A Bok-McLaughlin vision, part 1: the future of Lake Wales should be Lake Wales. Not Jefferson County.

I still sincerely believe we can make a deal that unites the Lake Wales middle-school age community. But I’m less optimistic than I was a couple weeks ago.

I’m very troubled to learn that Lake Wales Charter Schools wants to take over the Jefferson County schools. Jefferson County is a tiny rural county near Tallahassee. It is 280 miles away from Lake Wales. The state is putting Jefferson County’s two zoned public schools up to bid. Lake Wales Charter apparently wants in on the action. That suggests to me that Lake Wales Charter Schools is something other than I thought it was.

Follow this link for a pretty detailed account from Redefined, a Jeb Bush-foundation-backed website that has long sought to destroy the experience of geographically-distinct community schools that most Florida kids attend. Hurting that experience is very helpful in selling “choice.” Here’s the key excerpt:

Another candidate, the Lake Wales charter network, operates six schools in central Florida, and may soon add a seventh. A majority of the system’s students are children of color, and it includes two schools that list 100 percent of their students as economically disadvantaged. [Billy insert — I haven’t verified the data in this Redefined piece. Just quoting it for reference. I have my own data below.]

Lake Wales has some things in common with Jefferson. It’s a system of charter schools that were converted from traditional public schools after a community demanded change.

Jesse Jackson, the Lake Wales superintendent, met with district officials on Friday. He said he got to know Jefferson County during his previous job. He was the director of Florida State University’s lab school, which drew hundreds of Jefferson students into neighboring Leon County.

He said the Lake Wales schools, once under-enrolled, have attracted parents who previously sent their children to private schools, or to public options in neighboring towns. Now, most of the charter schools have waiting lists.

With the right leadership, he said, the school could gain the trust of educators who might come to work there. It could attract financial support from donors in and around Tallahassee. And it could convince parents to invest their time — and re-enroll their children — in Jefferson public schools.

“Our approach would be a whole-community approach,” he said. “It won’t just be trying to make the school better. It will be an effort, as we do in Lake Wales, to make the entire community better.”

Quite a lot to unpack in that story. But for now, let me just say this:

I don’t know who speaks for Lake Wales Charter Schools. I don’t know who I’m negotiating with.

LWCS has an unelected, self-perpetuating board. I am told that this board is quite distant from and disinterested in day-to-day operations and direction. The district’s founder and lawyer, Robin Gibson (my beloved cousin) seems to have a different vision from its current superintendent Jesse Jackson. That’s what the Jefferson County gambit tells me.

I would actually prefer Donna Dunson, principal at Lake Wales High School, as a negotiating partner.

Dunson’s recent work on the culture and environment at Lake Wales High is, by far, in my view, Lake Wales Charter’s biggest success. If Lake Wales Charter has room to crow, Donna Dunson gave it to them. It’s true that Lake Wales High has an implicit screening process because not all Lake Wales kids automatically roll up into it. That leads to some enrollment games. But I think Dunson is an incredible educational talent. And on the whole, her Lake Wales High comes closer than any general population charter school I know to matching the charter school hype and rhetoric. Of course, it’s still a “C” on the fraudulent grading system, just like Lakeland High and Jenkins. Yet another good argument for ending the fraudulent school grading system.

When push comes to shove, I suspect Donna Dunson wields the most real power in LWCS because she has the best record. I doubt anybody within LWCS would be in a position, politically, to tell her no.

For now, I look at the data in front of me, and I don’t see evidence that whatever is running the Lake Wales Charter Schools wants all Lake Wales kids.

I see evidence of profound drift away from the mission it created for itself 13 years ago. I see drift away from the community district model toward an exclusionary, KIPP-like charter network of publicly-funded private schools. The Jefferson County gambit tells me that, too. It’s not an irrational choice for LWCS to make. If you lead one of those KIPPish things, you make a lot more money than if you lead a geographically distinct community district. You also get to pick and choose your kids.

But if we’re going to strike a deal that “makes the entire community better,” we’re all going to have to face the reality of that drift. We’re going to have to confront what it means — not just for Lake Wales, but for Lake Wales’ neighbor communities along S.R. 60 and U.S. 27.

