the school’s grade improves when the results come out next month, students here will remain eligible for Opportunity Scholarships for another year—unless the state supreme court rules the program unconstitutional.

Ms. Mallard does not believe the threat of vouchers forced Edison to improve. She doesn’t like the state’s letter grades for schools, either. “There’s got to be a better way to say it,” she said.

Still, she added, “I won’t feel OK until we’re minimally a C.”

Vol. 24, Issue 38, Page 22

Published in Print: May 28, 2005, as Students Use Vouchers to Leave School With ‘F’ Grade
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