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Bradenton school celebrates two-year improvement from "F" to "A"

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BRADENTON, FL (WWSB) - Behind a Bradenton church, a charter school has created a miracle; improving state test scores from an "F" to an "A" in just two years.

"There's far too much intention, and hard work, and planning, and execution," says school co-founder Neil Phillips. "For us to consider it a miracle."

Phillips helped start the all-boys charter elementary school Visible Men's Academy five years ago.

The now-100 students are commonly referred to as "suns" and constantly reminded to SHINE -- an acronym for five character development traits (Selflessness, Honesty, Integrity, Niceness, and Excellence).

Unfortunately, neither character, high attendance, nor low expulsion rates show up on a test.

"It's both tough and it's frustrating," says Phillips. "At times it's maddening."

So two years ago, the school switched to i-Ready: a widely-used learning program for Florida testing. Almost instantly, the growth parents were already seeing inside the classrooms was reflected outside on test scores, going from an F to a C last year, and another two-grade jump to an A in 2017-18.

"They are the most supportive people in this universe, that would help you out anywhere, anytime, any place," says Breyon Peterson about faculty. Breyon has attended VMA since kindergarten, and will start 5th grade next year.

"My grandson went to local camp for the last two weeks, and halfway through the second week, he said when can I go back to school," says Leesa Holmes, who chose VMA so her grandson would have male role models.

Such drastic improvement was always part of the plan says Phillips, but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy the recognition.

"With whatever misgivings I have on the over-emphasis of standardized testing, if they're going to grade it, then we're going to try to get an 'A,'" says Phillips with a laugh. "There's just no other approach."

Visible Men's Academy is located at the edge of Pride Park in Bradenton. It's six classrooms served 100 students last year, and they're all from low-income families at or below the poverty line.

Phillips says the "A" grade should positively impact future fundraising efforts and enrollment by helping the school pass the initial "eyeball" test among prospective parents. They want to add around 20 more students for the 2018-19 school year, and expand facilities into an empty lot near the church purchased two years ago.

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