I say this now because I’ve become somewhat frustrated by the opacity and back-channel quality of this discussion. So I’m laying all my proverbial cards on the table, publicly. My phone is 863-209-4037 if anyone wants to call to chat or yell at me about this two-part series.

The outlines of a deal to end East Polk’s human trafficking

As  I mentioned above, the Lake Wales Charter Schools are not zoned. Any kid that does not attend one of them is entitled to an education at a zoned Polk County school. Lake Wales Charter Schools always has Polk County zoned schools to act as a backstop. That allows a very cynical Triangle Trade of East Polk kids, particularly around the Bok-McLaughlin divide.

Here’s the bottom line of that: if we think of kids primarily as data, and the Florida education model does, Lake Wales imports easier/elite kids from other communities and exports harder/poorer kids from its own community. I don’t care who is to blame for it; I’m just stating facts. Everyone who pays attention knows this. Everyone. On all sides. And look at how that reduces us to talking about human beings.

In a true community deal, Bok and McLaughlin would act as the Lake Wales community schools we imagine them to be. I’d love to see one Lake Wales-zoned school with two campuses. But I’m flexible. Under an acceptable, legally enforceable geographic enrollment structure, I am willing to allow the Lake Wales Charter system to lead the schools programmatically — with the Polk School Board’s strong support. (We’ll have to define support, of course.)

This deal is entirely consistent with Lake Wales Charter Schools stated mission and values.

Indeed, I think we have much in common with the Lake Wales Charter System. I think many people affiliated with Lake Wales Charter look at the crushing test-and-punish Florida model with precisely the same contempt that I do. I think they look at fraudulent school grades with the same contempt I do. That’s why they invited Ted Dintersmith to town. They could be great allies.

So I’m willing to sign on to a Lake Wales High School-type model for McLaughlin, if it excludes no Lake Wales kids. I am willing to take heat from McLaughlin folks for that, even though I do not “blame” them for anything. I thank them for taking on a largely thankless job in Lake Wales, under what seems like constant derision from charter triumphalists. But we won’t ever get far enough for me to take heat without serious geographic commitment from Lake Wales Charter Schools.

In the deal I see, no middle school child from Lake Wales ends up zoned for Denison or Westwood in Winter Haven or Boone in Haines City. Ever. I’m not sure if that happens now. But it does happen in high school because Lake Wales has no zoned high school.

As of last summer, the Polk School District bused more than 50 Lake Wales high school-age kids 14 miles away to Winter Haven High every day. If you’re in Winter Haven, you should know that. That is not helpful for the Lake Wales kids, nor the community school culture that I want to help Winter Haven strengthen.

Expect the same thing to happen on much, much larger scale if McLaughlin ever disappears as a zoned middle school. Expect the same thing to happen if we don’t resolve the Bok-McLaughlin split equitably and in good faith.

The deal I support would end that busing. It would have Bok and McLaughlin students roll-up automatically into Lake Wales High. Lake Wales kids would have to actively opt-out, not actively opt-in.

That automatic roll-up does not happen now. And it may well be the Polk District’s fault, not LWCS. I hear different things about this history; and I truly don’t care. Changing it is what matters. That is basic community decency and common sense. It’s hardly revolutionary.

The regional imperative of keeping a zoned middle school in Lake Wales

In discussing McLaughlin, we are discussing the future of the only zoned middle school in Lake Wales. Be very clear. The second, unzoned Bok that Lake Wales Charter is considering in lieu of a McLaughlin deal is an existential threat to McLaughlin.

A second Bok, using exclusivity as marketing, would likely target the most attractive chunk of current McLaughlin kids, plus another 25 percent or so of kids with the resources to travel easily from out-of-town. If McLaughlin’s population dropped to 3o0 kids, of which 100 were ESE, what would happen? The Polk District would probably have to shut McLaughlin down and outsource all those kids to Winter Haven, Haines City, and Lake Alfred. To Boone, Westwood, Lake Alfred Addair, Denison, etc.

The several hundred McLaughlin kids left behind would be heavily ESE. Yes, a second Bok would probably have to take some ESE kids. But not nearly enough. Trust me, it won’t take 137. And whoever it takes, it will retain the right to send away those with behavior issues to some zoned school that the Polk district operates. That will be in another community And remember, each number is human being with churning emotions who has impact on surrounding human beings.

