Lake Wales’ educational competition shows that collaboration and mutual support are better.

There’s a myth that Florida Model supporters and casual observers of education tend to repeat as if it’s self-evidently true: competition between schools raises all boats, or improves everybody, or something. Nope. It does not. Absolutely not. Florida’s abject state growth failure over the last 20 years of competition obsession makes that brutally clear, just in data.

In reality, educational  “competition” creates terrible incentives for different schools and communities to hurt and slag off on each other. High stakes “competition” on the fraudulent scoreboard always always always devolves into varying forms of cheating and inhumane behavior and lying to ourselves about it.

In truth, Tallahassee is like that horrible dude in high school trying to get two people to fight just so he can watch. That fight doesn’t help either of the fighters. It just bloodies and dehumanizes them both.

I can think of no better illustration of this fact than Lake Wales.

Since a majority of Lake Wales schools “went charter” as conversion charters in 2003, public and private resources have poured into Lake Wales, on all sides. All of this was in the name of “competition.” The Lake Wales community now contains three middle schools, two of which are self-selected charter (Bok North and South) and one of which is zoned default district-run (McLaughlin) with special arts programs and facilities. Lake Wales has a specialty district-run ESE school in Roosevelt; a well-regarded independent special needs charter called Victory Ridge; and five total elementary schools (four LWC, one district-run.) The district is considering adding an arts high school to McLaughlin. On the charter side, there’s a private foundation and Mountain Lake money.

For all of that, a close look at the corrupt state scoreboard makes a strong case that all Lake Wales schools (charter or district), except Lake Wales High, lag the performance of schools that are their peers elsewhere in Polk County. District McLaughlin Middle and charter Janie Howard Wilson Elementary are using less than 60 percent of their capacity. And the Polk County/Florida taxpayers still had to bus a 10-year-old with autism 18.8 miles away to a district-run school in Bartow away from a “community” charter school she could almost see from her house.

This is not success. It is far past time to find a collaborative and mutually supportive approach for the next generation. Here is how we could start.

I take Lake Wales Charter at its word — and want to help

Lake Wales Charter says two things very clearly to its community and the wider world.

  1. It wants to be the default community education provider for the community of Lake Wales and all its kids.
  2. It’s very proud of its schools, especially its high school.

Given those two points, it perplexes me that Lake Wales Charter is not formally, loudly demanding that the Polk School District draw a zone around Lake Wales High and make it the default high school for the Lake Wales community.

Indeed, I’m going to say something here that sounds crazy. But it’s true: the community of Lake Wales does not have a high school. Not in the same sense that Frostproof or Fort Meade or Mulberry or Auburndale do.

If you live in one of those towns, as a parent, you satisfy your obligations to compulsory education laws by having your child show up at Frostproof, Fort Meade, Mulberry, or Auburndale High and enroll. And unless you choose some special program out of town or get in serious trouble that sends you to alternative education program, the school will register and enroll you; and you will stay there. It’s pretty simple.

Lake Wales is different.

A high school does sit within its borders. It’s a quite good high school with an excellent principal. I think this high school is far and away the “best” of the seven Lake Wales charter schools. I would be happy for my child to attend it. I want that high school, which is incidentally named “Lake Wales High School,” to serve as the default high school for all Lake Wales kids. But today, for various bad reasons, it does not.

And it perplexes me that Lake Wales Charter and community are not demanding what already exists for much smaller communities like Mulberry, Frostproof, and Fort Meade. It perplexes me that they do not demand the district stop all busing out of Lake Wales beyond active choices to leave. In their place, that is what I would be doing. Loudly. Constantly.

Oddly, it has fallen to me to publicly propose that we do this, loudly and repeatedly.

It fell to me, of all people, to go the Florida Department of Education some time ago, hat in hand, and ask if Lake Wales High can be zoned and the made the default high school for Lake Wales. And DoE told me, yes, they think it can be done. That came both verbally and in writing from the former top official in DoE’s Office of Choice. [Yes, let me repeat that: I had a civil, productive discussion with DoE’s former head of choice in order to try to solve a problem. And I’m supposed to be the unreasonable one.]

