GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Charles E. Bennett Elementary’ s new principal not only was tasked with turning around a school that’s received D-grades the last two years, but she was told to do it in one year.
Because Bennett has received consecutive D-grades, it faces becoming a state-operated school if it receives another failing grade this year. The school district brought in Sheree Cagle to steer the ship in the right direction and her 36 years of education experience, including multiple instances of school turnarounds, is how she plans to make it happen.
“I think we can do this, I really do,” Cagle said. “I know the teachers are dedicated and we’re talking to the students about being dedicated. We have to help everyone understand that the focus is on the standards and I believe that we’ll see those results we’re striving to see.”
Cagle turned an F-grade Pensacola school into an A-school, and she’s worked in Duval County, keeping tabs on more than 80 schools to ensure they all perform as they should. She’s not a last-resort for the elementary school – she’s the district’s secret weapon.
She monitors every aspect of student activity and performance at Bennett, as you’d expect any principal to do, but turning around a school from a D to at least a C requires more and because of that, she brought in an incentive program that she’s used at every school before Bennett: Cagle Cash.
“This is less focused on grades and more focused on teaching students to do the right thing,” Cagle said.
Anyone with a child knows how successful incentives can be – children love to chase the carrot at the end of the stick –and that’s exactly what Cagle Cash aims to do. Students can earn Cagle Cash and at the end of each month, spend this cash in the Cagle Store on items like candy, chips, model cars and more.
Cagle gives Bennett teachers the freedom to dole out this cash however they see fit but she encourages her staff to reward students with great and positive behavior.
“If a student drops their tray of food and another student rushes to help them out, we’ll give that student some cash to show them that what they did is behavior we encourage at (Bennett),” Cagle said. “This is all-encompassing too because a student with positive behavior will show better discipline which in turn leads to better performance for them during school.”
The Cagle Cash doesn’t end there. On days where it’s rainy or especially cold outside, Cagle will ask all students over the intercom to stand up if they walked to school. Because they walked to school despite those condition, she’ll award each student with 40 Cagle dollars on the spot.
“It creates an excitement in the halls and teaches the students what can happen when they make positive changes,” Cagle said.
When Achieve data is released at the end of each month, Cagle rewards the top three students in each grade with 300, 200 and 100 Cagle dollars, respectively.
Beyond the self-discipline and model behavior Cagle Cash teaches students, it also gives them an early start on learning the importance of saving. Students can use their Cagle Cash at the end of each month in the Cagle Store or they can save it for the Field Day at the end of the year.
This field day costs 200 Cagle dollars just to get in and each thing during the event, like popcorn, candy, or getting a chance to dunk Cagle in water via a dunk booth, costs Cagle dollars, too.
“So, the students have to decide if they want to save for that or spend it each month, or they can choose certain dollars to go toward the event at the end and others to go toward the store each month,” Cagle said. “It teaches them to save and that’s an important lesson to learn early on.”
The December Cagle Store will be unique in that instead of purchasing items for themselves, students will be purchasing items for special people in their lives. Instead of going home with a candy bar and a model car, they might purchase a flower vase for their grandmother.
“This gives us a chance to teach them the importance of giving and using their own money to give to someone else in their life,” Cagle said. “You’d be surprised. It’s very moving to see how excited they get at the chance to do something like this for someone they care about.”
This Year 1 at Bennett for Cagle and her cash rewards, but there is tangible evidence Bennett is improving. Month to month, compared to last year, less referrals have been handed to students. Start-of-the-year assessments known as iReady assessments demonstrate a general desire to perform better across almost every grade level. Even just a stroll through the hallways of Bennett come with an air of positivity that might not have been felt over the past few years.
“This can be done,” Cagle said. “It just takes everyone. It takes the parents, the students, the teachers, the community — all of us have to be behind our students and making sure they’re getting what they need.
“Students will do what we ask them to do so we have to make sure we’re asking them to do the right kind of work.”