That means Bartow, Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, and Haines City should pay microscopic attention to this process. Each community has a profound interest in keeping a zoned middle school in Lake Wales. If McLaughlin goes away, those communities will serve as the middle school backstops for the children Lake Wales Charter Schools does not want.

If you live in those communities, you should prepare to take all of Lake Wales’ middle school behavior problems if McLaughlin goes away. You will get them. There’s nothing that I can really do about it right now except warn you publicly. And I can remind everyone that these “problems” are flesh and blood children, who feel pain and love and rejection as acutely as everyone else does.

I can’t imagine a sadder final outcome for school district created to serve its community with “no elitist schools.” A second Bok will dismember the Lake Wales community. It will declare educational war on its neighbors, who have their own community struggles. They will respond, like Winter Haven is already trying to.  Imagine an endless arms race of unzoned schools poaching each other’s most marketable humans. Competition, Florida-style. That’s a very real possibility if we don’t do a co-operative deal now.

A very ugly community split

To drive that point home, let’s take a look at the toxic community indicators of the Bok-McLaughlin split, by the numbers. These numbers are provided by the Polk School District except where otherwise noted:

25 — Percentage of Lake Wales Charter’s elementary schools that are Ds on the state’s fraudulent grading system. 1 of 4. And that’s with a zoned district school, Spook Hill, available to serve as a convenient backstop for any bad data elementary kids who fall through the cracks. Most of the kids who feed into McLaughlin come from Lake Wales Charter elementaries. McLaughin teachers believe LWCS steers kids less likely to test well toward McLaughlin. I have no idea if that’s true. But it’s symptomatic of a nasty, bad-faith split.

150 — Number of Bok kids who do not live in the Lake Wales community. That’s 25 percent of the 600-kid enrollment. A big chunk of the out-of-town Bok kids come from Winter Haven. Many are zoned for Westwood and Denison. I don’t propose to kick those actual kids out. I do propose to limit entry of future kids. And I’m willing to take heat for that, too. Bok, as a start-up charter, cannot impose geographic limits on its enrollment; yet for a “serve the whole community” district, Lake Wales Charter seems curiously content with that restriction. I’m happy to help them lobby against it. I’ll come to my suggestion for getting around the law in Part 2 of this piece.

161 — Total non-gifted ESE kids in the Lake Wales middle schools.

137 — ESE kids who attend McLaughlin. 15 percent of enrollment of its 806-kid enrollment.

24 — ESE kids who attend Bok. 5 percent of enrollment.

120 — Gifted kids who attend Bok. 19 percent of enrollment. That’s more than the 18 percent gifted population at Lincoln Academy in Lakeland, the Polk School’s district’s famously elite showpiece magnet school. Yes, we at the Polk District do this, too.

16 — Gifted kids who attend McLaughlin. 2 percent of enrollment.

4 — Kids transferred from Bok to McLaughlin this year after FTE and before testing, according to sources. I will be running that down to verify. But this is, of course, a very common practice of elite magnet and charter schools. Their exclusivity is inherent to their marketing.

Here’s a more compact way of looking at the split.

This little chart illustrates beautifully why school grades are fraud and must go away. Florida thinks it makes sense to evaluate Bok and McLaughlin in exactly the same way — with an incomprehensible letter grade equation that the state changes and rigs every year.  Complete fraud. Morally and educationally. If we can’t do a Bok-McLaughlin deal, let’s at least agree to fight for the end of this toxic fraud.

As you can see, Bok, like all elite charters and magnets, really doesn’t do ESE. It does do gifted. Bok’s numbers for both are in line with the McKeels, Lincolns, Lakeland Montessoris of the world. All have 5 percent or less ESE population. The overall District figure is 11 percent.

An equitable deal would put Bok and McLaughlin equally on the hook for the Lake Wales community’s large ESE student population. While Bok is not legally allowed to impose zoning, I do think it could choose right now to set aside, say, 75 spots for ESE kids. It doesn’t need a deal to do that. Curious that it chooses not to.

It’s also curious that the impressive private philanthropy flowing into Bok serves more gifted kids imported from out- of-town than it does ESE kids in need of help right now within the Lake Wales community.