However, exactly no one else, anywhere, seems to want to do this enough to act decisively on it. I’m happy to be corrected. That DoE official, Adam Miller, has since left DoE to go work for a for-profit charter school chain.

When I repeated my idea to the state Board of Education during its recent Lakeland meeting, the board members looked at me like I was speaking Mandarin. And DoE’s “turnaround” people recently made it explicitly clear that LWC cannot serve as the “external operator” of  zoned McLaughlin.

So who knows what DoE/BoE will actually let us do. That means we should be thinking about what we can do without their permission to address this divide. At the very least, I think the district should:

  • Put the Lake Wales Charter elementary and high schools on our district zone map. Creating a elementary zoning layer that fully integrates the charter and district elementaries presents a complexity; but I’m sure it can be done.
  • Identify every Lake Wales area child currently attending a default school in some other community and encourage them to return to their Lake Wales school.
  • Turn away new children when they register at out-of-Lake Wales schools and instruct them to return to their Lake Wales school — unless they can show that Lake Wales Charter schools have actively denied them entry.
  • Phase out all busing out of Lake Wales based on zoning.

If all of this seems like it should be unnecessary, if it seems like it rests on a foundation of adult pettiness, in which operational leaders of both sides seem incapable of talking to each other constructively, well…let’s just take a look at what makes those ideas necessary.

A community without a high school: the difference between “apply” and “show up and register”

Today, “Lake Wales High School” has no formal, legal geographic obligation to the Lake Wales area. (It has a name and a vague preference, which I’ll come back to.) You must apply to get into this high school, even if you live in Lake Wales. It’s not the Lake Wales community high school in the same sense that Frostproof, Fort Meade, and Mulberry High are.

If you live in Lake Wales, you cannot successfully sue Lake Wales High if it refuses you admission to Lake Wales High because you did not apply on time, just like you can’t sue one of the district magnet schools for the same reason. However, if you live in Lake Wales, you can successfully sue the Polk district at any time if you are refused admission to whichever out-of-town high school you are zoned for, at whatever time you show up and register.

The Polk District cannot legally refuse to register you at Winter Haven High, if you are zoned for that school, just because you live in sight of Lake Wales High, or just because you show up mid year.

You can see the fraught difference in meaning between “apply” and “show and up register” neatly encapsulated in a recent message from Lake Wales Charter attorney and founder Robin Gibson, who is also my beloved cousin.

In the passage below, he’s responding to the situation I wrote about in a previous article. In that case, a family that lived virtually within site of Lake Wales Charter’s Hillcrest Elementary easily got their gifted child into the school; but they couldn’t enroll their child who has autism until I confronted LWC with their story on their behalf.

The parent in question had been told “No” by Hillcrest once over the phone; another time in person; left two unanswered calls to the LWC district office; and sent an extremely courteous and specific parent email to Hillcrest administrator for which she never received a response.

Here’s how Gibson explained that after the child in question had spent more than a year commuting 18.8 miles on a school bus to district-run Floral Avenue in Bartow. [I’ve inserted fake names.]

The assistant principal was mortified that she had overlooked [Ms. Shephard’s] email, and took full responsibility. In Hillcrest’s defense, [Ms. Shephard] had never applied for [Rachel’s] admission – but that has now been rectified.

“Apply” is word that can cover a multitude of sins. “Show up and register” is better.

The one and only

To my knowledge, Lake Wales is the only traditional one high school town anywhere in the state of Florida where the long-time local high school has no legal mandate to serve as the default high school for its community. Lake Wales is the only town of any size in the state of Florida that doesn’t have a “show up and register anytime” high school.

To my knowledge, no other town of Lake Wales’ size sees a substantial number of its children bused to other communities to enroll in their default elementary or high schools. No other community imports a substantial number of elitish out-of-town children into its schools to occupy spots that could be occupied by homegrown children. This import/export trade in flesh occurs despite the explicit preference for local children built into conversion charter law. “Preference” has proven over and over again that it isn’t good enough to localize application-based, self-selected schools.

