Park Ridge Elementary Hits Reset Button, Overcomes Adversity in 2 Years

Three years ago, students at Park Ridge Elementary School were struggling.

The Broward County Florida school’s overall test scores were failing, attendance had plummeted, and the Deerfield Beach community was not engaged with the school. District leadership wanted to help breathe new life into the challenged school, which had become one of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

So they instituted a fresh start at Park Ridge, with all-new staff, and a Principal Autonomy Program that loosened regulations on how it operated. District leaders tapped award-winning principal Joseph Balchunas as Park Ridge’s new leader. Balchunas, who was named Florida’s Teacher of the Year in 2001, was empowered to make the changes at Park Ridge he thought would be most effective for students, including establishing the curriculum.

Two years later, a palpable change could be felt in the hallways at Park Ridge. Students were more attentive and responsive in class. Parents were more engaged with their children’s education. A buzz of positivity coursed through the classrooms.

By the end of the 2016-2017 school year, Park Ridge’s student scores broke a years-long streak of failing grades to reach an overall grade of C. And it’s just the beginning, said Balchunas.

“This was huge for us, but we still have big goals for this school,” he said. “We know that we can’t stand on ceremony. We still have to focus.”

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