Lake Wales Charter Schools formed in 2003-04 by declaring saying “the solution should benefit all students in all schools – no elitist schools.” See this screen grab from its website. You can click to enlargen.

And yet, Lake Wales Charter has created arguably the most elite publicly-funded private school in Polk County. That is indisputable. Having done that, LWCS is now looking to Jefferson County. I find that remarkable when it has such a large special needs community at home.

The obligation to confront hard problems

I worked extremely hard in Lake Wales during the campaign. I can say that the Lake Wales Charter folks were much more open and welcoming to me than McLaughlin. I never received a response from McLaughlin when I asked to visit. But I also only asked once, and I was running to oversee it. So maybe that was appropriate. Or maybe they just missed it, and I didn’t try hard enough. They have certainly invited me since then. I’m planning to visit next week. (I have a family obligation this week.)

When I started the campaign, I fully intended to leave Lake Wales Charter and McLaughlin to their own devices. And I wanted to generally strengthen the relationship between district and charter and share leading practices. I knew the Bok-McLaughlin split wasn’t ideal. But I didn’t realize just how corrosive it is to everything.

I didn’t know anything about the East Polk Triangle Trade. I didn’t understand just how elite the Bok enrollment is — and how isolated the McLaughlin community is from LWCS community infrastructure.

As I came to understand those truths, I also came to understand that I could not ignore them. I can’t leave Lake Wales to its own devices because Lake Wales isn’t leaving other communities to their own devices. The Lake Wales split is a Polk County problem.

This is painful for me. I do not enjoy being at odds with a family member with whom I share deep history. I do not enjoy calling out people who were very open with me during the campaign. I have burgeoning relationships with all of them. I understand if this angers them. I understand if this angers McLaughlin teachers and staff. No one is wrong to be upset with me. No one is wrong to be upset by this entire situation. It’s upsetting. It’s a function of Florida’s horrible, anti-community model of fake choice and fake competition.

But ultimately, I did not run for School Board to get re-elected.

I ran to identify problems without euphemism or meaningless platitudes. And I ran to fix them. The Bok-McLaughlin split is as big and fraught as any. The upside of getting it right is enormous. The downside of getting it wrong is catastrophic. I’ll happily sacrifice every vote in Lake Wales if we can get this right. I would happily sacrifice re-election for a lasting, fair Bok-McLaughlin deal.  That’s how important it is.

The core divide in Polk/Florida/American education isn’t charter school vs. public school. It’s traditional zoned school vs. non-zoned school. It is community/neighborhood school vs. specially-branded, enrollment-curated school. The fraudulent Florida competition model pits these schools and communities against each other. It encourages them to lie about and defame each other — and then lie about and defame kids. It encourages communities to stick it to each other hard. It creates chronic teacher shortages. It turns kids into commodities and luxury goods.

That must stop if we want to save American public education, especially in Florida. This is a chance to strike a powerful blow in that direction. Let’s do it.

Keep an eye out for part 2 next week. It will examine the legal and political hurdles to this deal and how we might overcome them. It will also game out some partnership scenarios, including potential job protection structures for McLaughlin teachers and staff, who must be treated fairly.

 

 

 

21 comments

  1. Sarah Fortney

    You are right on track!

  2. Catherine ogburn

    Lots of great points! You should also check out the data to see how the charter system of Lake Wales has affected Frostproof schools!

  3. Holly Pritchard

    You nailed it!

  4. Shelly Hayes

    Thank you so much for not being afraid to state the truth!! The Frostproof schools are not mentioned in the article but we have been negatively impacted by the LWCS as well!! All we ask is that they stop recruiting kids from other communities and educate their own kids who actually live in their town! If they gain control of Mclaughlin it will be devastating to the surrounding communities. A large majority of the kids who attend Mclaughlin will not be accepted back in if they have to go through the same application process as Bok has. LWCS is “fixing” their schools by getting rid of the kids they don’t want. It’s about time someone called them out on it!

  5. Please do not leave out the impact this has on our Frostproof community!!!!!

  6. Jesse L. Jackson

    Mr. Townsend,
    I am convinced that you are sincere in your effort to make a difference as a newly elected Polk County School board member. While I share a different perspective than what you have articulated in this specific blog I have definitely agreed with your notion of supporting teachers that has been a hallmark of your previous blogs. In fact, I had a conversation with your superintendent last week while at a meeting and encouraged her to partner with you to make supporting your teachers a priority. As I shared with her, your(PCS)greatest priority at this point should be to bring healing and a sincere feeling of support to your teacher, administrators and staff. As for me, my abiding mantra is “Teachers make the magic happen in the lives of children every day.”