If you try to get precise numbers on the export and import of kids from Lake Wales, if you try to discern who has responsibility or “blame” for this oddity, you will descend into a black hole of district vs. charter mutual grievance, passive aggression, mistrust, and recrimination from which light cannot escape.

That toxic gravity has probably taken a year off of my life already. I’m sick of it, for myself, and more importantly, for everyone else hurt by it.

“Going charter” means surrendering all your democratic and community influence

Communities that flirt with “going charter” often do so because they want to “take community control” of schools. But “going charter” actually means the opposite. You surrender control of your schools as a community when you “go charter.”

More than anything, “going charter” means two things: 1) The public gives up all democratic input on your school/s. The public can’t vote its way out of any school leadership or funding problem because no one running charters is an elected official in any way. The boards are self-selecting and self-perpetuating. Charters are dictatorships, where it’s quite hard to identify the actual dictator. 2) You sever the charter school’s legal obligation to serve a community or geography. Any enforceable legal obligation to the community effectively ends when a school “goes charter” or becomes a magnet, for that matter.

Indeed, Lake Wales Charter folks will tell you — because they have told me — that they are powerless to ensure that their schools, which they supposedly control, contain only kids from their community. Let me repeat that. Lake Wales Charter believes it does not have the power to fill its schools solely with Lake Wales kids. LWC Supt. Jesse Jackson told me last year that 35 percent of the new Bok North magnet charter come from outside Lake Wales. Charter “law” not only makes that possible; it makes it impossible to stop, according to the LWC folks.

Supporters of choice without geographic responsibility often say they want to “free you from the tyranny of your zip code.”

I guess.

But from where I sit, as an honest observer, it seems like a great way to tear your community apart along class, race, and special needs divides.

Across-the-board LW underperformance on the scoreboard — by charter and district

And if you put stock in the state’s scoreboard, as many business/civic/economic development leaders do, there’s been no educational payoff for this Lake Wales community divide that I can see.

Let me say this first. I hate the comparisons I’m about to make. I hate this scoreboard. I hate comparing communities to each other. I NEVER want to do this again. Instead, I respect all choices and want to enhance all experiences for all communities and individuals.

No observation I make about any of these schools is meant as a commentary on the kids or the people working inside them. I thank those people for their willingness to serve in an educational and political world in which these comparisons matter — negatively — to their lives.

These observations are aimed exclusively at the political, civic, education, and business “leadership class.” As long as communities use this corrupt scoreboard to market themselves and to make decisions and to form prejudices, we should look honestly at what it actually says.

LWC elementaries are pummeled by white charters and diverse magnets

Dale Fair Babson Park, LWC’s only A-rated elementary school on the fraudulent state scale, is the county’s 6th whitest school. It’s roughly 70 percent white. Concentrated whiteness tends to correlate to higher aggregate numbers on the testing scoreboard, especially when the enrollments are self-selected by “application.” That’s the root of the so-called test score “achievement gap” one often hears about.

Babson Park should be comparing itself to other schools with concentrations of self-selected whiteness, like the (Auburndale) Berkley and (Lakeland) McKeel charter systems. They are its peers. McKeel Elementary’s application-based white enrollment is essentially identical to Babson Park’s. Berkley Elementary, the whitest school in Polk County of any kind, is a little more white than both — at 77 percent. I think the Berkley comparison is a particularly apt because Lake Wales and Auburndale are fairly similar communities in size and demographics. Just drive through them.

If you look past the meaningless grade label, to the actual scoreboard, Babson Park scored the lowest possible A — a 62. Compare that to Lakeland’s McKeel Elementary at 73 and Auburndale’s Berkley Elementary at 75. Or compare it to the district’s Lincoln Academy magnet school in Lakeland, which is 50 percent white, 25 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and about 10 percent Asian. Lincoln blew away everybody on the scoreboard with an 87.

