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After failing grades, Patel School seeks county help

Low FCAT scores and lagging funds have prompted the Hillsborough County School Board to absorb USF’s Patel Charter School during the 2008-2009 school year.

The K-5 school, which caters to low-income students, was one failing grade away from losing its charter, so its board of directors asked the county for help.

Though it is on the USF campus, the new relationship means that the county school board now has control over the school’s board of directors, which means that Patel must follow county policies and procedures.

Both USF and the county are thankful for the shift, however.

“The University felt that the school would receive more resources if it was part of a bigger district,” said Jenna Hodgens, a supervisor of charter schools for Hillsborough County School District.

Added USF spokesman Michael Hoad: “The real question was, ‘Who has the resources to help these kids?'”

Patel received an F grade from the state last year because of its 4th- and 5th-grade FCAT scores. If the school received two F’s, it would lose its charter, Hoad said.

Because FCAT scores are not released until the middle of summer, Hodgens said a quick decision had to be made before school started. The transfer occurred a week after it was suggested in late July, Hodgens said.

Crowding in other county elementary schools and possible inconvenience to families’ planning made the move appropriate, Hoad said.

“Waiting for another year wasn’t the best thing for the kids,”Hoad said.

The main change to the school this year is the curriculum, said Principal Lynn Roberts, who is new to the school. A new media center is being built, she said, and staff development is a key objective.

To improve the test scores of the roughly 200 children who attend Patel, Roberts said she wants to build “a collaborative culture between parents and the school.”

Parents are already actively involved in the school, she said. For example, there is no bus system to transport children to the school, so parents drive their children.

“What is remarkable is that parents are still committed to the school, even with the change,” Roberts said.

Patel was originally set up in collaboration with USF’s College of Education. This arrangement allowed educators in the college to advise teachers at Patel. Also, education students were able to work as teacher aides in a real-world environment.

This partnership is planned to continue. Roberts hopes that all departments at USF will work with the school, to further benefit both USF and Patel students.