    • Thanks for the response. I have a few questions.

      1) I appreciate the kind words. But I’m more curious about which specific perspectives are different on this issue. Knowing that would be helpful to negotiation.

      2) What geographic concession, if any, is Lake Wales Charter Schools willing to make to try solve this problem?

      3) As a gesture of good faith, would LWCS be willing to fund through its foundation a full-time social worker position at McLaughlin no matter what happens? I don’t know the specific social worker structure at McLaughlin currently. This idea is just now flashing through my mind. But I’m sure it could use any help that LWCS is willing to offer.

  7. Wanda Miles

    Both of my children were on a medical transfers to McLaughlin Middle School of the Arts. We live in Winter Haven and were excepted into the magnet system. We choose to send our children to Mclaughlin to be closer to family members. The teachers at McLaughlin are there for the children! The children are given opportunities in the arts that they would never have due to poverty. The Teachers work to educate all children regardless of race, dissailities, test scores, behavior etc.
    They may seem resistant to Charter but it is actually protection. It is very clear at any sporting event Charter parents do not want to support the city. I worked in Lake Wales at Spook Hill during the Charter vote. It was evident that the Charter system was about segregation and money, not all children on Lake Wales. My daughter went to McLaughlin for three years and was excepted and protected by peers regardless of her medical disability. She graduated from WH Senior with high honors and a full scholarship to PSC along with two other scholarships. She did miss her McLaughlin family and the support of peers and teachers. My son had a great peer group and was very active in the Reading programs at McLaughlin. He is at WInter Have now and doing well. Lake Wales is a divided city. It is not only teachers but members of the community. I feel you have put much thought into your plan. I can only hope that all children will be considered and all teachers treated equally. I have to say I am hesitant to believe the Charter system wants the children of McLaughlin. I pray for the children and teachers of McLaughlin. I do believe they are only protecting their children from a system they do not believe has their school and children’s best interest at heart. I am a teacher and love my job. My experiences teaching children of poverty, disabilities and behavior issues has not been easy but most rewarding. I hope you will follow your heart and remember why we all became educators. We are to teach all equally with the same passion and protect those that need us.

  8. Lawrence Milhorn

    Billy,. You hit the head on the nail. I do believe communities need to stick together and if McgLaughlin going charter would do that then so be it. The problem is it will not bring them together just ask the parents who’s children that live in Lake Wales do not attend schools in their community. This creates a hardship not only on the student but the district and the parents.

    I believe that the community of Lake Wales needs to look at all the things that could happen if McLaughlin goes charter. There will not be any guarantees what school the children of Lake Wales will be sent too (Winter Haven, Frostproof, Dundee or Haines City. I do hope a solution is found because the Lake Wales students and families deserve to have a say how and where their children are going to school.

  9. Tara Boucher

    This is very brave of you to put out the FACTS. It is wonderful that this is on your website, but if you truly want to make a difference and INFORM the public, this article should go into the Lake Wales community paper and the Ledger sot that the COMMUNITY of Lake Wales understands the facts.

  10. I am so glad that someone else sees this. My son went to school all 3 years at Bok. After a couple of months, my eyes opened up. I couldn’t believe there were so many gifted children. There were so many, there were boys and girls classes for each grade level. Every year I saw more and more Winter Haven gifted kids being bused there. If you look, Jewett Academy has went down and I believe it is because of Bok. I wish I had never sent him there. We should have stayed in our own community.

  11. I read this article with interest and suspicion… You paint an incredibly one sided picture of what has caused the “split” between LWCS, McLaughlin and Spook Hill. LWCS had no intent, has never had any desire, nor going forward wants to see any child in Lake Wales go to other communities. You may ask, “How do you know this?”