And if you look at diverse schools, LWC’s Janie Howard Wilson makes a good demographic comparison to Lakeland’s district-run Winston magnet school. JHW is a 49C at 60 percent capacity and Winston is a 62A with a wait list. Both are majority minority schools.

It’s true that the district buses more than 50 kids who live near Winston 12 miles north to Socrum Elementary. How does that affect its scoreboard numbers? I don’t know. But I also don’t know the equivalent figure for JHW. How many kids should be attending it that the Polk district buses elsewhere? Also, various folks within LWC have told me that JHW tends to get kids that other LWC charter elementaries don’t want. But that’s anecdotal. JHW might actually be overperforming expectations, given its enrollment reality. But my information on that reality isn’t good enough to judge with any clarity.

Moreover, Janie Howard Wilson is only utilizing 56 percent of its capacity, while Spook Hill Elementary, the district’s zoned elementary school in Lake Wales is using 98 percent of its capacity. Spook Hill is a 39D; yet it has 200 more kids attending it than JHW. (Click to enlarge the image below that shows the numbers.)

Why is that? What does that say about choice? I don’t know. Maybe experience is about more than scoreboard.

Bok consistently trails Union and Lawton Chiles

The original Bok Academy (not the just created Bok North) provides the most perfect comparison for its peers — Union Academy magnet in Bartow and Lawton Chiles Academy magnet in Lakeland. These three schools are in the same business: accelerated middle schools with self-selected enrollments to serve the “leadership class.” Indeed, everyone I have spoken to, on all sides, says that Lake Wales Charter was an explicit response to the one-time exodus of Lake Wales families to the magnet schools in Bartow. The more specific phrase I’ve often heard used is “leadership families.” Along with Lake Wales High, Bok is LWC’s showpiece school.

Bok’s demographics are remarkably similar to Lawton Chiles and Union. It also has a large percentage — hard to know how large with certainty — of kids choosing to come in from all over East Polk. Despite that wide geographical net of self-selection, Bok has consistently trailed its self-selected peers — Lawton Chiles and Union — on the scoreboard. The margin with both has varied from 2 to 9 points over last three years. But Bok has not outscored either peer once in that time.

Lake Wales High punches above its weight, but trails Lakeland High

Lake Wales High, with its outstanding leadership, makes the best scoreboard case for itself, in my opinion. Demographically, it’s virtually identical to Lakeland High. Both are roughly 50 percent white, 20 percent black and 25 percent Hispanic. Here’s what I can’t answer with any clarity: how does Lake Wales High’s actual enrollment demographics match up to the high school age population of Lake Wales? How many kids that should be part of its enrollment are not? I can’t answer that question with any confidence in the number. But it’s clearly “some” because the Polk District has the bus routes out of town to prove it.

In any event, I think LHS and LWHS make a good, if imprecise, comparison.

LHS is the highest scoring district-run high school. It’s hybrid of sorts, like most district-run schools. It contains audition-driven, self-selected Harrison School of the Arts, along with a zoned/default high school component. By contrast, Lake Wales High has no zoned, default component: but it does carry the moral burden of being the only high school located in Lake Wales. I think it takes that burden pretty seriously. And while LWC has an IB program, it’s smaller than Harrison. And LWC is only three points behind LHS on the scoreboard. Both schools have produced a strong upward trajectory in the last three years on the scoreboard. But LHS had a bigger jump this year. (Full disclosure: my son attends LHS.)

All in all, it’s my feeling that, based on interpretation of all this crappy data and some personal observation, that Lake Wales High is the only Lake Wales school of any kind clearly punching above its weight on the scoreboard. It’s neck and neck with district’s highest scoring high school, which probably has slightly more overall enrollment advantage. I also think it has one of the county’s best principals in Donna Dunson. That’s all the more reason to make Lake Wales High the default high school for Lake Wales.

