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By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

LW Charter Schools Overcome Obstacles to Maintain and Improve

Still Challenges for Local Non-Charter Schools


Last updated 8/1/2019 at 11:19am

Overcoming significant challenges of language and poverty, the Lake Wales Charter Schools maintained or improved their 2019 school grades released July 11 by the Florida Department of Education.

"We are very, very proud of their improvement and success, of the work that's being done," said charter schools Superintendent Jesse Jackson. "What we have done over the years is try to build a system for success. . . create a structure. Personalities come and go, but we're building a system so you can pretty much be assured you are going to be successful."

Among the Lake Wales Charter Schools Bok Academy earned an A grade for its 11th year in a row, the top grade every year since it was formed. In its first year, Bok Academy North earned a grade of C, but Jackson said the score was based upon just one class of sixth graders, not an entire school. "We're not overly concerned," said Jackson, noting as the school adds grade levels and finds a permanent home, he expects to see improvement.

Dale R. Fair Babson Park Elementary brought its grade up to an A after three years of B grades. Jackson said Principal Elizabeth Tyler has brought back former teachers to work part-time or volunteer, which has helped more students see success.

Polk Avenue Elementary brought its grade up to a B after two years with a C grade and Janie Howard Wilson Elementary maintained its C grade for a second year after grades of D in 2016 and 2017. Jackson said both schools have improved despite the significant challenges of high poverty levels and many Hispanic children whose parents don't speak English in the home. Jackson noted that Janie Howard Wilson was just a few points shy of earning a B grade.

Lake Wales Senior High received a B grade for the second year in a row after C grades in 2016 and 2017. Because so many variables are factored into a high school grade Jackson said, "The high school sustaining a B, that's a big deal."

Jackson said a major donor has enabled Lake Wales High School to add more counselors, more academic coaches and other resources to meet the needs of the students, 70 percent of which come from poverty.

"Poverty is one of those thing that really creates a lot of obstacles for you," Jackson said.

Hillcrest Elementary also earned a B for the second year in a row after C grades in 2016 and 2017.

"Our system is based upon bringing in the very best teachers you can have," Jackson said.

The Polk County Public School district also kept its positive momentum with another B grade in 2018-19. It was PCPS' second consecutive year as a "B" district. PCPS had previously been a C-rated district for seven straight years.

"I'm absolutely elated by the news that Polk County Public Schools has maintained its B. What a fantastic day for our school district," said Superintendent Jacqueline M. Byrd. "We are a district headed in the right direction, where academic achievement among our students is truly on the rise. This is a testament to the hard work of every student, employee, parent and supporter of PCPS. I am overjoyed and immensely proud of the progress we are making as a district. Well done, PCPS."

Polk district schools in Lake Wales didn't fare as well as their charter school counterparts. McLaughlin Middle School and Fine Arts Academy maintained its grade of D for the second year, after achieving F grades in 2016 and 2017. Spook Hill Elementary dropped a letter grade from a C to a D after earning a D grade in 2017 and a C in 2016.

Spook Hill and Janie Howard Wilson also are included on the Florida Department of Education's list of 300 lowest performing of the 1,808 elementary schools in the state. According to the DOE report, 100 percent of the students at both schools are considered economically disadvantaged; 65.2 percent of Spook Hill's and 72.6 percent of Janie Howard Wilson's are minority students. While both schools are underperforming, both also showed learning gains in the last year and over a 3-year period.

Due to not enrolling in charter schools, some Lake Wales students attend school in nearby communities. Frostproof Middle Senior High, where some Lake Wales area students attend school, brought its grade up from a C to a B, its first B since 2011. Ben Hill Griffin Jr. Elementary in Frostproof dropped to a D grade after six years with a C. Dundee Ridge Middle Academy earned an A grade for the second year in a row after two years with C grades.

The complete list of school grades is available on the Florida Department of Education website:

According to the Florida Department of Education school grades provide an easily understandable way to measure the performance of a school. Parents and the general public can use the school grade and its components to understand how well each school is serving its students. Schools are graded A, B, C, D, or F. There are no F schools in Polk County.

In 2018-19, a school's grade may include up to 11 components. There are four achievement components, four learning gains components, a middle school acceleration component, as well as components for graduation rate and college and career acceleration. Each component is worth up to 100 points in the overall calculation. Four Achievement Components: The four achievement components are English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. These components include student performance on statewide standardized assessments, including the comprehensive assessments and end-of-course (EOC) assessments. The component measures the percentage of full-year enrolled students who achieved a passing score. Four Learning Gains Components: These components are learning gains in English Language Arts and Mathematics, as well as learning gains for the lowest performing 25% of students in English Language Arts and Mathematics. These components include student performance on statewide standardized assessments including the comprehensive assessments and EOC assessments for the current year and the prior year. The components measure the percentage of full year enrolled students who achieved a learning gain from the prior year to the current year.

The school grading system focuses the school grading formula on student success measures. • Achievement • Learning gains • Graduation • Acceleration success • Maintaining a focus on students who need the most support. Schools must test 95 percent of their students and they are graded on this scale: A = 62% of points or greater, B = 54% to 61% of points, C = 41% to 53% of points, D = 32% to 40% of points, F = 31% of points or less.

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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