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Updated: 08/18/2014 02:54:33PM

How we

could have

one middle school

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Robin Gibson has a way to solve the controversy over whether McLaughlin Middle School should remain a Polk County school or become a Lake Wales Charter school. His idea is revolutionary and not often tried in the halls of government these days.

He is recommending the whole community work together to solve the issue. Stop the arguing and just ask the community what it wants to do.

Gibson is a Lake Wales attorney who, along with many other community leaders, spearheaded the birth of the Lake Wales charter school system.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell.

• The charter school system converted all but two schools in the Lake Wales area to charter schools, Spook Hill Elementary and McLaughlin Middle School.

• There is only one high school in our community, Lake Wales High. Both the charter middle, Bok Academy, and the county operated middle school, McLaughlin, feed into that high school.

• Educators at the high school would like all students, regardless of what middle school they attended, to come to the high school with shared experiences and with similar achievement levels.

• And there is a difference. The two schools received very different grades from the state for the 2014 school year. Bok Academy received an A, while McLaughlin received a D.

• There have been two attempts, the first being the unsuccessful first try 10 years ago, to convert McLaughlin from a Polk County School to a charter. The two systems argued about it again as recently as last year.

When a school converts from a public school to a charter there has to be a majority vote of two constituencies. The teachers have to vote yes and the parents have to vote yes in order to make it happen.

Gibson thinks that if we broaden the universe a bit and we ask the whole Lake Wales community if it wants to change how we do things, we might get a different answer.

“I think this is a community issue,” Gibson says. “The whole community has a stake in whether we have a great school system.”

The charter system is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year. It is fair to say that the system has been good for Lake Wales. It is not perfect but most observers will tell you that we are better off now than we were 10 years ago as a result of the change.

Gibson’s idea is to end the controversy over whether McLaughlin should be converted by placing a simple question on the April election ballot. Something like “Should McLaughlin and Bok Academy be merged?”

The question would not ask about charter versus public or anything like that. It would just be that one simple question.

If the community voted yes, Gibson said the next step would be to approach the Polk County School system and ask them to talk about merging the two schools.

“If that’s what the community wanted, then I suspect that people of goodwill in both places could get together and work it out,” Gibson said.

So here is a wild idea. What if the community said yes to the merger idea and the Polk County school system contracted with the charter system to run the school? Sort of a test to see if the secret sauce that allows Bok to be an A school can find its way into McLaughlin.

The charter system and the public school system could enter into a contractual agreement that would allow Bok or the charter system to manage the school for a specified period of time — three years, five years, whatever they could negotiate.

If the charter folks are able to replicate the results they have had with Bok Academy, then the two school systems could continue the relationship. If the charter folks don’t improve the school, then the contract would not be renewed.

After you get past “this has never been done before” and think about the idea, you have to admit that it would be a great way for the two school systems to work together and improve the quality of education in our town.

This would be a novel idea, but not any less novel than a small town getting together to create its own school system and making it better than it was before.

What do you think?

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