District-run Lake Wales schools trail their district-run peers

Now look at the district’s schools, especially McLaughlin Middle, the only zoned, default middle school in Lake Wales, which is often compared to Bok. It should be compared to Southwest Middle or Crystal Lake Middle in Lakeland. Those schools match McLaughlin’s zoned, default-school circumstances.

Crystal Lake is a 45C; Southwest is a 43C; McLaughlin is 39D. In fairness, it’s up 8 points since 2017, when it was 31F. It should also be noted that most of the kids who struggle in Lake Wales charter elementaries end up at McLaughlinI did a lot of research on that in this piece from 2017. Key takeaway:

Fifty-seven of the 111 LWCS elementary kids entering McLaughlin Middle as sixth graders this year read at Level 1 on the FSA test — the lowest possible level.

That’s more than half. 51 percent. At Level 1. (The level system itself is corrupt and destructive. Know-nothing legislators create the levels with political, capricious cut score votes in Tallahassee. But that’s for a different post.)

It’s a pretty ugly spectacle for Lake Wales Charter to feed McLaughlin a ton of unprepared sixth graders and then complain about McLaughlin’s performance.

Spook Elementary, the only district-run default elementary school in Lake Wales is also a 39D. It’s harder — and a little more subjective — to do this comparison. But I think Auburndale Central and Lena Vista in Auburndale are useful for comparisons of schools in similar situations because of the Berkley system.

Spook Hill is 39D. Lena Vista is a 43C. Auburndale Central is a 41C.

[One note: I don’t fully trust economic disadvantage numbers anymore in comparing schools to each other. There is too much complexity and imprecision in how the numbers are reported to Tallahassee or elewhere. In just one example, a few years ago, before I was a elected, I noticed a big one-year jump in Dale Fair Babson Park’s economic disadvantage indicators, like 25-30 percentage points big. Also “community eligibility” makes it very difficult to get a free and reduced lunch count, like could be done easily decade ago. I don’t think anybody’s doing anything wrong in reporting. This is isn’t fraud. I just think there is too much legitimate variability, which wreaks havoc on any useful comparison.]

Another generation of poisonous, destructive “competition?”

Last year, most School Board members and I attended a community forum in Lake Wales on the charter/district relationship. None of us got to speak. No one asked our opinions. And the animosity between important staff figures on both sides was palpable and depressing.

In short: I will never get that two hours of my life back.

Since then, Supt. Byrd and senior district leadership have proposed an expensive solution to the “no community high school” problem in Lake Wales. They propose to create a zoned arts high school at McLaughlin Middle, which is the zoned community middle school in Lake Wales. McLaughlin is where you go if you don’t apply to one of the Boks run by Lake Wales Charter, or when you leave the Boks. McLaughlin already has a specialized arts program; and the high school makes some sense as a continuation of that.

By contrast to its public position on Lake Wales High, Lake Wales Charter has been asking quite loudly for the last two years to convert McLaughlin to a charter that Lake Wales Charter can run.

I have been pretty clear on this: I have no particular objection to LWC running McLaughlin for the sake of continuity. But I can never, ever vote to get rid of the only zoned community middle school in Lake Wales. The consequences for other communities — and for the Polk District’s busing obligations — are too severe. And the community problems created by the absence of a community high school in Lake Wales are too obvious.

The district proposal for the zoned McLaughlin High School is quite elegant in some ways. It simultaneously: addresses the issue of undercapacity enrollment at McLaughlin; creates a special arts program for Lake Wales kids who do not apply or get into Lake Wales High; and creates a zoned high school. It would end the export of high school kids from Lake Wales to other communities and cut down on busing costs.

But I don’t know how we would fund it; and it would do nothing to end the import of kids from outside of Lake Wales. It would lock into place, for at least a generation, the poisonous “competition” and community divide — which has ugly race and class overtones — that has characterized public education in Lake Wales for quite a while now.

How about the Lake Wales High School Cooperative? Everybody can win

Why have you stuck your nose into this, Billy? Why do you continue? Because it’s a problem that isn’t going away; has a domino effect on a lot of other things, like transportation; and, most clearly, because it’s easily solvable with just teaspoon of good faith.

