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Warrington Elementary principal writes book on making education stick

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A principal in Escambia County is changing the way things are done in the classroom. He's ditching traditional grades and deadlines. Students can retake a test as many times as they want without a penalty. They can learn on their own pace. Dr. Dave Schmittou has written a book about his techniques and is now travelling across the country bringing positive attention to Warrington Elementary.

The book is called "It's like riding a bike: how to make learning last a lifetime." Dr. Schmittou examines why people remember how to ride a bike forever, but in school things they learn often go in one ear and out the other.

That's no longer the case at Warrington Elementary. The principal is shaking up traditional education.

"They learned things back in August. It's now April and they still remember."

He credits things like costume closets in classrooms to highly interactive assignments help them remember. Dr. Schmittou takes the same principles learned while riding a bike and puts them in the classroom.

The first is to make kids feel safe and to make learning fun. He said to always be there to pick them up when they fall.

One way he has done this is by revamping the entire grading system. No more deadlines and no more grades "A to F". Teachers use a 0 to 4 scale and kids can retake and re-do tests as often as they want.

"We all learn things at different rates and times. We can't say you are going to take a test on Friday and you have to know it by Friday. Our kids can retake and redo things as many times as they want for full credit. We have eliminated arbitrary dates and deadlines, so if we introduce something in September and the kid doesnt know it until April then they will get full credit in April. We will go back and change those grades."

What about Florida Standards Assessments? It's a test that does measure you by a certain date and there are no re-dos.

Dr. Schmittou explained, "We control what we can control. Our goal is to have kids learn stuff and if kids are learning, FSA takes care of itself."

Some would argue that some kids would take advantage of that. He said this method actually makes them work much harder.

"The example I give with my kids, if they have a messy room and I tell them to clean it and they said no, I don't just give them a zero. They will keep cleaning and if they don't do it right the first time. They will keep doing it and I don't let them get away with saying 'No I'll just take a zero'."

He said the changes have made a huge difference. Suspensions are down 50 percent and performance is up significantly.

"We showed growth in every single section, every single subject area. We are taking FSAs this week and I can't wait to see those results."

Dr. Schmittou said he sells about 500 to 600 copies of the book per week. It's sold on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on his website.

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