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By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

Lake Wales High School Celebrates Stellar Student Achievement

Graduate Rates Among Best in Polk County


Last updated 5/22/2019 at 12:22pm

Chevon Baccus

LWHS Principal Donna Dunson reviews graduation rate with staff member Tina Morrow

As the Class of 2019 at Lake Wales High School counts down to graduation May 24, school officials are still celebrating the stellar accomplishments of the Class of 2018.

Despite a nearly 71 percent poverty rate - students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch - Lake Wales High School graduated more than 92 percent of its seniors in 2018 – the third highest rate of all high schools in Polk County. The State of Florida defines graduation rate as the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in ninth grade.

School Principal Donna Dunson says she is extremely proud of the students and all they've accomplished, despite significant challenges for many.

"I just say you have more barriers in front of you than kids who are more affluent," Dunson said. "But the deal is how are you going to knock down those barriers and how can the school help?"

Raising student achievement and the graduation rate is a constant focus of the entire school staff, Dunson said. The statistics bear out the fruit of that labor.

Ten of Polk County's 13 high schools qualify for support as Title 1 schools, based upon having at least 40 percent of their students from low-income families. Among Polk's Title 1 schools, Lake Wales High School in 2018 had the highest graduation rate at 92 percent. The next highest graduation rate among Polk Title 1 high schools was Mulberry High at 90 percent, and the lowest rate was Tenoroc High at 76 percent. Lake Wales High School began serving students as part of the newly formed Lake Wales Charter School system in the fall of 2004, when the school's graduation rate was just 64.5 percent.

"These kids, many of them know they don't have a lot of money, but they are showing they still can achieve," Dunson said. "It does show resilience. It shows they have aspirations. They want to do better."

Breaking out students by categories, Lake Wales High School has shown other remarkable progress.

The school has the highest graduation rate in Polk County for students in exceptional student education programs, those with some sort of learning disability, a behavioral problem or other special need. Ninety-five percent of the ESE students at LWHS graduated in 2018 with regular diplomas, compared with only 62 percent of the ESE students at Haines City High School. The second-highest graduation rate for ESE students was 90 percent at Lakeland High School.

Past graduates of Lake Wales High School

Lake Wales High also shined in its graduation rate for African American and Hispanic students. LWHS was number two in the county with a graduation rate of nearly 95 percent for African American students, just two percent below the top graduation rate of 97 percent at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland. But George Jenkins High only has 38 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunch compared with 70 percent at Lake Wales High. Pre-charter only 56 percent of Lake Wales High School students were graduating on time.

Nearly 88 percent of the Hispanic students at Lake Wales High School graduated in 2018, putting it in fourth place in Polk County. Schools with higher Hispanic graduation rates for 2018 were George Jenkins High at 96 percent, Lake Gibson High and Bartow High at 90 percent and Mulberry High at 89 percent.

Materials provided by school officials put the achievements in perspective, by noting: "Every increase in LWHS graduation rate means better economic health for Lake Wales."

The Class of 2019 graduation ceremony is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 24 at Legion Field.

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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