Visible Men Academy- School Update

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We’ve officially launched our fourth school year at VMA! We are now both an elementary and middle school, serving a bustling group of Kindergarten through 6th graders eager to learn.  Our entire staff worked very hard preparing to serve our 105 Suns and their families. We’re thrilled to have them back on campus and ready to SHINE!

Even as we looked forward to our new school year, this summer we learned that we did not fare as well was we would have liked on the 2016 Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) taken this past spring.  Despite our efforts, Visible Men Academy received a grade of F. This means that too few of our Suns received passing scores on the English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science FSA for our school to receive an overall passing grade. While we saw substantial individual gains from the previous school year that elevated our school performance and “ranking” amongst local elementary schools, these gains weren’t enough to secure the grade that we seek.

This result is far below our standards, expectations, and aspirations as a school and for our students. We will not rest until we know that we are providing our students with the academic foundation they need to achieve their full potential. As one measure of this progress, we recognize the importance of standardized testing and of the FSA, in particular. We are fully committed to ensuring that our Suns achieve passing scores at Satisfactory, Proficient, and Mastery levels. To this end, we have made, and we will continue to make, significant adjustments and enhancements to our organizational staffing, curriculum, and teacher training, as well as to our academic program and practices, to name just a few areas of attention.

More specifically, I have re-assumed the position of Principal at VMA. As the leader of our organization, it is my responsibility to serve where I am needed most and, at this time, that is as head of our day-to-day school operations. Also, we have added an Assistant Principal, Mary-Luisa Berges, who serves as the captain of our thoughtfully overhauled academic program and as our instructional leader. Mary-Luisa has an impressive background as a teacher and administrator at some of the highest performing education reform and charter school organizations, namely Teach for America, KIPP Schools, and Rocketship Education. Click HERE for a detailed list of all of our school improvements for your review.

Our obligation is to ensure that these important changes translate into improved scores on the FSA for all our Suns. Through routine classroom assessments and regular school-wide diagnostic testing, primarily in reading and math, we are able to observe our Suns’ growth in critical academic skills. This data will be shared on a continual basis with our Suns and their parents/guardians.

Having shared this information on our ongoing responses to FSA results, I am compelled to state that no one statistical measure can accurately convey the complete picture of our school’s performance. To underscore this point, we recently received a report indicating that VMA received a school rating of “Effective” as a measure of our impact on student learning. The next and highest rating, “Highly Effective”, is well within our reach. This Value-Added Model (VAM) score is a tangible and official Florida Department of Education rating that reveals the competence of our teaching team. We’re pleased and proud that the data reveal what we’ve long known – we are helping our Suns learn.

We also recognize that there are many more dimensions to our school than standardized testing. We firmly believe that our vision, mission, and purpose demand that we attend to the overall development of each one of our Suns. This includes academic growth, but it spans far beyond this realm and embraces character and social skill development, as well. We exist to combat and ultimately reverse the maddening and persistent national crisis of underachievement of the boys we serve. This crisis manifests itself in many forms, all of which are detrimental to our boys, our communities, and our country. Sadly, the recent tragic headlines from Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas reveal a complex and multi-layered domestic dynamic that must be addressed in bold and innovative ways. We exist to find solutions to the tragic cycles of despair, misperceptions, and ill-conceived notions about who our boys are and who they will grow up to be. Our organization has never been more dedicated to this effort. Personally, I’ve never been more devoted to this cause.

As we work to improve our FSA results, it will compliment our unwavering dedication to the “bigger picture” of elevating our Suns to new heights of achievement, fulfillment, happiness, and community contribution. We are committed to our 2Gen whole child and family approach to education because we know that children thrive when we invest in family education and stability. Our 105 families continue to choose VMA because of this commitment. And, we routinely hear from all of you who support us so generously that this broader commitment is not only unique and inspiring, but it is also necessary. Simply put, this is who we are, and it is who we will continue to be, now and into our bright and SHINE-ing future.

We are deeply grateful for your continued advocacy, your encouragement, and your vast support. Thank you for helping us to pursue our critical mission. We cannot realize our vision without you.

Neil Phillips


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