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By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

McLaughlin May Add High School


Last updated 3/6/2019 at 11:11am

Polk County School District officials unveiled a plan this week to offer high school students a Lake Wales option by adding grades 9-12 to the current McLaughlin Middle School. McLaughlin would increase its fine arts programs and add a high-tech academy if the proposal is approved by the School Board.

Board Chairman Lynn Wilson expressed his immediate and strong opposition to the idea, but the other six Board members seemed at least open to the possibility.

School Board members acknowledged the proposal no doubt will escalate the ongoing tension between the school district and charter schools. Just two months ago the charter school system was building a case for taking over low-achieving McLaughlin, a move district officials strongly opposed. But Robin Gibson, charter schools general counsel and one of its founders and original trustees, said while the implementation might be very costly he welcomes the school district's plans to pour more resources into Lake Wales that could benefit local students.

"It seems like the district administrators have come up with a way to create a rival K-12 system in competition with the charter system," Gibson said, noting charter school law envisioned competition ultimately would help raise the quality in all public schools. "I kinda hope they do it because our mission is to bring the best of public schools to Lake Wales for the benefit of the students."

School Board member Lori Cunningham complimented the school district's staff work on the plan, and said she liked the emphasis on giving "differently abled" students the opportunity to fully participate in the academies; fourteen percent of the McLaughlin students are in exceptional education programs. But Cunningham noted the proposal would be viewed as "drawing a line in the sand," raising competition to a new level. Board members Billy Townsend and Lisa Miller said they would like for the school district to seek more collaboration with the charter schools.

School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd asked the School Board to allow staff to move forward and flesh out the proposal while involving McLaughlin teachers, students, parents and the community. Her staff presented a 27-page, detailed concept paper that called for planning during the 2019-20 year and adding one grade per year, starting with the 9th grade in 2020-21.

McLaughlin is now at only 57 percent capacity with 650 students, so the school could add the high school without any significant additional cost, staff members said. Adding a local high school option also would save a portion of the $1.1 million it costs to transport 470 students to schools outside of Lake Wales because they are not accepted into a local charter school.

Gibson said he believes the Lake Wales education forum Jan. 10 to discuss the future of McLaughlin prompted the district administration to dig in and develop an alternative plan.

District administrators said they had been talking to McLaughlin staff and planned to reach out to stakeholders – parents, teachers and the community – to develop further their grades 6-12 Innovative Academy Model. They said they would bring back to the School Board their findings and a more detailed plan in 6-8 weeks.

The proposal they presented to the School Board Feb. 26 detailed plans for a high school to offer a full range of advanced placement and dual enrollment options.

Author Bio

Chevon T. Baccus APR, Contributing Writer

After working as a newspaper reporter and editor for eight years, Chevon moved on to a long career in public relations, marketing and business development. After 2 1/2 years as founding publisher of she's happy to still be an occasional contributor.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 8636511065


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