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News Story
Updated: 11/02/2013 08:00:01AM

Plan to turn around district called great plan

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FILE PHOTO
Lori Cunningham
shows confidence in a plan that would help the Polk County School District to lift the grade level of the district. “It’s one of the best plans I’ve seen," she said.

"We have broken kids here and we need to do what Nashville did to fix them," PTA member Trish Pfeiffer said when the school district plan was unveiled.

By CATHY PALMER

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On Nov. 12, the Polk County School Board is expected to OK its latest strategic plan to raise the overall District school system’s state grades from a C to an A within five years while also pursuing a Nashville plan to further integrate the business, health care and student support community into its operations.

The strategic plan was open from Oct. 22 to Oct. 31 for citizen comment to include suggestions from the public via the district’s website.

The strategic plan outlines how the district will achieve specific goals for raising student achievement.

“For the first time we have a plan outlining how we will get from where we are today to were we want to be to make our students successful,” said Board Member Lori Cunningham at the district board meeting in late October. “It’s one of the best plans I’ve seen.”

Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy who authored the plan along with a planning committee set district sights on a A in 2017-2018 and backtracked on incremental annual improvements. She said big gains are seldom seen in a year and the gains may take years of momentum before attaining the sought-after A ranking.

Action steps are included in the document but relegated to back pages so each doesn’t require board approval before implementation. The goals are to improve student achievement by establishing community partnerships, encouraging safe and secure schools, increasing staff learning and support and beefing up resources available to both teachers and students.

The strategic plan launch followed a detailed presentation from the executive director of Nashville Alignment, a collective movement launched in Nashville,Tenn., several years ago to raise its high school graduation rate.

Executive Director Sydney Rogers told the Polk board the alignment basically drew together agencies, businesses and service providers who were individually serving students into one endeavor that eliminated duplication of services, leveraged activities and broadened community involvement in the school system.

Rogers said the collective’s impact raised the grad rate from 52 percent to 81 percent in five years, raised the gang member median age from 16 to 22, as well as decreased the teen pregnancy rate by 25 percent.

Rogers explained it would take from six to seven years to see definitive results, but in a recently inaugurated plan in Illinois, substantial impacts were realized in as little as two years.

The Nashville plan calls for agencies to group according to service and interest and focus on ways and means to assist the school district in providing quality eduction for a diverse population.

Polk County Commission Chair Melony Bell said the county board needed to collaborate better with school board members and the district and be more supportive of their educational efforts. She cited a recent instance where the two boards worked together to sort out impact fees that could result in economic development.

“We can work together and we have to,” she said.

Following the lengthy presentations on both the strategic plan and the Nashville plan, School Board Member Kay Fields said, “It’s up to us to see that our children have full glasses. It’s up to the parents, the county, the school,the chambers of commerce, the businesses. All of us.”

School Board Member Debra Wright told the assemblage of community, business and agency leaders that “we need to identify our most important needs and through collaboration, we can meet those needs.”

She also suggested LeRoy take steps to “poll the community and see if you are in or are you out?”

PTA spokesman Trish Pfeiffer of Bartow said. “We need this alignment yesterday. We need to find the money to implement what they are doing. We can’t sit here spinning our wheels. We have broken kids here and we need to do what Nashville did to fix them. We want to do whatever it takes to keep our kids here. We need to find the damn money.”


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