I shared an email a while back with top charter and district officials laying out such an idea for collaboration right after district staff unveiled the McLaughlin High School idea. It laid out a way to make Lake Wales High the default high school for Lake Wales, under charter leadership, while incorporating the district’s investment in arts at McLaughlin.

Here is that email:

If you watch the video from yesterday’s School Board meeting, you will see a School Board that doesn’t quite know what to think about the creative new district staff proposal for McLaughlin and what it means for the long-term in Lake Wales.

But I think I have a way to square this circle so that everybody wins. The model would essentially be Lakeland’s Kathleen High and Central Florida Aerospace Academy, if Kathleen’s zone was much bigger and CFAA access limited to within the zone.

Here are the rough contours:

1) Create a Lake Wales High School cooperative, which becomes the “high school of last resort” in Lake Wales based on a reasonable zoning map, as outlined by DoE in my discussions with them recently.

2) Make the new McLaughlin High School a part of the Lake Wales High School Cooperative, as CFAA is part of Kathleen High or Harrison part of Lakeland High.

We — the district — would run it along the model described yesterday. Existing Lake Wales High would continue to be run by LWC. Perhaps we pool FTE somehow? I’m certainly up for negotiating how that would work. But as a concept, could it work like the Polk Library cooperative?

3) Every child zoned for the Lake Wales High Cooperative automatically rolls up into either  Lake Wales High proper or McLaughlin Campus. If you’re in an arts program at McLaughlin Middle — and zoned — you automatically roll up into the continuation of the program at McL High, unless you opt out. Beyond that, every Lake Wales High Cooperative-zoned kid gets to choose which campus to attend. If you’re enrolled in one of the Boks from out of Lake Wales zone or from out of zone at McL, you don’t automatically roll-up. It’s purely based on space available. If there’s not space, there are no out of zone kids on either campus. If there are out of zone spaces, it’s first come-first serve, with priority given to southeast Polk kids.

4) Bottom line, if LWC wants to fill the Boks with out of town kids, they can do that; but the high school cooperative would be guaranteed only for Lake Wales-zoned kids.

5) Any McL middle school kids from outside of the LW zone not able to get into McL High could be served at the new arts program at the new East Polk High School. But I would also urge us — the district — to start creating some similar program for the Winter Haven area.

6) The Cooperative would have a Cooperative board or committee that works together, shares best practices, works through disputes, and creates exchange programs between the campuses along a dual enrollment model perhaps, etc.

7) The Cooperative would probably share a school grade for the purposes of the state; but if people insist, I have no problem with calculating separate grades and profiles of enrollment. But we’d have joint graduations; one Lake Wales football team, etc. At least that’s my suggestion.

8) The Cooperative harnesses the arts strengths of the McL High School idea and neutralizes the harm of the rather poisonous community competition and split that it’s likely to lock in place for a generation. Both sides would have to surrender a little control and a little ego. But it can be done.

There has been a flurry of creative, useful thinking about this issue in the past month. It’s just in need of a governance model to bring it together and make it about community, cooperation, and innovation — not cutthroat competition.

Think about the news this Cooperative would make. Think about the innovation and creativity in approaching a real problem that we’d able to share with the state.

I look forward to discussing and drilling into this idea at our our next meeting.

At our next meeting, Supt. Byrd asked to delay discussion of this until after testing season. Neither my idea nor the new McLaughlin High School idea has been discussed since then. But I sense, based on reactions in meetings, that there could be four votes for something like this idea on the Polk School Board, or for a potential co-location of Bok North and McLaughlin on the McLaughlin campus.

No, the Lake Wales competition is not a model for any other community

All of this should provide an object lesson to anyone in a position of civic or business leadership in any city or area tempted to “go charter,” like Lake Wales did.