    Well, I live in Lake Wales, my wife is an educator in the Charter System and I also served on the steering committee that originally investigated the problems and pitfalls of education in Lake Wales. At conception, it was apparent that most Lake Wales Families were sending their children out of town to magnet and private schools leaving many (most) Lake Wales Schools having to hear the “triumphalist” messages of Polk County. Since the arrival and skillful execution of the Lake Wales Conversion Charter Schools System, we have seen truly remarkable and extraordinary gains in educational opportunities for the scholar of Lake Wales.

    I know of at least two attempts to bring McLaughlin and Spook Hill into “the fold” or LWCS. Both attempts were rebuffed and voted down. It finally came to a point that LWCS had to find a middle school solution and Bok Academy was born, leading to great success. Would LWCS have welcomed the opportunity to work with McLaughlin and Spook Hill from the beginning? Absolutely… And I believe from conversations, they would still welcome both schools into the system. The question is – WHO IS REALLY KEEPING THIS FROM HAPPENING?

    Throughout the process and evolution, The School Board of Polk County and District Office has been less than helpful and often deliberately stubborn in creating and setting up road blocks to progress between the two systems. This lack of cooperation has been for the most part, completely one sided as LWCS has given private money to both schools in attempt to create good will and trust. It hasn’t been reciprocated.

    So while I hear the concerns you have, I find the equation a bit unbalanced. There is a ton of speculation in your article that seems to imply that the villain in this story is LWCS and their ill-intentions towards Lake Wales students. Your warning to surrounding communities seems to think the worst of LWCS. The depiction of this as a “trade” smacks a little of some devious human capital or trafficking system that LWCS has slowly planned in order to destroy the fabric of other communities.

    The reality is that LWCS emerged from a frustrated electorate who was largely ignored by The Polk County School Board for decades about equal distribution of funding. There was no outcry or concern about the effects of magnet schools on the Lake Wales community, as year after year, a mass exodus of students went to Bartow and Lakeland magnet schools. Magnet schools were not an option in Lake Wales because Lake Wales was one of the only communities in Polk County to fully integrate its schools in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

    To say that LWCS is cherry picking LW students is laughable when you consider that every school in the system is a TITLE I school. We are not trying to get rid of the worst students in the system, but schools of choice have rules and processes to follow and many times parents miss enrollment deadlines and application requirements and are left “out in the cold” due to the fact that grade level numbers don’t allow for another student to enroll. Would this be easier if Spook Hill and McLaughlin were part of the LWCS… The answer should be and obvious yes.

    The “drift” of LWCS is not the real problem, even though you do a decent job of pointing it out. Success breeds success and always will. It is not a surprise to any of those who are involved in the day to day operations of the schools to understand why surrounding schools or even schools 200 miles away would be interested in and investment by LWCS. This is a complement to the success and efficiency of the system. Whether this a prudent move for LWCS, the “disconnected board” will figure it out in due time.

    One of the biggest complaints that I hear from educators up and down the system is “interference” from “elected” officials who have no idea what goes on in a class room. The accusation that the LWCS school board sits unconcerned or unaware of what is happening in Lake Wales schools is quite honestly offensive to those serve in that capacity. They are connected, but they allow Principals and teachers to “run their business” and make decisions without the specter of micromanagement and interference. You would think other entities would follow suit so that teachers can get back to the job of teaching.

    As this is pt 1, my hope is that pt 2 will dive into the responsibility and culpability that the PBSC and district office had and still has in undue interference and stone-walling in the education of Lake Wales scholars.

    Sincerely,
    Keith Thompson

    As

    • I don’t think I addressed the history at all, other than what’s on your own website. I’m focused on what is true today and its implications for the future. But for the record, you are correct. Polk District magnet schools caused Lake Wales Charter. I agree.

      It’s also true that probably would have gotten McLaughlin if you hadn’t been so eager to fire a whole bunch of teachers at Lake Wales High. You won a battle but lost a war for your community. And it didn’t help Lake Wales High. It took Donna Dunson and another purge and whatever else you’re doing with enrollment there to “fix” Lake Wales High. That’s your narrative. I’ve heard it many times. All that was a long time ago, and I had nothing to do with any if it. But it is my responsibility to educate the kids in your community that you don’t. I take that very seriously. I also take my responsibility to other communities seriously. You have the luxury of ignoring them. I don’t. All I’m asking for is geographic certainty from a district that bills itself as a community district. That shouldn’t be hard.

