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Superintendent’s Communication Following Feb. 13 School Board Work Session

February 13, 2018

Greetings colleagues,

In the interest of increased transparency, and in an effort to help us all better understand the issues facing our school district, I’ll be sending updates following School Board work sessions and meetings.

Here are key takeaways from today’s work session:

External operator recommendation

Polk County Public Schools currently has six schools that are in Year 2 of the school turnaround process. Those schools include Bartow Middle, Garner Elementary, Griffin Elementary, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Polytech Academy and Lake Marion Creek Middle.

The state mandated that Polk County Public Schools develop a contingency plan if the schools cannot improve to a grade of C or better during the current school year. School grades will be released in June.

The state gave Polk County Public Schools three contingency plan options, including closing the schools and transferring students to higher performing schools; closing the schools and reopening them as charter schools; and hiring an external operator(s) to manage the schools and achieve gains in the schools’ grades.

My senior staff and I selected the external operator option because we see it as the most collaborative turnaround option available to us. The external operator will help us build the instructional capacity of our schools, while causing the least disruption to the schools and their surrounding communities. Our goal is to improve our schools and keep our students, employees and schools as part of the school district. Closing the schools or turning them into charters were never options under consideration.

Today, my senior staff and I recommended Educational Directions as the external operator that will work with the six schools listed above if they are unable to improve their school grades to a C or better.

Why did we recommend Educational Directions? Because of the three external operators we interviewed, Educational Directions offered the greatest degree of collaboration and flexibility. The first question I posed to each of the external operators was, “What happens if the schools improve to a C or better?” Educational Directions was the only firm that agreed to hand all school operations back over to the district if the schools improve to a C or better. The other firms wanted to continue their involvement, at a financial cost to the district, even if the schools reach a grade of C or better. That was unacceptable.

It is our intent to begin contract negotiations with Educational Directions, with the aim of having a contract to present to the School Board on Feb. 27.

However, let me stress again that the external operator is a contingency plan. The staff and students at each of the six schools listed above are working incredibly hard to improve their school grade. I am extremely optimistic that the schools will make a C or better.

For additional information on Educational Directions, visit http://educational-directions.com/index.html. I’m also making available the presentation Dr. Michael Akes, chief academic officer, made to the School Board today. You can find it here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/di351y2j1k5p3d3/AADCoxds61wK-FgfNUB3qfpQa?dl=0

Charter School Contracts

Today, the Board also heard reports on two charter schools seeking renewed contracts: Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College and Discovery Academy of Lake Alfred. The Charter Renewal Team recommended renewing contracts with both charter schools. The School Board will vote on Feb. 27 whether to begin negotiating contracts with the schools. The presentation Melissa Brady, director of charter schools, gave to the School Board can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/di351y2j1k5p3d3/AADCoxds61wK-FgfNUB3qfpQa?dl=0

Learning Support Update

Learning Support staff members also provided the School Board with an update that included a snapshot of the school support structure of the division; the various supports the division provides directly or facilitates through contracted providers; the process for requests for support and consultation; professional development areas provided through the division; and an overall view of ESE funding/spending categories. The presentation Dr. Kimberly Steinke, Assistant Superintendent of Learning Support, gave can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/di351y2j1k5p3d3/AADCoxds61wK-FgfNUB3qfpQa?dl=0

We will continue to provide updates from Board work sessions and meetings going forward.

Thank you for all you do!