I think people suggest “going charter” for two broad reasons:

1) There’s a sliver of the national political/business community that just can’t stand the idea of anything public and directly beholden to voters. It’s ideological and authoritarian. They hate any democracy whose outcomes they can’t control. They hate the very idea of unions. They genuinely look at teachers and kids as expendable welfare widgets sucking down their money. They think of the scoreboard test numbers kids throw off as good or bad marketing, with no thought to what they actually say. To the extent they have policy preferences, they are: more VAM; more teacher punishment; more gamed numbers; more beatings until morale improves; outsource as many kids as possible to “the market.” That’s more or less the mantra. And then they tend to look for any fact within the massive scale of education that bolsters their contempt for public benefit funded by their taxes. This faction knows nothing about — and does not care to learn — what actually happens on-the-ground in schools. They are malevolent dillatentes. In many cases, these folks think government should spend your money on them or their companies. Government has made a lot of rich people rich, who now think of themselves as special.

In my experience, these folks don’t give much thought to what else could actually replace the scale of a public education system if it went away. In fact,  I think, in their most honest moments, these folks would love to get rid of compulsory education altogether, unless they have an ESE child. This is not a very large faction, in my experience. But it does have power. It’s running education in state government right now. Kelli Stargel is clearly part of this faction. Other than her, I’m not sure anyone significant in Polk actually falls in this faction. Which is fortunate. Most business folks I know here are a lot more practical and realistic and helpful, particularly when public officials take the time and effort to explain things to them with respect, which I work hard to do. I think that’s the best way to head off flirtation with such toxic authoritarian thinking.

2) Local school districts often struggle with community stakeholder management especially in Florida and Polk. Districts have always been big frustrating organizations, with an incredibly difficult and fraught function, in which there is no consensus about what defines success. Moreover, districts must implement policies designed by the first faction to impose as much pain as possible on stakeholders. These are policies built by the first faction to enrage the second. Districts do not help themselves with the tendency to complain about lack of public support out of one side of their mouths and then ignore the public or tell it to leave us alone with the other. This is particularly galling to specific communities that feel underserved, as Lake Wales did.

Polk’s schools operate as a countywide, interconnected ecosystem; but communities experience them at the community level. And communities often experience very legitimate frustrations over educational resources and attention and experience. This is a recipe for strained community/business relations — and for calls to “go charter” as a magical fix. But there are no magical fixes, which Lake Wales helps to show.

It’s entirely natural for a community to want to take control of its schools, if it feels that the powers-that-be in Bartow aren’t being responsive or helpful. That’s what happened in Lake Wales. The conversion charter movement there was a response to other communities having magnet schools and other programs. It was response to inattention and indifference.

This is also the frustration that led some folks in Lakeland and Winter Haven and the northeast to tinker out loud with the idea of “going charter” back at the peak of Polk District dysfunction in 2016 or so. It’s one factor among many that led me to run for School Board.

So is trying to solve thorny, difficult, human problems like the Lake Wales divide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Great article. Thank you. I wish I had cogent answers, but I haven’t. I do see indifference caused by poverty and lack of opportunity on the part of parents AND STANDARDIZED TESTING scaring the daylights out of students as culprits. Needless to say, greed and lust for power on the part of our politicians is smothering us.

    Thank you for all you do for our students.

  2. Steve Abney

    The detractors to public education have various motives:
    * Ideology — they hate public anything.
    * Partisan — they see teacher unions as Democratic
    * Financial — they stand to profit from private and charter schools
    * Anti-tax — actually, this makes no sense because the tax dollars still go somewhere
    * Power, control, elitism

    I think they all share a lack of empathy. They do not see themselves in public school parents or children. They see children who are brown, black, poor, single mother, ESE, migrant, LGBT, homeless, and do not care about them because they are Other.

  3. Thank you for beginning to help me understand this mess in Lake Wales. As a retired teacher/media specialist from Hillsborough County I have been trying to figure out what this town did to their school system since I relocated here a year and a half ago. Though I still don’t understand why they did what they did I am now more convinced that it’s not working. This situation really makes me sad😞