On June 30, the Florida A&M Board of Trustees announced a new leader at the Developmental Research School.
Patricia Hodge, former principal and director of the A.D. Henderson University School at Florida Atlantic University, assumed the DRS superintendent post on July 1. With her experience in educational leadership, Hodge believes she can pull the long-troubled lab school out of a rut.
Hodge replaced Interim Superintendent W.E. “Bill” Johnson, who also served as interim director of Florida State University School.
“I was really excited about coming to FAMU… just the thought of coming here working with the students and getting it (DRS) back on track,” said Hodge.
This isn’t Hodge’s first go-round at a school that has had trouble meeting state benchmarks. Her career in educational leadership began at as an assistant principal of a predominantly black school with little resources in Broward County. Hodge said she had a desire to understand why those low-income students were unsuccessful.
“Most of the time, it came down to finances. There weren’t any books in the home; there was no after-school support or any tutors to ensure that they understood any concepts they hadn’t grasped in school,” she said.
Hodge received her PhD., and specialist degree in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University. With an ample amount of research under her belt, and an interest in educational law, Hodge is prepared to lead the state’s lone historically black lab school to prestige.
During her tenure at FAU lab schools from 2004-08, the school earned consecutive “A” grades, according to the Florida Department of Education, based on collective student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. But since then, the grading system has changed; some schools in the state saw their grades go down, while others moved up. Although DRS struggled to earn any grade above a “C,” since the grading rubric was implemented in 1999, Hodge said the changes will work in DRS’ favor.
“The standards have changed for the better. They’re (FL DOE) are not only looking at test scores, but rather focusing on the areas in which schools excel,” Hodge said.
According to Hodge, DRS has, for years, been successful in retaining and graduating its students, and also having a number of high school students participating in dual enrollment programs — just two of the new grading criteria emphasized in school accountability reports.
She hopes the dual enrollment program will explode in five years, by re-evaluating, and possibly re-implementing the academies program that once existed at DRS.
In the academies program, high school students took classes geared toward the subject they would either study in college, or pursue as a career after graduation. In the revamped academies program, students entering DRS high school will take a number of college-level courses, so by the time they enter college, they would have completed some of their prospective program requirements.
“I want to use the academies program as a vehicle for growing our dual enrollment programs. By the time our students are in 10th – or 11th-grade, they’ll start dual enrolling, and when they enter the doors of a college they can, maybe, graduate in two years,” said Hodge.
“If we offer those types of opportunities, I don’t care what color or creed a student is…if you tell their parent, ‘look, we’re shaving off two years of college tuition for you,’ I see that growing quickly for us.”
As for her other goals, Hodge is looking forward to strengthening ties with the surrounding community, the university, and New Beginnings, FAMU’s pre-school program.
“I really want to develop stronger ties with New Beginnings…if we work closely with the school, through volunteer work, and increasing our visibility among parents, we can foster a natural feeder school pattern,” said Hodge.
She also wants to get FAMU students involved with DRS students, demonstrating examples of what her students can become.
“I want to open our doors to students in the College of Pharmacy, and the School of Allied Health to come over and do programs with our kids. They need to know that there is more to the world than what they see on a daily basis,” Hodge said. “This school has an abundance of resources, and opportunities just lying on the ground, and we want our students to be able to pick them up, and make the most of them.”
Language arts teacher Joyce Plair-Johnson said the school is undergoing some drastic changes, all of which emphasize student achievement. “There are some definite differences in how the school was run previously, even small differences like class objectives being displayed on the white boards in the classroom for students, as well as anyone who may walk into our classrooms,” said Plair-Johnson, who is in her first year at the DRS high school.
“We also are making learning useful to our students, utilizing real life application, and relating it to what they learn at school. Students are also being held more accountable for their choices, and being encouraged to make good choices. This has made for a well-behaved and more focused student body,” said Plair-Johnson.
Hodge not only commends her faculty, staff, and administrative support for a successful start to the school year, but also the outpouring of support from the surrounding community.
“I’ve had so many people knocking down my door trying to figure out how they can help. The university community really wants to see DRS succeed…it’s really incredible,” said Hodge.