Polk County Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy Monday fielded dozens of questions from a group of about 200 parents, teachers and students at Frostproof Middle/High School that ranged from school diversity to FCAT tests to lunchroom operating policies.
After a brief explanation of some changes in the school district’s management policies including how the district is now divided into four regions, each with about 35 schools, and that reading and math coaches are provided to help boost lower-performing school grades, LeRoy answered more than two dozen questions that ran the gamut of school operations.
In the wake of actions LeRoy took early Monday in a Lakeland elementary school where parents claimed minority children were being ignored and maligned that resulted in administration transfers, LeRoy was asked to define diversity and how she was addressing it at the Frostproof schools.
She explained that multiple cultures, genders, ethnicities and religions were needed to give the schools and community balance.
“We need multiple perspectives drawn from our differences to give children the best and most rounded education we can,” she said. “We need to honor our diverse cultural backgrounds and incorporate that into what we are offering our kids.”
She said the district was making attempts to recruit more minority leadership in the schools and encouraging Hispanic teachers to pursue career paths to administration. She added however that in addition to encouraging local talent, she would continue to look for the best administrators she could find, local or not.
As she was grilled on achievement in southeast Polk schools, LeRoy told the group the district had applied for a $10 million federal education grant to help fund additional programs for schools in the Frostproof area. She explained that the grant would boost programs for ‘feeder’ schools from prekindergarten to middle and high school.
“We know that kids learn at different rates and some need more time than others,” she said, “So we’re planning on extended school hours, Saturday classes and summer programs for all ages.”
She said the federal funds would be strictly earmarked for those programs in the Frostproof area. She added the school board had partnered with nationally recognized grant writers and supporters to make the district’s application stronger. “But, regardless of whether we get the grant or not, those programs will still go into play.”
LeRoy also promised the crowd that the district was looking at ways to expand the career building opportunities at Frostproof High School.
“We know that every community doesn’t have the choices they should have, like accelerated programs, International Baccalaureate programs, career academies and others like those. We want to look at ways to provide those benefits for our students closer to home.”
She added the grant funds would also boost the technology available to students.
“We need to have more computer and Internet access for students who may not have those tools at home. This will help us do that.”
Working with translator Juan Seda, who directs the district’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program, LeRoy said she planned to meet with school administrators and Hispanic families to provide additional support for their students through development of a creative curriculum “that will help all our children grow and learn the best way they can, and help us improve these schools grades.”
The Frostproof area schools fall into the B or C categories for achievement, according to 2012 testing results.
“We are working hard to make sure the schools here are successful,” she said. “We will give you the support, the leadership and turnaround work needed to make sure your children are proficient in reading, math, and the sciences.”
LeRoy told the community group that the district recognized that all “kids don’t come to school ready for it,” and promised heightened district efforts to “work with an early learning coalition to help kids build the skill sets they need to succeed in school. It isn’t all about reading, we know we need to improve on their socialization skills to so they know what is expected when they get to school.”
One parent asked LeRoy to look into lunchroom policies, claiming a student had his lunch tray emptied into the trash since the student didn’t have enough funds in his lunch account to pay for it.
“Are we feeding the rats better than our children?” he asked. LeRoy promised the issue would be addressed with staff, but offered no further discussion.
The community meeting was one of eight the superintendent has held throughout the county since she took over the district’s helm in June.