      One other note. This is really interesting to me.

      “At conception, it was apparent that most Lake Wales Families were sending their children out of town to magnet and private schools leaving many (most) Lake Wales Schools having to hear the “triumphalist” messages of Polk County.”

      This is simply false. At no point, ever, did “most” Lake Wales families send their children out of Lake Wales. You’ll acknowledge that, right? I think what you mean to say is most “leadership” families or families in your social circle. Am I wrong about that?

  12. Johnnie Kirkland

    Thank you Billy, you have shown statistics that are very true, and I’m sure there will be more. And yes, Bok students have been cherry picked through their, so called, application system. Even Robin Gibson contradicts himself in two different news articles. In the Ledger on February 17, 2017, he bashes McLaughlin by stating that the students are not as well prepared as their Bok peers. Then he goes on to say “we want the opportunity to educate all kids”. However, in the Lake Wales News, Robin states that “Once McLaughlin is dissolved and converted to a charter school, the students currently attending it will be able to re-apply as POTENTIAL students at the charter school”. Once again, “Potential students”, cherry picking at its best! If Jessie Jackson wants to “save the children” why aren’t the lowest performing children in the charter elementary schools the first on the list at Bok since he thinks Bok better prepares students? We all know the answer to that! We are truly happy to have all children at McLaughlin, no matter what school grade we end up with. All children deserve and have a right to an education. I have taught at McLaughlin for 26 years, and was one of the “No” votes in 2003 and 2005 because of trust. I remember very well when the new charter system fired many of my friends and co-workers for unexplained reasons, and it still happens. However, the main reason was to cut experienced teachers with higher salaries. One of the teachers only had 1 year left in the DROP program to retire. Approximately 20 teachers were let go, including a math teacher who received the High School Teacher of the Year Award the previous year. His students math scores were the top in the county. Therefore, how can any of us, our students or their parents trust any of the charter leadership? We are in good hands with Polk County school Board and we need to stay there. McLaughlin was always a B/C school before most of the top students in our community were cherry picked to Bok. We have a great facility, that Robin Gibson wants, a great staff and great administrators that can get the job done! Maybe the Bok Middle school charter should be revoked and send all of our zoned students back home to McLaughlin under Polk County School Board. There is no need for a second or third middle school in Lake Wales. If a 2nd middle school charter has been approved, it needs to be revoked as well. I think this could definitely be a Part Two to your Plan.

  13. Penny Thoughts

    1. Jesse Jackson responded in his typical circular manner. He says a lot without saying anything.
    2. Keith Thompson fails to note that he sent his daughter to a school outside of LW rather than to McLaughlin.
    3. Although you feel Donna Dunson has done a wonderful turnaround I would suggest you dig into the statistics there as well. She likes to woo you with half-truths.

    The system has many wonderful caring educators who are invested in the community. The leadership is all about smoke and mirrors while doing whatever it takes for a school grade.

  14. I appreciate such an open forum. I was disappointed to see no mention of Frostproof in the blog. We certainly receive our share of Lake Wales students who aren’t accepted at Lake Wales High.

    Likewise, it’s very interesting to see a Lake Wales Charter Bus in the middle of Frostproof. Lake Wales High is always ready to take our star athletes & scholars regardless of their zoning.

  15. Billy,
    Bravo Zulu.
    Well done.

  16. David Larson

    As a former McLaughlin teacher, you hit the nail right on the head. Your statistical support showing the deep student divide between the student populations at McLaughlin and Bok support exactly what I saw daily as a teacher. McLaughlin teaches all students and works wonders every day. I saw students who were expelled from Bok or they were never accepted even though they lived in the Lake Wales city limits. This division caused them to think of themselves as failures when nothing could be further from the truth. The charter system doesn’t think McLaughlin is a failure; they see the opportunity to usurp a taxpayer funded building for free. PCSB has an obligation to resist this takeover and continue supporting McLaughlin, their students, and their teachers.

  17. It’s a known fact that Bok only wants McLaughlin for the buildings, not the students unless they passed the FSA. It’s also a known fact that the current Bok Academy will be the dumping ground for students who scored level 1 or 2 on the FSA, ESE students, and students who have behavior issues. I would like the leaders of the LWCS to publicly say this will not happen.

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